Monday, August 21, 2006

Are you grieving the loss of a pet?

In an earlier article, we talked about "openly grieving" the loss of a pet.  Grieving the loss of a pet can be difficult because some people just don't understand the close connection that some people have with their pets.  Some people feel that their pets are family members.  I have even heard some people say that they are more closely connected to their pets, than their human family members. 

However, the loss of a pet can be felt differently by different people.  It's just like the "Variables in Grief" article that was posted earlier, -- The grief you feel depends on the type of relationship you had with the deceased. -- This goes for pets too!  Some people are sad that their pet has died, but seem to get over it rather quickly.  Some people feel grief, but get a new pet right away, and that appears to help them in their grief process.  Yet there are others who grieve the loss of their pet so deeply, that they can not even imagine getting a new pet - ever! 

So why are there these differences?  A book titled, "Saying Good-Bye to the Pet You Love" by Lorri A. Greene and Jacquelyn Landis describes it perfectly.  It seems that there are three types of bonding one can have with their pet.  If you read the descriptions, one can most certainly find the category they fit in - and by doing so, find the answer to why they feel they way they do - or just as importantly, prepare themselves for the kind of griever they might be. 

In brief, with permission, I have included these "types" and their descriptions here. 

1.  Conventionally Bonded - Consider their pets as members of the family, but don't give them the same status as human family members.  They provide homes and care, but the loss of a pet is not a major trauma.  They do experience grief over the loss, but seem to recover more quickly than the other two types.  This is the most common type.

2.  Intensely Bonded - Consider their pets as integral parts of the family.  They form deep emotional attachments and provide the same care to their pet as they would for the human family members.  May exceed their financial means in order to provide care.  May refer to their pet as their "surrogate child."  They may experience a long grieving process and great sense of personal loss when their pet dies.

3.  Uniquely Bonded - Consider their pets family members and may refer to them as "my best friend", "my son",  "my daughter" or "my soul mate."  They provide extravagant care and attention.  The loss of their pet is devastating and their grieving may last a very long time.

I personally feel that knowing the type of bond you have with your pet will go a long way in helping you in your grief process.  It provides an understanding on the kind of person that you are.  If a friend or family member doesn't seem to be as supportive as you think they should be, think about the type of bond they might have and you might gain a better understanding for them too.  I highly recommend this book for anyone who is grieving the loss of a companion animal or even for those who are dealing with anticipatory grief issues regarding a beloved pet. 

Until next week, please be gentle with yourself.


P.S.  If you have found this posting or previous postings helpful, please consider making a donation to The Bereavement Center.  We are a non-profit organization that serves the community, and we operate solely on donations from families, clients and the community.  As always, your donation will be greatly appreciated and acknowledged.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Do you have a relative that is grieving?

Our office often receives calls from family members that are concerned about the grieving style of another family member.  We often hear statements such as, "I think they are on too much medication.", "I don't think they have cried since the funeral.", "They won't talk to me about 'the loved one'.", "They say they are fine, but I know that they aren't.", "They won't leave the house."  The bottom line is - the grieving person isn't grieving the way someone else thinks that they should. 

Read that last sentence out loud, several times if necessary.  Does that sound right to you?  It shouldn't!  Why should someone else dictate how you react, feel and behave?  They shouldn't!  However, family members love each other and are naturally concerned for each other's well-being and safety.  Being concerned for a family member doesn't make you a bad person, just a well-meaning person.  So here are some things to think about before reacting to your loved one's grief.

1.  Each person grieves in "their own unique way." 

2.  The relationship to the deceased may help determine the kind of grief reaction a   person can experience.  A parent who lost a child may experience a more prolonged and acute grief than a sibling who lost a sibling. 

3.  Each person goes through the Stages of Grief at their own pace.  A mother may not be at the same stage as a daughter or son, and may never be. 

4.  Each person may have complicating factors, that another may not be aware of, that may make their grief last longer, or make them react differently to the loss than someone else would. 

5.  Men grieve differently than women.  Children grieve differently than adults.

6.  Some people are comfortable talking about their loved one and their grief, others are not.

7.  Some people may be angry at God, their loved one, the medical community - some may not.

8.  Some people may show outward signs of grieving (crying, talking, anger), others may keep their feelings focused internally (thinking, journaling, other activities done in private).

9.  Some people find comfort in support groups, some prefer to "deal with things on their own."

10.  Some may have "visions" of their loved ones, hear their voices, see them in dreams - and others may not.

The important thing to remember is that there is no wrong or right way to grieve.  Each person has to do it in their own way.  Each person will react and act differently depending on a lot of outside factors.  Only a few of these factors were mentioned above, there are many, many others.  If you are not sure if your loved one is grieving in a healthy way, call a grief specialist. 

When in doubt, just let them know that you love them, care for them and are there for them.

Until next week, please be gentle with yourself.


