Animal companions have increasingly become an important part of American families. In an ever more virtual world, they offer a tactile, present, bonding experience, an acceptance and ability to love and be love which is sometimes absent from modern life. Yet such losses are often relegated to a kind of "disenfranchised grief", and the mourner has difficulty communicating the significance of the loss to those whose support he or she needs.
For many, animal companions are their "children" and losing them can precipitate devastating grief and depression.
With the merriment of the holiday season well underway, those struggling with the loss of a beloved animal companion may feel removed and disconnected from the festivities. Mourning is hard work, and unrelenting in its early stages. Trying to solider on and participate in social gatherings after such loss can intensify grief.
Has the world forgotten about the life of your precious friend?
You have not.
You may feel that you’d rather stay home then celebrate anything, it may even somehow feel disloyal to continue normal traditions when your companion no longer lives. You may still be struggling with the feelings of trauma, guilt, remorse and loneliness that often follow animal companion loss. Depression may lurk as your feelings of separateness from those around you creates barriers to even the closest friendships. Loved ones may encourage you to move on and this feels invalidating when loss is new.
In the world of human grief, we are “allowed” a year to mourn each anniversary, each holiday, each milestone that occurred throughout life with our dear friend. To expect that you would recover more quickly is unrealistic, but of course depends on the quality, duration and significance of the loss.
Dickens, the Golden Retriever whose life inspired my work with the human animal bond (and www.petlosshelp.org ) was born on Christmas Eve and died on Yom Kippur. Those annual hallmarks never pass without reflection, commemoration and gratitude for his life.