While grief over the loss of a cherished pet may be as intense and even as lengthy as when a significant person in our life dies, our process of mourning is quite different. Because pet loss is disenfranchised, many of the societal mechanisms of social and community support are absent when a cherished pet dies. Few of us ask our employers for time off to grieve a beloved cat or dog as we fear doing so would paint us as overly sentimental, lacking in maturity or emotionally weak. And few employers would grant such requests were we to make them. Studies have found that social support is a crucial ingredient in recovering from grief of all kinds. Thus, we are not only robbed of crucial support systems when our pet dies, but our own perceptions of our emotional responses are likely to add an additional layer of emotional distress. We may feel embarrassed and even ashamed about the severity of the heartbreak we feel and consequently, hesitate to disclose our distress to our loved ones. We might even wonder what is wrong with us and question why we are responding in such ‘disproportional’ ways to the loss.
Feeling intense grief that is then layered with shame about these feelings not only makes pet loss a bigger threat to our emotional health than it would be otherwise, it complicates the process of recovery by making it more lengthy and complex than it should be.