Marcus was my chronically ill Miniature Pinscher, a spitfire that was diagnosed with Cushings and Diabetes early on in life. He had not been doing well for a couple of days. He wouldn’t eat. I spoon-fed him baby food. On Wednesday, February 29th of last year, my alarm went off at 6am and I noticed Marcus is not sleeping over my head as usual. He moved over to other side of the bed. I reached over and felt him breathing, so I hit the snooze button and went back to sleep. The alarm goes off again and when I look over at Marcus I see that he died. I performed CPR on him and although he began to breathe, he did not regain consciousness.
I called the Katonah Bedford Emergency Animal Hospital to inform them I was on my way. They have brought Marcus back from certain death on several occasions. They stabilized him and let me in to see him. I gave him Reiki and his heart beat improved for a few minutes and then settled back to where it was. He looked like he was improving and dodged the bullet yet again. A couple of hours later, he had another heart attack. I could not let him continue like this and let the veterinarian send him up. Probably the hardest decision I have ever made. Marcus is the dog that guided me into crystal therapy and Reiki.
I always said that in spite of his medical problems, Marcus would not go until he was damn well ready to do so. Looks like he was even though I was not. I was fortunate to have the full support of my family and friends, but not everyone is so lucky.
Grief is a normal response to the loss of a loved one. There is no pill you can take. Only time.
Depending on whom you talk to, there are either five or seven recognized stages of grief. They do not happen in any particular order. You may not go through all of them or spend the same amount of time on each. You may work through one stage in three minutes and another in three months. Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross M.D. described five stages of grief in her book “On Death and Dying” as:
- Denial – This is where you have difficultly believing your pet has died.
- Anger – You question how fair is this. Or it can be directed at someone or yourself depending on the circumstances of the death.
- Bargaining – There has been a mistake. Somebody needs to fix this.
- Depression – You realize there is no mistake and you are very sad over the loss.
- Acceptance – You accept what has happened and do what is needed to move forward.
Other grief counselors may add shock and guilt as stages. Shock is the numbness you may feel after learning of the death. Guilt, somehow you blame yourself for the loss.
Grief manifests in many forms.
- There may be physical symptoms such as crying, shock, lump in throat, shortness of breath, tightness in chest, (do not quickly disregard the last two as it may also be the first indication of a heart attack) lack of energy, disturbing dreams, insomnia, lack of hunger or overeating, body aches, and dizziness.
- There may be mental and emotional symptoms such as confusion, preoccupied with the loss, hallucinations particularly in regards to the pet, sadness, anger, resentment, guilt, anxiety, inappropriate behavior, and feeling overwhelmed.
- Symptoms presenting themselves socially can include withdrawing from your friends or becoming overly dependent on them and distracting yourself with an increased workload.
- It may strengthen or weaken your spiritual beliefs, or move you to a radically different belief system from the one you currently practice.
Grief gradually improves over time, but be aware of some warning signs that immediate intervention is needed.
- Thoughts of suicide. In grief, it’s normal to have FLEETING thoughts of suicide. When they do not go away, tell someone.
- Panic Attacks.
- Depression. Depression and grief are two very different behaviors. Grief may mimic some of symptoms of clinical depression. While grief can runs its course without intervention, depression cannot. Sigmund Freud summed up the difference as follows, “ In grief, the world looks poor and empty. In depression, the person feels poor and empty.”
Support is crucial is helping grief run its course. This process can be hindered by such factors as circumstances surrounding the death, no previous experience with a loss, insensitive comments, or multiple losses. As everybody handles grief in his or her own way, find what support system works for you. There are many options.
- Supportive family and friends. Not the ones who minimize your feelings towards your loss because “It’s just a pet.”
- Grief Counselors. There are many that specialize in pet bereavement.
- Your religious or spiritual leader.
- Animal communicators. Be careful here because there are many charlatans. I am fortunate to have the real deal as one of my clients and good friend.
- Online support. One of the best listing of online resources can be found at www.tufts.edu/vet/petloss/links.html. Online sources can be valuable particularly when in person support is not available to you. Many organizations provide free online counseling, help in finding a local counselor, virtual candle lighting, and chat rooms with other people experiencing the same loss as you. Most have online shops to buy personalized mementos.
Marcus is forever in my heart. As a memento of him, I have his necklace in my pocket. Whenever I feel sad, I take it out and hold it in my hands until the sad thoughts are replaced with happy memories.