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01/21/2009

pet memorialMany people don’t understand the enormous emotional burden that losing a pet can create. According to research from the American Veterinary Medical Association, the grieving process that follows the loss of a pet can closely resemble the process experienced by people who have lost a family member or close friend. From my experience in dealing with grieving pet owners on a daily basis, I would say that this is more often the case than not.

Pet owners often also suffer from the insensitivity that others show in regard to their pet’s medical dire conditions, impending deaths and then the deaths themselves. This makes the pet owner feel disenfranchised because they can’t share the burden of their grief. Disenfranchised grief is grief that is not acknowledged by society. When someone is not acknowledging grief, it is because they don’t understand the legitimacy of the grief, not because they are an insensitive person. But the effects of disenfranchised grief on the griever can be very troublesome. When one is grieving, whether over the loss of a human or a pet, they need support, sensitivity and room to grieve. They need the freedom and support to grieve in whatever way is helpful to them, albeit a good cry, talking about the loss, a pet memorial ceremony or simply putting their pet to rest in a pet urn.

Years ago, pets were kept in the backyard and fed scraps. Today they’re an integral part of our families. For some they are the only family that they have. As our pets have moved into our homes and into our hearts, they’re slowly becoming accepted by society as family members. Those who aren’t pet owners and pet lovers don’t always understand the close relationships that we have with our pets, and in turn, the deep grief that can be suffered when we lose them. They aren’t able to acknowledge the pain and suffering that pet owners experience. They don’t understand the need for pet memorials and the rituals that help owners to move through their grief.

It makes perfect sense that we get so attached to our pets. They offer us unconditional love, something that we humans still have not mastered. Our pets just love us. They don’t care what we look like, what we haven’t accomplished in life, what our failures are, how many material possessions we have or what kind of car we drive. They don’t care if we’re married or single, are able to have children or are in great shape. They just love us.

They wait eagerly for us to arrive home again every day and sit quietly by our sides when we’re sad and lonely. Their sensitivity and intuitive skills are often uncanny and often make us feel understood without words.

It’s okay to grieve over the loss of your pet. It is perfectly normal, and healthy. It is nothing to be ashamed of and nothing that you have to explain or justify. According to Cori Bussolari, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist specializing in chronic illness and bereavement issues and Assistant Professor and the Coordinator of the Marriage and Family Therapy program at the University of San Francisco., losing a pet “is a major stressor and loss for you, whether or not other people may feel the same way. What is most important is that you are feeling grief and you have every right to feel this way. This is a valid loss and ALL of your feelings are important.”

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