Disenfranchised grief - when someone has experienced a loss and the importance of the loss is not recognized and/or acknowledged by others.
Repeatedly I have heard from many pet-parents that the loss of their pet was the most devastating and traumatic loss they have experienced, for some far exceeding the death of a close family member. Most noted that over time they were able to pick up the pieces and go on with their life after a human passing, however for many, they were not able to do the same when it came to the loss of their pet. Shame is then often added to the many other emotions that they are already experiencing through their grief.
The following is a fictitious narrative to illustrate a pet-parent experiencing disenfranchised grief, which can sadly be quite a common experience with pet loss:
“When I lost my mother, I was devastated. We were very close, but somehow after time passed, I was able to adjust to my life without her and to continue on, as I know she would want me to. Two years later my cat became ill and was diagnosed with cancer. I gave my all to her care, hoping that I could give her a year or even a few good months. She died three weeks after her original diagnosis. I cannot seem to move on. I struggled when my mother died, but not like this. I am continuously asking myself if I am normal, how can I feel so much more grief for my cat than I did for my own mother? What is wrong with me! I am feeling so ashamed and alone. Ten days after my cat died, family and friends expected me to just move on and be over it. I even had someone say to me “she was just a cat; you can always get another one.” The world around me is moving on, no one seems to really care or understand.”
Though we all have the ability to feel compassion, not everyone is able to truly understand the depth of loss of a pet. It is not necessary to fully understand something to show compassion. Compassion is consciously removing the focus away from yourself and placing it on someone or something else to better empathize with what they are experiencing. It is important to show compassion, respect and kindness to others. So, the next time someone tells you that they have lost their pet, if nothing else let them know that someone is willing to take a moment out of their day to care.
A list of other examples where someone may experience disenfranchised grief:
- A loss of a dream
- A divorce
- A loss of a close friendship
- The loss of a home
- A loss of a job
- A loss of independence due to illness and/or being elderly
- The death of a friend, close acquaintance or co-worker
- Loss of health
- Loss of a limb
- An unexpected (and unwanted) change of school or university
- A mother’s loss or unwilling surrender of a child to fostering or adoption
- A child losing their birth mother to adoption
- Surrendering a pet to a shelter
- Fostering a pet, then releasing to new pet-parent
- Loosing a pet by it getting lost/natural disaster