Time to Plan: the “UP-side to Anticipatory Grief” - Part I

Michelle Nichols, MS
AHELP Project Director and Co-founder

Most of us don’t wish to think about the approaching death of our pet. How many of us have tried to conveniently forget that it won’t happen (denial) or that NOT thinking about their declining health will make the reality go away (avoidance)?


Elaine Lam and Mone Mone enjoy quiet time together. (photo: Elaine Lam)

Unfortunately, there’s very little we can do to prevent the reality of their death. But be gentle with yourself. All of us in AHELP Project know that it’s perfectly normal to employ these protective mechanisms while we continue to adapt to the changes that lay ahead in the journey.

But there’s a silver lining to that grey cloud that lurks overhead. After their diagnosis or your acknowledgement of their decline, you have the potential to use that tender time to plan your family companion’s “path of least regrets.” The AHELP Project’s Animal Caregiver Support Program can offer you assistance in evaluating your choices and in creating a plan based on our assistance, and being “a help” in exploring questions in the end-of-life journey.

WHY do we help you develop your “path for least regrets” for your animal friend?

As their guardians, and in exchange for their unconditional love, don’t we all say that “we just want them to be comfortable”? We all want COMFORT for your beloved companion and for your family. The developing field of animal hospice and palliative care calls for an interdisciplinary team of providers for good quality of life for your friend and for your family, too.

Based upon your veterinary team’s recommendations, their education, and your careful consideration, we will first look at your CHOICES and build a plan for excellent pain management for your pet. As his caregiver, what are your goals for his end-of-life? Trust your intuition that you call upon in a quiet, relaxed moment, and your goals will feel the same as hers. Have you considered your veterinary team’s recommendations and still remained true to your values and beliefs about life and death? As in birth, we can never predict the twists and turns that these vulnerable life stages bring. We’ll help you build a plan and a back-up plan...and depending upon predicted complexities, there might even be a back-up to the back-up plan.

Besides the simple comfort we seek, you can also use this period for:

  • Thinking about and planning what to do with your pet's remains after death (keeping in mind what's best for your family and what's consistent with your own beliefs).
  • Talking to your veterinarian to clear up any questions or reservations about your pet's diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis. (Expressing your greatest fears enables both you and your veterinarian to plan out how to deal with them).
  • Thinking about and planning a ritual, ceremony or other way of memorializing your pet.
  • Making your final days with your pet as special as possible and making treasured memories that will offer you comfort later (e.g. indulging in your pet's favorite activities; taking lots of pictures; taking a feather or clipping of fur; preserving a paw print).
  • Taking care of yourself while caring for your sick animal (by getting enough nourishment, relaxation, rest, and exercise).

In our next blog post, we’ll consider other aspects of this anticipatory grief period, including how to enact the plan to enable good quality of life until the end-of-life. Please contact Michelle at [email protected] if you have any questions.

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