P.S.  If you have found this posting or previous postings helpful, please consider making a donation to The Bereavement Center.  We are a non-profit organization that serves the community, and we operate solely on donations from families, clients and the community.  As always, your donation will be greatly appreciated and acknowledged.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Masks We Wear

The decorating of masks is one of the projects that the children in our Children’s Art Therapy Program create.  But the concept of “mask wearing” is not unique to children.  Adults too, wear “masks” everyday.  When we are in grief, we tend to wear our masks most of the time.  We try to protect our children from seeing our pain and our tears, we try to protect our spouses because we don’t want them to feel bad, we try to protect our friends because we don’t want to burden them and we protect our co-workers and employers because we don’t want our feelings to effect our work, or potentially jeopardize our job.  There appears to be a lot of hiding the grief feelings a person HAS to feel in order to get through the grief process.  So when does a person get to work on their grief?  When do they get to sit quietly to reflect and to cry?  Not giving oneself this time can be detrimental to their physical and emotional being.  If a person feels that their grieving is taking longer than they think it should, it could be that the mask needs to come off from time to time.  There is no getting around it – you have to feel to heal.  You have to let your emotions fill you (whatever they are – anger, sadness, guilt, regret), honor them (accept them without judgment), and offer them release (crying, pounding pillows, journaling, performing a ritual or memorial ceremony – lighting candles, planting flowers). 


I found a writing that describes this process beautifully.  Unfortunately the author is unknown so I cannot give credit where credit is due, but I hope you enjoy it and take the message with you.


Until next week, please be gentle with yourself.




P.S.  If you have found this article, or previous articles, helpful, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to the Bereavement Center.  We are a non-profit agency and we operate solely on donations from the community.  Any donation, no matter how great or how small, is greatly appreciated and will be acknowledged.



Please Hear What I Am Not Saying . . .


Don’t be fooled by me.  Don’t be fooled by the mask I wear.  For I wear a mask, a thousand masks, masks that I’m afraid to take off, and none of them are me.  Pretending is an art that’s second nature with me, but don’t be fooled – for God’s sake don’t be fooled.  I give you the impression that I’m secure, that all is sunny and unruffled with me, within as well as without, that confidence is my name and coolness my game.  That the water’s calm and I’m in command, and that I need no one.  But don’t believe me – PLEASE.


My surface may seem smooth, but my surface is my mask, my ever-varying and ever-concealing mask. Beneath lies no smugness, no complacence.  Beneath dwells the real me in confusion, in fear, in aloneness.  But I hide this.  I don’t want anybody to know it.  I panic at the thought of my weakness and fear being exposed.  That’s why I frantically create a mask to hide behind,a nonchalant, sophisticated façade, to help me pretend, to shield me from the glance that knows.  But such a glance is my salvation.  My only salvation.  And I know it.  That is, if it’s followed by acceptance, if it’s followed by love.


It’s the only thing that can liberate me from myself, from my own self-built prison walls, from the barriers that I so painstakingly erect.  It’s the only thing that will assure me of what I can’t assure myself that I’m really worth something.  But I don’t tell you this.  I don’t dare.  I’m afraid to.  I’m afraid that you’ll think less of me, that you’ll laugh, and your laugh will kill me.  I’m afraid deep-down I’m nothing, that I’m just no good, and that you will see this and reject me.  So I play my game, my desperate pretending game, with a façade of assurance without and a trembling child within.  And so begins the parade of masks.  And my life becomes a front.  I chatter to you idly in the suave tones of surface talk.  I tell you everything that’s really nothing, and nothing of what’s everything, of what’s crying within me.


So when I’m going through my routine do not be fooled by what I am saying.  Please listen carefully and try to hear what I’m not saying, what I’d like to be able to say, what for survival I need to say, but what I can’t say.  I dislike hiding.  Honestly.  I dislike the superficial game I’m playing, the superficial, phony game.  I’d really like to be genuine and spontaneous – and me.  But you’ve got to help me. You’ve got to hold out your hand even when that’s the last thing I seem to want, or need.  Only you can wipe away from my eyes the blank stare of the breathing dead.  Only you can call me to aliveness.  Each time you’re kind, and gentle, and encouraging, each time you try to understand because you really care, my heart begins to grow wings, very small wings, very feeble wings, but wings.


With your sensitivity and sympathy, and your power of understanding, you can breathe life into me.  I want you to know that.  I want you to know how important you are to me, how you can be a creator of the person that is me, if you choose to.  Please choose to.  You alone can break down the wall behind which I tremble, you alone can remove my mask, you alone can release me from my shadow-world of panic and uncertainty, from my lonely prison.  So don’t pass me by.


It will not be easy for you.  A long conviction of worthlessness builds strong walls.  The nearer you approach me, the more blindly I may strike back.  It’s irrational, but despite what the books say about man, I am irrational.  I fight against the very thing that I cry out for.  But I am told that love is stronger than strong walls, and in this lies my hope.  My only hope.


Please try and beat down those walls with firm hands, but with gentle hands – for a child is very sensitive.  Who am I, you may wonder?  I am someone you know very well.  For I am every man you meet.  And I am every woman you meet.