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Norwich Bulletin - 2/1/2009

How To Grieve

When I come to the end of the road and sun has set for me,
I want no rites in a gloom filled room, Why cry for a soul set free?
Miss me a little, but not for too long, and not with your head bowed low.
Remember the love that we once shared, Miss me – but let me go.
For this is a journey that we all must take and each must go alone.
It’s all part of the master plan – a step to the road home.
When you are lonely and sick of heart, go to the friends we know
And bury your sorrows in doing good deeds – miss me – but let me go.
- Anonymous

No matter what we do to prepare ourselves for the death of a beloved pet, even if we knew it was coming, the heart still breaks when that final moment arrives. If you have ever experienced the intense pain of losing one of your furry friends, then you will relate to this column. Our animals do not live long enough and I am sure that all of my readers will agree on that!

My 13 year old red tabby lies with me as I type this column. His breathing is labored because of the lung cancer, but he continues to purr. We talk about what a wonderful cat he has been and how he came to us. He was the littlest kitten with huge ears sitting in a box at the vet’s office waiting for his first shot. I remember my daughter looking at me with those pleading eyes and saying, “But mommy, we don’t have an orange cat.” She was right, so of course we had to bring him home right then and there. The woman who brought him in was a volunteer for a rescue group (this was in my pre rescue days) and, in fact, she became a very close friend and now sits on the Board of Helping Paws.

We brought the little guy home and he immediately took over the house like gang busters. His name jumped out at us – Capone! He was always sweet and affectionate and a little shy with people. As he grew to be 17 pounds, his name was shortened to Pony. He is now at the end of the winter of his life. I know he is going to leave us very soon – but I will still be surprised when he is gone. The years we have shared together will always be a part of my family. I do know that the painful memories will become comforting, as with the loss of any family member.

So when you lose a pet, allow yourself to mourn, much as you would mourn the death of a person. Some people who are grieving the loss of a long-time animal companion may find that the grieving is even worse than that of losing a human being. And if friends and family do not understand your grief, it somehow minimizes the loss and intensifies the feelings of being alone. So do not allow your family and friends who have never experienced a strong bond with a pet, minimize your pain. Seek out the comfort of people who understand. Grief, like death, affects us all, no matter who we are. And if you do not have anyone who you can share your feelings with, feel free to write to me, as I will always understand.

There are generally five stages of grief and mourning, beginning with denial. This is our built in defense mechanism that allows us to forget the truth of the death for awhile. Although it is only the beginning, and only a temporary response, it helps us begin the grieving process.

With acceptance, comes anger. It may be directed at God, at our vet, at our pet or even ourselves. We don’t really know why we are angry, but it is good to get that anger out of you. And then comes what I think is the worst stage – guilt. We start with the what ifs. What if we had seen that something was wrong sooner. What if we had gotten a second opinion. What if we hadn’t made the choices we made? The blame has to go somewhere – and we have to work it through because we are now suffering the intense pain of reality.

Depression – It manifests itself in different ways – some people become silent. The majority find a wave of sadness surrounding us. It can be hard to function normally, carry on conversations, laugh, or get involved with life in general. Depression can last a long time. I have a friend who ended up in the hospital after losing the battle of keeping her young cat alive. The degrees of depression depend on the person and what else they have in their lives. Eventually most people reach stage five – acceptance. With acceptance, the anger and the sadness begin to leave us and we are comforted by the many memories we hold in our hearts.

I will miss Pony – but when it is time, I will let him go.

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