I attended my first Pet Loss Support Group run by Enid Traisman, MSW, CT in December of 2018. I immediately felt the power of this community resource and felt validated in my own grief by the stories, lessons and experiences of the other attendees and the group facilitator herself. The grief groups are an open to the community, where people of all stages of grieving can share their personal pet loss story.
Some of the common themes I have taken away over the past six months as I helped lead the program were how safe and accepting the group is, how our society disenfranchises public grieving (especially of the non-human kind), and how every person grows and feels progress delving into their layers of their grief.
One of the most common discussion topics is the internal conflict during a pet’s euthanasia. Something many owners struggle with is identifying it as a selfless or selfish act. One group member said something that has stuck with me and many others who attend- “A week too early is better than a day too late.” Her pet was diagnosed with pancreatitis early but was not showing signs of suffering yet. She made the difficult choice to euthanize before he would be in pain. After the difficult decision to euthanize a pet, it’s common to second guess ourselves. But, in Pet Loss Support Groups when member shares their story about making the decision to euthanize, everyone shows their support. By gaining perspective with others who are also grieving, it can open the door for our own forgiveness in the choices we made in our pet’s end of life care.
During my last group, an elderly gentleman and a young boy were present. The boy shared how if anyone at school found out he was attending, he would be bullied. The older gentleman shared how he did not grieve publicly until the age of 36, when he lost his grandmother. He spoke of the improvement of his emotional well-being over the last 30 years. These two discussed how everyone is going through something, but likely keeping it secret from the rest of the world.
Another commonality is the recognition of the deep, emotional human-animal bond. The bond can be equal or greater than the bond with other people. Being in a group with like-minded people who understand the profound connection helps members open up rather than feeling burdensome. Many members have voiced feeling disregarded by the people they usually discuss difficult feelings with and are so thankful that this group exists to process their feelings.
I am grateful to be a part of this group and hope that others will feel the benefits of attending. Coping with grief and loss can be a learning experience, and it’s important to remember there is no right or wrong way to grieve. The Pet Loss Support Program truly provides amazing resources, and brings those together who may feel more alone than ever.