You may have been told that your beloved pet has a terminal illness and that nothing can be done or maybe you are watching your elderly pet start to decline. So many things may run through your mind and your anxiety level may start to rise wondering things like: When will this happen? How will this happen? Why is this happening? These emotions and thoughts you are experiencing while your pet is still here are called anticipatory grief. Since grief does not wait for death to occur there are things that can be done to help you cope while your pet is ill.
Not everyone experiences anticipatory grief but for those who do there are many thoughts and emotions that can become overwhelming. Here are a few steps that you can take to try to make this transitional period less stressful.
- First, you have to take care of yourself. This is not selfish, if you do not take care of yourself you won’t be able to care for your pet or family members. Anticipatory grief often comes in the form of emotions that can include sadness, depression, anxiety, anger, and more. Make sure to give yourself permission to feel what you are feeling as these emotions are normal and be sure to seek professional help if these feelings become overwhelming. Grief counseling either in a group setting or one on one can help you sort out your thoughts and emotions and give you coping mechanisms in this difficult time.
- Stay informed, learn as much as you can about the disease process and what to expect as the disease or condition progresses. This may be very difficult, but planning ahead may make this transition period more bearable.
- Spending time with your pet and doing things that you both enjoy will give you wonderful memories for years to come. Find ways to honor your pet and do things that will strengthen your bond.
- Taking the time to put together a photo album or scrap book can be a rewarding project that you can share with family and friends. Creating memorials such as these can help you direct your grief into something you can control.
- Talk to your veterinarian, close friends or relatives about what you are going through and set up a support system that you feel comfortable with and trust.
Anticipatory grief does not mean that before the loss of your pet, you feel the same kind of grief as the grief felt after the loss. Be sure to be gentle with yourself and remember that this journey is different for everyone, what you feel or what someone else feels may be very different. It is also important to note that a sense of relief after your pet has passed is normal and that feeling of relief can also lead to feelings of guilt. Remember that feeling relief after your pet has died does not mean that you loved them any less, it is just a normal reaction after a stressful and overwhelming time.
Finally, you are not alone, this journey is one that many have traveled, including myself. We are here to help guide you and support you throughout this process.