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The Pain of Pet Loss

The death of a companion can be a heart-breaking and devastating experience for us; including the loss of a beloved pet. What is so special about our relationship with our pets, is that they truly love us unconditionally and gift us with the purest form of companionship. We often refer to our pets as “family members” because of the loyalty, trust, and friendship we build with them. Our relationship with them grows and strengthens over time, like any close and meaningful relationship in our lives.

It is very common for our clients to share the painful loss of a pet with us, whether recent or long ago. Sadly, many people feel ashamed or embarrassed by the pain caused by the loss. This is perpetuated by the myths and misinformation about the impact of loss on our lives.

When our pets die, run away, or have to be given away for whatever circumstance, the pain of the loss is not “smaller” or “less than” any other loss we may experience. Our emotional reaction to the loss is unique and individual to us and the relationship we shared with them. We cannot and should not compare our losses. Sometimes our most meaningful, reliable, and trustworthy relationship in our lives is with our pet.

I was inspired to write this blog because I recently had to put my family dog down. I realized again how inevitable grief and loss is in life and how painful it feels to say goodbye to someone I love so much. I feel privileged to share some information on pet loss that really helped me through my grief.

Don’t Replace the Loss: A common statement we hear after pet loss is, “It’s okay, you can get a new dog (cat, horse, etc.).” This comment is illusory, because bringing home a new pet will not take away the heartbreak or replace the special relationship we had with our previous pet. It may temporarily distract us from feeling sad and give us a sense of happiness, but at the end of the day, we still carry the pain from the loss of the pet we had to say goodbye to. Before rushing out to get a new pet, it is important to allow ourselves to grieve, feel our loss, and share our emotional experience with trusted others.

Don’t Minimize Your Feelings: Some people may tell us, “Oh it was just a dog,” or “Your family pet is supposed to die anyways.” These comments minimize our feelings and our loss, and they often isolate us further in our grief. We may begin to lie to others about how deeply we are hurting in order to avoid feeling judged or criticized. Very sadly, we have not been taught the proper tools to help each other through sad and difficult times like these. It is important to know that it is not “silly, immature or embarrassing,” to be devastated after experiencing pet loss of any kind. We all grieve in our own way, and whatever we feel at any given time is both normal and natural. There is no right or wrong way to feel. It is so important to honour your feelings and to be gentle with yourself as you heal through your grief.

Don’t Compare Your Loss: The Grief Recovery Handbook for Pet Loss states that over 14 million people per year in the US will face pet loss. Each relationship between the owner and pet is unique and individual. Not one person on the planet will know exactly how you feel because they are not you. Even if they had a parallel experience, they did not have the exact relationship that you had with your pet. It is easy for us to want to compare feelings with other pet owners whose pets have died, but it doesn’t complete or relieve the pain that we feel in our hearts. We all grieve our losses differently and therefore we should not compare our losses or set standards for how we should feel.

Whether your pet was a part of your life for many years or only a few, your relationship and companionship was meaningful and significant. It is important to acknowledge and honour your feelings as worthy, and normal and natural, and to take new action to heal your heart after loss.

The Grief Recovery Method Program® is a beautiful, heart-centred program that we specialize in at The Grief & Trauma Healing Centre. It provides you with the tangible tools to grieve and complete your relationship with your pet, so that you can move forward with a renewed sense of hope, meaning, and purpose in life. Click here to book an appointment with us today.

This article was written by Gina Baretta, Psychology Intern and Certified Grief Recovery Specialist®, of The Grief & Trauma Healing Centre. Visit www.healmyheart.ca for information about our grief counselling services and Grief Recovery Method® Programs. 

Photo credit: https://www.arflife.org/pet-loss-support-group

Postpartum Grief: Those Who Do Not Have the Emotional Support of a Parent (Part Six of Six)

In this sixth and final article in our series on Postpartum Grief, our focus in on “Postpartum Grief in Those Who Do Not Have the Emotional Support of a Parent.”

The lack of parental support for new parents may be a choice made by the parents themselves or by the grandparents for varying reasons. It may be that the new parents choose not to inform their parents of the pregnancy or the new grandparents choose not to get involved. In other situations, the lack of support is the result of a death of one or both parents of either the mother or father of the baby. These new parents are not only experiencing the many emotions involved in having a new baby but they are also reminded of the death(s) and the missed opportunity to share their experience with their parent(s).

