Coping with the loss of a pet is incredibly difficult at any age. As you probably already know, it doesn’t matter if you are six or 60 – the raw emotions of pet loss can make you feel alone, angry or even numb.
As older adults dealing with the loss of a pet, we can be left with an entirely different level of emotional intensity with our grief journey. In my practice, I often see older adults equate the loss of their pet with their mortality, which in turn stimulates the sense that their grief is not healthy.
Plus, as an older adult, you may have already experienced more consistent loss of parents, spouses, siblings, children or even close friends than a younger adult. You may live alone, and your pet is your primary companion. Whatever your circumstance is, no matter your age, coping with the loss of a pet is painful.
This article will help you understand and support the intensity of dealing with the loss of a pet and normal grief after 60.
Are you feeling hopeless, angry, depressed or even relieved that your pet is reaching the end of its life or is no longer physically with you? Please understand you are experiencing normal grief.
I had a client named Carmon. I talk about her and her 12-year-old Border Collie named Jetson in my book My Dog Has Died: What Do I Do? Making Decisions and Healing the Trauma of Pet Loss.
When we had our first conversation, Carmon was so upset that she couldn’t form complete sentences when explaining what she was experiencing. She was crying, had bouts of rage mixed with sadness and, at times, she had difficulty making sense out of what she was feeling. She even started laughing at one point.
I know this might sound a little strange, but all of Carmon’s feelings and emotions were normal. She felt like she was going crazy with all the chaos in her mind and believed that what she was feeling was abnormal.
When she learned that her emotions were normal and healthy, she began to feel like she was not the crazy 63-year-old woman who lived alone with her dog, which is what some of her friends were telling her.
Here are some normal feelings of grief that you may experience now or later in your journey when dealing with the loss of a pet.
Physical sensations may consist of: crying, sobbing, wailing, numbness, dry mouth, nausea, tightness in the chest, restlessness, fatigue, sleep disturbance, appetite disturbance, dizziness, fainting or shortness of breath.
Intellectual responses may include: sense of unreality, inability to concentrate, feeling preoccupied with the loss, hallucinations concerning the loss, a sense that time is passing very slowly or a desire to rationalize feelings about the loss.
Emotional responses may range from: anger, depression, guilt, anxiety, relief, irritability, desire to blame others for the loss, self- doubt, lowered self-esteem, feeling overwhelmed or feeling out of control, hopeless, or helpless.
Social feelings can include feelings of isolation or alienation, feeling rejected by others, or a reluctance to ask for help.
Spiritual feelings can be feeling angry at your deity after your dog died and blaming them for the loss, or even bargaining to try and get your dog back.
As you can see, normal grief is varied and expansive. The thing about grief is that it has a life of its own. What this means is that you can be going through a quiet period of your journey when you are feeling relatively good. Then something happens, and it triggers intense, and perhaps unexpected, feelings of pet grief.
Pet grief in your 60s can easily trigger a feeling of unresolved grief from when you were younger. I often hear this from my clients when seeking pet grief support. They tell me that their current loss reminds them of the pet loss grief they experienced when a young adult.
I am here to tell you to let this happen. Let yourself feel what you are going through. Don’t hide your feelings, let them rage. Let your tears flow. It’s healthy and necessary.
The thing about grief is that it can also become abnormal as well. Keep in mind if you can no longer function with your life, feel suicidal, or if any of the normal grief feelings become extreme, this is considered unhealthy grief.
Everyone grieves and deals with the loss of a pet differently, so get to know your different feelings. When you take the time to learn and cherish your journey the grief becomes more manageable.
Have you ever had to deal with the loss of a pet? How did you deal with the grief that came with this experience? Do you feel more comfortable with your feelings now that you know they are normal? Please share your answers in the comments below.