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Anticipatory Grief. Grieving Before the Loss

The simplest way to approach this subject is to share the story of Licorice. Licorice was owned by Regina. He entered her life one frigid Minnesota night. Starving and cold, he found shelter under a car engine. As Regina passed by she was alerted to his feeble meow and rescued him. In her tender loving care he blossomed into a robust, panther-like feline whose expressive sun-colored eyes could warm any heart.

Licorice loved Regina unconditionally, and has cuddled her through multiple jobs and relocation including a major move to Southern California, two failed marriages, loss of both parents, and hard economic times. Their bond grew over 18 years. Just before his eighteenth birthday Licorice was diagnosed with intestinal cancer. After undergoing invasive surgery and chemotherapy, he rebounded, but only for a short time. Then his health began to decline again. Regina sought hospice care for him during the final stages of his life. For some time his pain was managed, his appetite was sustainable and he kept his dignity. However, as the cancer spread the bad days outnumbered the good. The luster in his eyes was fading. Regina sensed the end was near. Suddenly she found herself revisiting emotions that she had tucked away since the loss of her parents. Grief surfaced even before he had passed. There was fear of what's to come and how it would manifest. Anxiety, frustration, worry, guilt, vacillating between acceptance and disbelief frequently plagued her peace of mind. She constantly wrestled with the final outcome. Would she have to "play God" and make a decision to end his life? Would he pass away in his sleep? While Licorice was suffering from physical decline, Regina was suffering form anticipatory grief and all its co-morbid emotions.

How could she make it through this storm? What could she do to help her cope? Regina was not alone in her experience with anticipatory grief. It is a natural response when facing father time's stop clock.There is no one full proof method to preserving one's own well being and perspective during this stressful time. The key is first make the decision that you are going to get through, and find the ways to embrace the storm. Here are some suggestions:

Choose engagement over isolation. Don't walk through the journey alone.

Ask your hospice veterinarian the questions that you need to ask, and be willing to open up and express your feelings.

Find a good listener. Seek out a pet loss group in your local community or online. Some services have chat rooms. Ask first if they are willing to work with you in this pre-loss period.

Talk to friends, neighbors, co-workers, ministers, etc. Be aware that some people do not relate to pet loss as they do with human loss, so be selective with whom you share your feelings; and don't hesitate to not seek one person over another for this reason.

Create a journal of those final time. You can write, photograph or video this time.

Journal may also help you see the changes in your pet as the days go by, thereby providing you with an objective gauge of what is happening.

Create something that is special about this time; something you will cherish.

For example, Regina chose a daily routine of together time in Licorice's favorite easy chair. She would sit him in her lap on a blanket that had her scent; and recite to him a poem she wrote. He purred through the recital and she was also comforted.

Anticipatory grief thrusts you into the void before it is really there. Try not to let it rob you of the present. Above all savor the time you and your pet have left together. Remember you are not alone.

Contact us if you have anticipatory grief and need further consultation. DR 4 PETS is here to help.