Ashley Shares Her Story

Both my husband and I experienced the grief of not having our fathers there to experience my pregnancy and birth of our son. Although we are both emotionally complete with our fathers and we have processed our grief surrounding their deaths, we still felt the sadness and loss of the hopes and dreams of them becoming grandpas to our child. We shared our grief openly as a couple and talked about what it would have been like to have them here to experience this incredible transition. We know how amazing they would have been with our son and how involved they would have been in his life. Just because the physical relationship ended with our fathers, emotionally the relationships will always continue. There were many tears shared between us, tears of sadness and tears of happiness. It has become an important practice in our marriage to continually take the actions of the Grief Recovery Method to remain complete for our fathers. A large part of this involves sharing our thoughts and feelings openly and honestly with each other whenever we are reminded of them or a missed opportunity to share an experience with them. Expressing our feelings and telling the truth about ourselves has allowed us to process our feelings in the moment and say goodbye to that hope or dream instead of bottling our feelings up inside. This practice has allowed us to stay fully present with our son, in our new roles as parents, and in our marriage.

The birth of a child brings forth tremendous changes and responsibilities into a person’s life. Most of us turn to our parents for emotional support, advice, and general help during this massive transition. Being able to talk to someone close to you who has been through this experience can be positive and reassuring.

Another Mother’s Story 

Another story we would like to share with you is about a new mother who had lost her mother before she had her child. It illustrates the new aspects of grief that can surface, even after becoming emotionally complete in the relationship.

Her Story

Dear Grief Recovery Institute

I’ve recently become a parent (9 months ago).

I have done your Grief Recovery Handbook in 2014 regarding the loss of my Mother in 2003. It was a very healing process for which I’m still so very thankful for!

My (first) question is: is it normal that I am reliving some very painful emotions in regards to my Mothers absence now that I am Mother myself? I think I’m experiencing what you describe in your book as ‘New discoveries’ about unfinished emotional business. Would you advise me to do this in dealing with these emotions?

My second question is regarding parenthood in general and the fact that I am experiencing a lot of similarities in the type of feelings in regards to the feelings of grief. Like your chapter on ‘”common responses” on page 13 for example. I’m experiencing all of those things all over again.

There are so many conflicting feelings and intense emotions involved in parenthood. All very normal in being a parent. It brings a lot of insecurity, pressure, demands and changes with it. All of this has caused me to strongly feel the need to use the grief recovery method in dealing with this big change in my life, with my new identity as a mother. Somehow it is a loss of the type of relationship I had with my life before becoming a mother.

So my remaining questions are: have you heard it before that parenthood can be experienced (partially) as a ‘loss experience’ by people? Would you advise me to apply the method of grief in order for me to process these emotions and feel more complete and acceptant of my role as a mother? If so, how would you advise me to apply the method for this purpose? I’m not sure if going through every step is relevant. I think it would benefit me to the most if I would write down what I experience as a loss/change and then reading them out loud to a partner.

Your time and effort to read and respond to this email is very much appreciated by me!

Kind Regards,

Our Response

Dear _____,

It is understandable that you are feeling a whole new set of emotions regarding your mother with the birth of your child. Most women look to their mothers for advice and support during their pregnancies. I am sure that you thought of a thousand questions or things you wanted to talk with her about before the birth of your child and just as many or more since. That is entirely normal! As your life continues, you will undoubtedly think of more things regarding this relationship.

That does not mean that you have to start back at the beginning to do this additional “completion work” on your relationship with your mother. Chapter 13 talks about what to do when this happens – it is very much like adding an additional note, or PS, at the bottom of a letter. You need to sit down and graph out the new experiences and emotional thoughts you have had about your mother since you did your initial completion letter. Then make a list of additional apologies, forgives and significant emotional statements related to that graph and any other feelings you can think of that may not be related to a specific line on that graph. These could be things that you better understand about what your mother may have said to you that you now see in a different light, as a mother yourself. Then you start with something like, “Mother, I have been reviewing our relationship some more and have thought of additional things that I need to say…” and then write your apologies, forgives and significant emotional statements like you did in the original letter. Last, but not least, you will need to find someone you trust to listen as your read this additional communication out loud.

For goodness sake, do not reread your original letter to your mother as a part of this process, if you still have it. The communication in that letter is complete, and it should never be read again. Reading it over again simply reminds you of things that were unfinished for you before you wrote that letter, and stirs them all up again. After you have shared this additional communication, tear it up and throw it away as well, because it has helped you complete the additional unfinished business you have discovered and is there for unnecessary to save. Then, from now on, when you think of something else you wished might have been different, better or more in that relationship, deal with it in the moment, rather than letting more things accumulate. (This is also covered in Chapter 13.)

You are certainly not alone in discovering more things you need to say. Many grievers are so relieved with what they have accomplished in completing a relationship that they forget that life goes on and new things will continue to happen that need to be addressed. Your question on what to do is one of the most common ones we receive! As I said before, you are very normal!

