Merriam-Webster’s definition of guilt: “feelings of deserving blame especially for imagined offences or from a sense of inadequacy (Self-Reproach)”.
When your pet dies, you may find yourself believing the below imagined offences;
I made poor decisions;
I could have, should have and would have done more;
Because of my lack of doing, giving and being more attentive I am responsible for my pet’s death, when he/she got so sick;
I did not have the opportunity to say good-bye and tell my pet how much I loved him/her; I am coward; I was not present when my pet was euthanized.
These are just a few of the imagined offences that might dominate your thoughts. The list of “could have, should have and would have” can be endless.
Some of the reasons you may find yourself stuck in guilt:
Avoidance of addressing other emotions;
Believe that people expect you to be guilty;
Believe that staying guilty may alter the situation (guilty & denial);
Believe that staying guilty may pave the road to forgiveness from yourself and others (since you cannot get it from the deceased pet);
Believe that staying guilty gives you permission to stay stuck and not to move forward.
I have two sledgehammers, one for you and one for me. We are going to use them to chip away at the wall of guilt.
You made no poor decisions; you did your best with what you knew and understood at the time.
“Could have, should have and would have” have no place in this narrative, again, you did your best with what you knew and understood.
You lacked in nothing, you gave your all, you are not responsible for your pet’s death, you do not have control of life and death.
During the final moments, being caught up in a whirlwind of emotions, saying all you want to say to your pet is understandably missed. In time, when you feel comfortable to do so, write your pet a letter to say good-bye. It does not replace the pet to person good-bye, but it will assist in getting some of your thoughts and emotions off your chest.
Proclaiming that you are a coward bears no truth, many pet-parents do not feel emotionally comfortable to be present and that is okay. Be kind to yourself and give yourself permission to accept your choices.
Once the wall of guilt has been knocked down it will give you the freedom to move forward and begin the healing process. I fully acknowledge that it is an arduous journey and you may have to pick up the sledgehammer a few more times, but remember you do not have to go it alone; I will provide two sledgehammers, one for you and one for me.
“The worst guilt is to accept an unearned guilt.” – Ayn Rand