Kristina Callender, LICSW
Licensed Clinical Social Worker and AHELPer since 2011
"Why does it feel like grief when my animal companion is living with illness or advanced age?"
Jeannie Black and her "Lucky" share a tender moment in his last months of hospice care. (Photo: Jeannie Black Photography)
Anticipatory grief is common before an impending loss and is experienced by a loved one when an animal friend is terminally ill or advanced in age. Similar to the grief response after a loss, an individual can experience a multitude of emotions and symptoms. It’s normal to feel difficult emotions including fear, anger, and denial. The anticipation may also cause one to feel guilty that one is giving up or emotionally abandoning your beloved animal friend while they’re still living. You may feel anxiety in anticipation of a loss.
Knowing that your animal friend is frail can cause you to focus on the fragility of life. The anticipation of their death can encourage us to say what is in our hearts and do important things to reduce future regrets. Even though our animal friends do not respond to us in words it can be valuable to tell and show your loved one how you feel and how they have touched your life. Consider activities to solidify your relationship such as photographs, paw prints, and videos. Just like bereavement, this is a personal process, so find ways to express your emotions and activities that are meaningful for you.
Talking about your feelings with caring people can be very beneficial. Allowing others to listen and validate our emotions helps reduce the isolating thoughts. Consider the AHELP Project Animal Caregiver Support Circle as one option for community support from people with shared values. When talking isn’t appropriate or comfortable, consider writing about your feelings. Be kind and understanding to yourself and expect to experience a multitude of emotions. Good self-care is important to help you physically weather the feelings that are normal when we see a beloved animal companion approaching end of life.
Look for AHELP’s blogs on Tuesdays and Saturdays, for more on caring for your animal friend in the bittersweet and beautiful times that come with illness and end-of-life. Please contact Michelle at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.