First, you need to acknowledge that those feelings are normal in this process. You need to give yourself permission to feel exactly how you are feeling and how you need to feel in that moment – without judgement. It doesn’t mean you’re a monster. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It means you are a human being going through the grieving process.
We don’t always think about those types of feelings as being real grief, but they are. Anger, denial, and bargaining are all stages of the grieving process. You are aware of the ending of your pet’s life. You just don’t know when it’s going to be so it makes it harder to plan for. But you’re still going to go through those first stages of grief. You’re still going to go through denial and that anger phase. It may manifest itself as anger towards yourself or towards your pet, anger towards your veterinarian, anger towards anyone or anything or nothing at all, but just that feeling of anger.
And there’s the bargaining that comes into play. We like to make plans, and when we can’t do that, when we can’t anticipate, it’s very frustrating and even frightening for us. We plan so many details of our lives and our pets’ lives that, when we are thrown into this place of lack of homeostasis, a place where we can’t visualize how things are going to play out, it gets very stressful for us.
It’s important to find a way to structure the things we can, being open to different possibilities, planning what we are able to plan, even if we don’t know what the future holds. You may, for example, want to think in advance while you are still enjoying the company of your pet, about how to prepare for your pet’s end of life, whether you want a private cremation or a group cremation, or if you choose to, if you are you able to bury your pet at home. You might check with your jurisdiction to find out about whether you are able to do that.
You might plan on whether you want to do an at-home euthanasia or whether you want this final act to take place with your veterinarian who has been seeing your pet, whether that’s your oncologist or your home vet. Talk to veterinarian about that. Find out what hours are available, what days of the week they might be available. What happens if you are in an emergency situation? What phone number should you call? What’s the number for the nearest Emergency Service?
The more that you can plan in advance, the more you can take care of the details, of that process, the more you can get a little bit of that power back. Things may change when the time comes so having a Plan A, B, C, and D can be helpful. And once you have some of the planning out of the way, you can really focus on this time, living in the moment, and trying to learn from your pet, how to live in the moment.
It may not be something you’ve done very much of before and you may have always appreciated them for that. Sometimes having a diagnosis like this may be a gift in some ways because it forces you to really see that time is limited. We may not know the time frame, but knowing that the end is coming closer makes us appreciate every second we have with them now.
How does that take shape? It may mean just putting down the smart phone for a few minutes and, instead of looking everything up online, just cuddling with your pet. Just hold them, sing silly songs to them, give them a massage, which is a great way to connect at that human-animal bond level. And sometimes, if they are getting older and have arthritis or different physical limitations, they may really appreciate a therapeutic massage. Increase your bond with your pet through loving touch. You can both appreciate that time together.
Finding ways to just really connect with them and schedule time that’s not just for their medical needs is very important. Yes, we make our schedules as best we can around their medical needs, medications, visits to the veterinarian, and all that hard effort is amazing and wonderful and should be commended.
But you need to schedule some quality time, too. You can play a little music in the background if your pet likes music or if that helps calm you. Maybe make it a joint meditation time, where you may be meditating in your own way and your pet is a part of that process with you. That way, you can really practice making the best of each second that you have.
That doesn’t necessarily mean actively running around and doing all of these things. It may just mean sitting quietly with them and embracing their company in whatever state that they are in.
There are times when we start thinking about all the things we wanted to do with them before the end. When it’s feasible to do something, you do what you can do. It’s really about acceptance and working towards acceptance and it probably won’t happen right away.