Is this normal?
It’s one of the most common concerns that my clients express when working through pet grief. But what does normal really mean?
- I started crying uncontrollably while I was in the line at the coffee shop today.
- I talk to my pet every day, even though they are no longer here.
- I yelled at a close friend because they told me I needed to get over it.
- I put my pet’s ashes on the couch next to me while I watch tv.
- It’s been six months and I still avoid walking past the park we used to go to.
Are these normal or abnormal behaviours in the context of pet grief? Who gets to decide? More importantly, does it even matter?
What’s important about normal?
Wanting to know if our emotions, behaviours, thoughts and actions are “normal” is understandable when we’re faced with intense emotions or grief. We want to make sense of it all. It may be our first time grieving the loss of a pet and we want to know what the experience is going to look like.
When I went through the loss of my first pet, there were many moments where I was convinced I had lost my mind. Where my inner critic was shouting out what on earth are you doing? We want “normal” to be our anchor, that thing we can reach out to when our emotions feel like they are spiraling out of control.
I believe that underneath this question is a desire for reassurance. We want to know that we’re going to make it through the illness or loss of our pet. We want to know that we’ll eventually feel better. We want a sign that we’ll be ok.
But there is no checklist of what’s normal or not. There is no normal timeline for grief. What helps me cope with the loss of my pet may not help you. When we seek out “normal” we end up burdening ourselves with unrealistic expectations. It adds to our emotional overwhelm because now we’re worrying about whether our grief is normal.
Our grief is shaped by so many factors: our relationship with our pet, the circumstances of their death, our support network, other stresses in our life, our personality, our beliefs, our experience with grief and loss…just to name a few.
What if you gave yourself permission to grieve the way you need to? YOUR normal?
Rather than trying to figure out if something is “normal” ask yourself – is this behaviour, action or thought…
- Serving me in any way?
- Supporting my healing or keeping me stuck?
- Honouring my values? Honouring the bond I had with my pet?
- Negatively impacting those I care about?
- Helping me be present with my emotions?
- Still useful for me today?
When we ask ourselves these questions, it deepens our understanding of our grief-related thoughts and actions and allows us to focus on what’s important- the things that will help us heal. The behaviours and routines that bring us comfort initially may be the same things we need to let go of as we move through our grief. It’s a fluid process, and all we can do is take it one step at a time.
So yes, your grief is “normal”, you will mourn your loss in your own unique way. You will make it out the other side in a way that feels right for you.
An important note: For some, grief can become debilitating and lead to depression or thoughts of suicide. If you have any thoughts about harming yourself or others, please reach out for help immediately.
Do you need some extra support as you grieve? Contact me for a complimentary Paws for a Moment call to learn more about how I can support you – firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2018 Jen Burton