Why can the death of a pet feel so devastating?
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Lue Glover Wilson Reg.MNCS (Senior Accredited). Dip.Couns & Psych.
9th November, 20130 Comments
At the agency where I work providing support for people who are bereaved, it is not unknown for people to ring in to ask for help because their beloved pet has died and they feel unable to cope with the loss. "I know it's only a dog..." they might say. How can the death of a pet animal mean as much (perhaps more) than the death of a relative or friend? There is a sense of shame around the sense of vulnerability and is hard to talk to people about how you feel when you think they will dismiss the depth of your pain, which you may not understand yourself.
In our early life, we may have been unable to grieve for a loss for many reasons. We may have been too young to properly understand the finality of death and so never felt able to accept that the person who has died will not be coming back. Maybe our family members stopped us from attending a funeral, in an attempt to protect us from the grimness of death - and so we never have a chance to say goodbye. Perhaps, as we grow up, the reality of death has been avoided - it may have felt too painful to engage with the loss, or death may have occurred far away so that there has been no chance to attend a funeral.
You can see that the one constant theme so far is that of avoidance, for whatever reason. An important death remains unacknowledged. So what is the relevance of the death of your pet and the tremendous depth of feeling around that loss?
Early attachment in childhood and the severing of relationships through death surrounded by mystery can leave a sense (sometimes subconcious and unrecognised) of emptiness which nothing seems to fill, until a kitten or puppy arrives to be cared for. The animal seems to give unconditional love in return and when they die, suddenly the reality of death has to be acknowledged and processed, and the earlier avoided grieving is triggered, deepening the sense of sorrow beyond what you, or anyone else, expects.
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