Regarding that sense of “grief” that you are experiencing as a new mother, that is normal as well. Now, whether you realize it or not, every action you take revolves around not just you, but also on how it will impact your baby. That is an entirely new experience for you! Remember, grief is the normal and natural reaction to every change we experience in life. Having a baby and someone else that is totally dependent on you is certainly a major change in your life! Every first time parent tends to find the experience more overwhelming than they imagined. That does not mean that your baby is a source of grief, but rather that the change in your role as a person is bringing elements of grief into your life. This is additionally impacted by the fact that you cannot sit down and discuss these feeling with your mother as you undoubtedly wish was possible.

You may find that many of these grief related feelings are addressed when you write that additional grief recovery communication to your mother. If you still find that there are additional such feelings that persist after writing that letter, you might consider writing a completion letter about your relationship to your old self as a non-parent, versus who you are now as a mother. Most women would never consider taking this action, because they have not had the experience of using the Grief Recovery Method to deal with another relationship in the past. They simply ride that roller coaster of emotions that come with motherhood and are at a loss in dealing with the conflicting feelings they discover. The fact that you have realized that you could benefit from taking recovery action shows that you know that, rather than living with these feelings, you have to option work through them in a positive way. You should be very proud of yourself for seeing that!

I am so glad that you thought to contact us with these questions. I truly believe that your ability to look for assistance in dealing with these feelings of loss shows that you are going to be an amazing mother!

Take care – Steve Moeller

Her Reply

Dear Steve,

I did it! I managed to do the additional completion work. It’s been a hard three weeks, but I’m feeling proud and fulfilled in having completed what was unfinished in my relationship with my mother. A space for moving forward has been created again in my life. I was so relieved to read that my question about doing additional work was so normal! I’m very happy I decided to contact you about it and that I managed to do the completion work.

I feel that the additional feelings regarding my new role as a mother were also addressed in my letter. I’m more able to accept and allow feelings of hardship (like extreme fatigue and feelings of isolation) regarding my role as a fulltime mother to arise and live through them instead of fighting them and stressing over them. I’m proud that I made a step in the right direction with this additional completion work and will continue to deal with the emotions regarding motherhood and the absence of my own mother in the moment when they arise so that I don’t get stuck on the past.

The Grief Recovery Handbook has taught me so much. It has served (and will continue to serve) as a huge support in my life and I’m very grateful for its existence. I truly hope more people realize that there is way to deal with the losses in their lives using this method.

Thank you very much Steve for you guidance and support!

Kind Regards,

Taking Action for a More Positive Future

No matter the circumstances that have caused you to be missing the support of a parent during pregnancy, childbirth and/or the postpartum period, you can use the same approach to dealing with your emotional pain. In those situations where that new grandparent is still living, but not emotionally available to provide support, it can be valuable to take Grief Recovery action to deal with the issues in that relationship. By doing so, you can avoid allowing those elements of grief from impacting your relationship with your new child.

Many of us look back at our own upbringing and think of things that we want to avoid repeating with our own children. Sometimes these are little things. For those who grew up in an abusive environment, they are often major things that these new parents wish to do differently. Taking Grief Recovery Action is a valuable and positive action that can be done to help fulfill this wish to be a better parent.

Concluding Remarks

Throughout this series we have talked about the value of The Grief Recovery Method in helping new mothers and fathers in dealing with the many changes that come with childbirth. In this article, Ashley shared her own personal story and Steve shared the story of a woman he had the privilege of supporting through a parallel situation. Both stories illustrated the power of the Method in helping both mothers remain complete in their relationship with their parent and with their new baby.

We sincerely hope that if you are dealing with any issues related to postpartum grief, or any other grief in your life, that you will look into The Grief Recovery Method as a way to both survive and thrive. We offer programs, books, and training to not only deal with loss related to past relationships and situations, but also concerning the loss of pets and in helping parents assist their children with grieving experiences. Our goal isn’t to just assist you at the time of loss, but to give you the necessary tools to better approach ongoing relationships as well.

From Our Hearts to Yours,

Steve Moeller and Ashley Mielke

This article was written by Ashley Mielke, Owner & Director of The Grief & Trauma Healing Centre and Steve Moeller, Certified Grief Recovery Specialist® and Trainer at The Grief Recovery Institute.

Visit www.healmyheart.ca for information about our grief counselling services and Grief Recovery Method® Programs. 

Postpartum Grief: Placing a Baby for Adoption (Part Five of Six)

In this fifth article of our six-part series on Postpartum Grief, our focus is on “Postpartum Grief in Mothers Who Place Their Child for Adoption.”  Although the emotional implications of placing a newborn for adoption can be lifelong, the emphasis of this article is on the postpartum period.

We cannot imagine that making the decision to place a baby for adoption is an easy one.  There are a number of reasons why a woman would choose this option for her baby including, economic circumstances, their age, or the hope of offering their child better opportunities for the future. Whatever the reason, these mothers are likely to deal with a variety of postpartum grief issues.

