Myth 7. In journeying through the bereavement process mourners go through five predictable step-by-step stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
Reality: Thirty-three years ago Elisabeth Kubler-Ross presented her theory on how people who are dying cope with their upcoming deaths in her pioneering book, On Death and Dying. The 5 Stages of Grief are well understood and accepted, although how people experience them is often different from individual to individual, and not every person experiences every phase, or every stage in order. These stages are not prescriptions for how to act when grieving, but simply a guide to the grieving process.
Myth 8. The best way to cope with unpleasant loss related feelings and thoughts is to suppress and bury them. Keep busy so as to not dwell on your troubles.
Reality: Upsetting feelings and thoughts will not just go away. They will, instead, go underground (become unconscious) and later return – causing you problems. Achieve a balance by thinking and talking about what is upsetting you when you are able, but avoid overdoing it. Know your limits.
Myth 9. When a person starts talking with sadness about missing his/her pet it is best to redirect their attention to pleasant memories they have about the pet.
Reality: This may be an example where the listener has good intentions but will produce bad effects by his/her response. People who talk about their unpleasant feelings are looking for a receptive ear. Redirecting the conversation or changing the subject reflects the discomfort of the listener rather than the needs of the mourner.
Myth 10. Time heals all wounds. Just give it enough time and you will no longer feel so bad.
Reality: Time does heal all wounds, but patience is necessary and some people may need further assistance to move beyond the grieving process if that person feels “stuck” in it for months or years on end.
Myth 11. The best way to protect yourself from the pain of pet loss is to not get another pet.
Reality: Depriving yourself of an animal companion is a very high price to pay to help insure yourself against experiencing another painful loss. Instead, you may wish to summon up the courage to put in the effort necessary to work through your mourning related psychological issues. Despite your pains of loss you can still look forward to one day sharing happiness, pleasure, and joy, with a new and unique animal companion. It is an unfortunate fact that one of the prices we pay for loving so deeply is to suffer deeply when the bonds with our cherished animal friends are broken.
Myth 12. Children handle pet loss rather easily. That which occurs in childhood has little carryover into adult life.
Reality: Just because children do not react as overtly as adults, or communicate directly with words, does not mean they aren’t experiencing strong reactions inside. Not infrequently, the loss of a pet (whether by death or another cause) is the first significant loss the child will have experienced. The profound effects of this loss, and how parents or other caregivers handle it, might reverberate in the child for many years to come.
Myth 13. It is best to protect children from the upsetting truth of what has happened to their pet.
Reality: Some parents/caregivers think they are helping their child – sparing them pain – when they do not tell him or her that their pet has died. They sometimes make up a story that they gave the pet away or that the pet ran away. What the parents don’t realize in doing this is that through their well intentioned lies and deceits they are undermining the trust their child has in them, and paradoxically, causing the child much more pain in the long run. Some children, for example, will unfairly blame themselves for their pet “running away.”
Myth 14. Pets don’t mourn for other pets.
Reality: Some companion animals develop strong bonds with other pets in the household and they will show some of the same kinds of symptoms of mourning as people do – such as loss of appetite, “searching” for the missed loved one, and acting depressed.
Myth 15. Pet loss is something you should be able to “get over” on your own. There is no need for someone to see a professional pet loss counselor in order to deal with this.
Reality: Some people have a self-interested need for you to “get over” your pet related mourning as soon as possible, before you are ready to do so. They feel uncomfortable with your distress. If, for example, you broke an arm you would go to a physician to get help. So why wouldn’t you see a human-animal bond specialist to get help for a broken heart? This can be seen as an investment in your mental health and peace of mind.
Overcoming these myths can be difficult – for maintaining these beliefs does have some advantages. But those who don’t work through their feelings and reactions about mourning are likely to experience a variety of physical, intellectual, emotional, interpersonal, and spiritual symptoms later. It’s very hard to learn new and healthier ways of feeling, thinking, and behaving, but the many benefits are worth the effort.