Pet Loss Grief and Closure:
You Grieve Because You Loved
You cannot "finish grief" caused by the death of your pet, or cross grief off your to-do list. You grieve because you loved. You can, however, gain insights to help mend your broken heart and move toward healing.
Grief never ends. But it changes.
It’s a passage, not a place to stay.
Grief is not a sign of weakness
nor a lack of faith.
It is the price of love.
Closure: An Overused Word
I don’t like the word closure. Several years ago I had just arrived home after having my cat euthanized. Her death was sudden and unexpected. As I got out of the car, I leaned against its door and began to cry. My neighbor was mowing his lawn. He came over and asked me what was wrong. I told him that I had returned from the veterinary hospital after my cat's euthanasia.
He responded, "Oh. You'll get over it." When I mumbled, "I doubt that," he shrugged his shoulders and went back to his mowing. He eventually moved from the neighborhood but I never said more than hello to him again.
"You'll get over it" is a less polite way of saying "You'll find closure." Both remarks are insensitive to the pain of pet loss.This type of reaction to the death of a beloved pet is common and is one form of disenfranchised grief--deeply felt by the griever but diminished or ignored by others. After all, she was just a cat...
Closure comes from the Latin word clausura meaning 'a finish or conclusion' and is often used in the news to describe grief reactions. For example, we are told by reporters that grief counselors were on hand to help people with closure--immediately after school tragedies, acts of violence or natural disasters.
Yes, on-site grief counselors can provide comfort and emotional support for survivors of catastrophe. I often wonder, however, why media people insist on using the word closure to portray grievers so soon after personal or public sorrow. I suspect that they either do not understand grief, or they want to complete the story and move on.
The Pressure to Finish Grief
The desire for closure can influence us on a personal level because grief disturbs people. It is uncomfortable for many friends, co-workers, and even family members, to be around sorrow. They want to fix us—and quickly—so we can wrap it up, bring grief to a conclusion and get back to our former selves. In our efforts to be considerate, we try to comply with this notion of closure and "snap out of it" because we do not want to disrupt someone else’s day, or event, with our sadness.
The pressure to finish grief creates an added burden for us, especially because the heartache caused by a pet’s death is often a hidden sorrow, undervalued or dismissed by others. Not only do we need to grieve, but we need to grieve as fast as we can and move on from pet loss. In other words, we need to find closure.
But how do we put an ending on the permanent loss of the pet we loved so much? The honest answer is that we do not. There will always be sadness and we will never forget, nor would we want to forget, a life so dear to us.
Grieving the death of your pet is painful, but over time, you can gain insight that will give you some perspective on the loss and assist you in healing. It can range from learning the cause of your pet's unexpected death* to recognizing how your pet's slow decline affected you and your family during a prolonged illness. This perspective, or awareness, allows you to work through the “what ifs” and “if onlys” surrounding the death, and all the other questions or doubts that keep you awake at night.
Understanding the how and why by filling in the gaps allows you to begin mending your broken heart, but there will always be unfinished business. You can never finish everything because grief is not some type of work project with a specific date for completion. You can, however, gain new insights that move you toward healing.
*Sometimes knowing what happened causes more pain than not knowing the details. Only you can decide which is better for you.
A Reflection of Loss
Grief is a mirror that you hold up as it reflects your loss back to you. You learn to live with the loss, move forward with your life, and even smile again, but grief does not go away and neither does the love for your animal companion. They belong to you and are part of your history now. There is no going back to the way things were before the death of your pet.
Closure may work in the practical world, but not in matters of the heart. Think instead in terms of healing as you carry loving memories of your cherished pet with you into the life you create after loss.
"Remember, the experience of loss is different for everyone. It is only by moving toward the loss that one can learn to live with it. And when it comes to grief, there is no such thing as 'closure.' Although you will get through the grief, and return to a usual way of life, there may always be moments, among the happy memories, of sadness and longing. This is just a reflection of the enduring love for your pet. Although your time together ended, the love will never end."
Sources | Related Reading
Pet Loss Grief
Compassionate insights by Adam Clark of Psychology Today
Closure | General Grief
Insight # 12? Grief is not about closure.