Background Information

The number of mothers who have chosen to place their baby for adoption has decreased in the past several decades; particularly single mothers.  From the 1950’s to the 1970’s, nearly 9% of single mothers placed their baby for adoption, and since that time, the number has decreased to about 2%.  Not only do single mothers choose adoption, surrogate mothers and committed and married mothers do as well.

In the past, the vast majority of adoptions were “closed adoptions”.  In these cases, the birth mother had little to no involvement with their new born baby after birth and after placement. Today, more mothers are electing to have some form of an “open adoption,” which offers them the opportunity to learn more about the adoptive family and/or to have regular updates and even some form of contact with their child during his or her life.

Logic vs. Emotion

No matter the circumstances, the emotional impact of placing a child for adoption can be enormous, and extend well beyond the initial postpartum period.  From the logical standpoint, most of these mothers feel that they made this choice in the best interest of their newborn’s future.  Family members, friends, partners, and even adoption agencies will often use this logical reasoning to encourage new mothers to make this choice. In truth, it is simply a statement of fact! No matter how true this may be, no amount of logic can fully address the emotional pain of giving up your child to be raised by someone else.

This is a Different Kind of Grieving Experience

Grief is the normal and natural reaction to any major change in life.  Giving birth to a child is a life changing event!  In previous articles in this series we have discussed how childbirth can lead to “the baby blues” and, in some cases, even “postpartum depression.”  In each of these situations, these mothers are dealing with the many impactful changes these new infants bring to their daily life.  These changes, in and of themselves, can include elements of grief.

The new mother who has placed her child for adoption is dealing with a wide variety of grieving experiences which are often overlooked and ignored.  Despite having gone through the physical and emotional experience of a successful pregnancy and childbirth, they are moving forward without this new child being physically a part of their daily routine.

In researching this article, we have come across the accounts of a number of women who have shared their personal stories of grief.  The common thread in many of these stories is that despite knowing that their decision was the correct choice for their child, they are still dealing with their own broken heart.

The Postpartum Period for These Mothers

Few, if any, women imagine being in the situation where they will give birth and then place their child in the arms of another family, perhaps to never see them again.

A web search will find multiple references regarding the children and adoptive parents, when it comes to the issues they will face.  Sadly, there is a remarkable lack of information that is readily available to these birthmothers concerning the emotional challenges that they may experience.

There can be an intense sense of loss and emotional pain in surrendering parental rights of a child.  It is in this early period that friends and family are often encouraging them to “move on” with their lives.  This is similar to telling someone dealing with any major grief experience not to feel bad.  There are no words that anyone can say that will heal the emotional pain of the loss; it only encourages them to hide those feelings from others.  This is one of the most common bits of bad advice given to any grieving person.

It is normal and natural to want to express one’s emotional truth to others and have it both recognized and heard.  When those expressions of pain are analyzed, judged, or discounted, grievers tend to build walls around their feelings and sometimes even emotionally disconnect.  Those feelings do not go away, just because they are suppressed.

Adopt Ontario notes that birthmothers who give up the legal custody of their children may tend to isolate from their friends and family, which can lead to depression.  They note that this sense of grief and loss is often not recognized by physicians, social workers, or therapists.

The American Adoption Congress also indicated that many of these mothers are also dealing with intense feelings of shame as well.  Shame, in this case, is another word for grief.  These feelings may be related not only to placing their child for adoption, but also even becoming pregnant in the first place.

Another piece of advice that is given to birthmothers is that if they wait for time to pass they will feel better.  The concept that “grief just takes time” is a major myth.  Time does nothing to heal the pain of emotional loss.  If anything, time only intensifies the feelings of loss they experience, since they spend much of that time wondering what is happening with their child and all of the missed opportunities to watch them grow up.

Help is Available

As is the case in any grieving situation, taking action for recovery is the best solution.  Having someone listen to what these mothers are experiencing and offering them direction is the key to moving forward and preventing these feelings of loss from becoming a permanent part of their lives.  They need to have assistance in dealing with and “completing” their relationship with their child.

The Grief Recovery Method offers proven direction in helping people deal with emotional loss.  It gives these mothers not just the chance to express their feelings without analysis, criticism, or judgment, but also the tools to make it possible to move forward.  “The Grief Recovery Handbook” is a guided journey to dealing with all of those things they might have wished had been different, better, or more in their relationship with their child.

Birthmothers who choose the route of adoption are even more susceptible to the many grief issues associated with pregnancy and birth.  They desperately need people to stand beside them and help them through their postpartum period, reassuring them that whatever they are feeling is completely normal and natural and should be expressed openly and honestly with trusted others in their lives.

This article was written by Steve Moeller, Certified Grief Recovery Specialist® and Trainer at The Grief Recovery Institute and Ashley Mielke, Owner & Director of The Grief & Trauma Healing Centre.

Visit www.healmyheart.ca for information about our grief counselling services and Grief Recovery Method® Programs. 

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