Let’s face it. In the world of dog cancer, grief is part of the deal.
But, the truth is that it is often ignored. Honestly, when many of us hear the word “grief”, we kind of turn away and try not to think about it. “Let’s deal with this.” “Let’s get the job done.” “How long does my dog have, Doc?” Not much thinking about the grief bit.
There’s a problem with this though. The problem with grief is that it can happen long before we lose a dog. Who has thought of the passing away of their loved four legged friend? Most of us get a hit of a bad feeling, and then try not to think about it.
Yes, we can experience grief before the event has happened. (It’s called anticipatory grief. We talked about it in last week’s webinar).
So what is wrong with what is happening in this area?
Here is the problem: when we don’t deal with grief, whether it’s grief about a future event or an event that has passed already, the grief messes up our ability to function well.
People don’t realize that avoided emotions tend to pop up in strange and unexpected ways. Sure, some of us with avoided (bad) emotions get angry or sad or whatever, or just “emotional” at times when it really is not appropriate.
When this happens, it is fairly obvious that it is not helpful to us or to our dogs.
But, there is more to this story. The less obvious, avoided grief also saps our attention without us realizing it. We get fuzzy headed. We lose our ability to think clearly about what is really going on. We lose motivation and decisiveness. We feel like a massive weight is pushing down on us, and we simply perform at a lower level.
And those around us suffer for it. Our dogs, our loved ones, our friends, and the general public.
Are you coping with a dog cancer diagnosis? Does your dog have cancer? You are experiencing grief. Grief has many forms. Look at the definitions. One involves overwhelming sorrow, or bereavement. Another involves what we alluded to above, anticipatory grief. We also have the word used to describe irritation or stress, as in, “stop giving me grief about this!”
So yes, the vast majority of you are experiencing grief.
Another type of grief that you should know about is “disenfranchised” grief. This is when our society does not have a place for the grief about something. It is not considered really worthy of grieving.
Pet loss, or grief around pets, would fit pretty well in this category.
So what do you do with this information? Well, you have taken step one. Identify the problem. Identify there is not really a good place to deal with pet grief. You need to make your own space. Take the next steps.
Don’t be afraid to get a little help with a counselor, either in person, by phone, or by Skype. Talk to someone who understands how real your love is for your dog. Do the coping exercises in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide and The Coping Guide. Talk to a spiritual advisor. Join an online group (Yahoo has a nice one). Call support lines at vet schools.
The bottom line is that you need to put time aside, in your calendar, to do it. Your dog will feel the difference and you will be a much better guardian with less grief.
Dr. Demian Dressler is internationally recognized as “the dog cancer vet” because of his innovations in the field of dog cancer management, and the popularity of his blog here at Dog Cancer Blog. The owner of South Shore Veterinary Care, a full-service veterinary hospital in Maui, Hawaii, Dr. Dressler studied Animal Physiology and received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California at Davis before earning his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Cornell University. After practicing at Killewald Animal Hospital in Amherst, New York, he returned to his home state, Hawaii, to practice at the East Honolulu Pet Hospital before heading home to Maui to open his own hospital. Dr. Dressler consults both dog lovers and veterinary professionals, and is sought after as a speaker on topics ranging from the links between lifestyle choices and disease, nutrition and cancer, and animal ethics. His television appearances include “Ask the Vet” segments on local news programs. He is the author of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog’s Life Quality and Longevity. He is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Hawaii Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Avian Veterinarians, the National Animal Supplement Council and CORE (Comparative Orthopedic Research Evaluation). He is also an advisory board member for Pacific Primate Sanctuary.