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The Many Faces of Grief

As she looked at her reflection in the mirror, she was painfully aware he was no longer

sitting by her side; she mournfully pondered which one of the many faces of grief had

taken his place. ~ Helen

One would think that grief is grief, however, it has many faces.

The definition of grief: “grief is the response too loss, particularly to the loss of someone or some living thing that has died, to which a bond or affection was formed. Although conventionally focused on the emotional response to loss, grief also has physical, cognitive, behavioural, social, cultural, spiritual and philosophical dimensions.”

I believe it is important to make clear, and for you to understand, that grief does not only manifest itself from the death/loss of a loved one, it can rear its ugly head from the loss of a friendship, marriage, job, home or a dream, to name but a few. It is equally important to clarify that one needs to face whatever the personal loss is, if not, be sure that somewhere and sometime down the road it will come back to visit you and is often more debilitating in the long-term if left untreated.

As different is our DNA so too will be our grief journey. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, there is no playbook; it is a minute by minute, hour by hour, day-by-day journey. Grief is a silent and very personal weight to carry.

Below I have listed ten of the most recognized types of grief.

Anticipatory grief, a set of emotions and responses that result when someone is anticipating the death of a loved one. These emotions can be just as profound as the grief felt after the actual death.

An example of this would be, your pet has been quite ill, you are feeling fearful, sadness and uncertainty, you find yourself focusing on the pending loss.

Compounded grief is when your present loss becomes one with all of your past losses. This compounded grief can feel both overwhelming and confusing. Hence, as noted in my opening paragraph, it is important to allow yourself to deal with each loss as they occur; give yourself permission to walk through the 5 stages of grief.

Cumulative Grief is when you have experienced more than one death in a very short span of time, thereby not allowing you to process each loss on an individual basis. Understandably so, the grief process can take a toll on both your physical and emotional well-being.

Complicated grief, also known as chronic grief, does not allow you to walk through the grief process. You will find yourself stuck and continuously lamenting over the loss. Complicated grief has many of the same symptoms as depression. If you find yourself not being able to move forward through the 5 stages of grief in a healthy and progressive manner, if you are suffering from deep depression and have suicidal thoughts, it is imperative to reach out to both your medical doctor and therapist.

Prolonged grief is when the pet-parent has an unhealthy longing and/or unrelenting preoccupation with the deceased pet. Some of the symptoms can be result in depression, anxiety and/or poor physical health. Again, it is important to seek medical and professional help.

Distorted grief is when someone gets stuck in the stage of anger. Their anger is distorted and can be targeted to the deceased pet, family members, friends, veterinarian, themselves and/or anyone who crosses their path. The stage of anger is healthy and necessary, however not for prolonged periods of time. If anger is not dealt with in a healthy mature way, it can eventually cause harm to both yourself and/or those in your life.

Disenfranchised grief is when someone has experienced a loss and the importance of the loss is not recognized and/or acknowledged by others. When my first dog died, I personally experienced disenfranchised grief. Someone actually did say “Get pass it, it was only a dog.” I knew better.

Delayed grief is exactly that, delaying the grief, not confronting the loss. There may be several reasons for this to occur: not wanting to face the reality of the loss; not giving yourself permission to grieve the loss or growing up in an environment where death was not spoken of and grieving was dissuaded. Only when you allow yourself to accept and recognize the loss will the grieving process begin.

Ambiguous loss is when the loss has no clear and healthy closure. It tends to keep the pet-parent searching for answers; how, why, when, which will most likely delay the grief journey and leave their grief open-ended.

Normal grief is when you are able to walk through the 5 stages of your grief journey with a healthy understanding that you have lost your pet, you are feeling denial, guilty, anger, you may find yourself bargaining, there is a deep sadness and through it all you find acceptance. All of the aforementioned emotions are valid. You miss your furry friend and that too is okay. As I previous noted, there is no right or wrong way to grieve, but it is important to do it in a sound healthy manner. Doing so honours both you and your pet.

As you can appreciate, grief is a multifaceted and non-linear journey we all face at some point during our lives. It is painful and uncomfortable and when left untreated can cause many long-term issues. However, grief does not have to be debilitating and can in fact help us to not only understand ourselves better, but if given the opportunity, it can teach us valuable lessons we can carry with us and apply throughout our lives.

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