When I had to say goodbye to my beloved Molly, I thought that my past experiences with loss would see me through the difficult days ahead. I expected to be emotionally strong, because after all, Molly had been ill for some time, and I knew she was pain-free at last. I thought that all my good memories of our time together would help me recover and move past the grief. In truth, I was very strong during the first few weeks after Molly's death, and I didn't even take any time away from work. I was determined to keep going.
However, for all my fine ideas about closure, a depression set in that got progressively worse. To put it one way, I was in a very dark place. I lost interest in my hobbies. I stopped answering the phone. I didn't leave the house. I couldn't sleep, concentrate, or find the energy to do the most basic things. At first, I didn't connect the dots. I didn't see that my diminishing capacity to cope was directly related to Molly's passing - I had not allowed myself to really grieve. I knew I needed to talk to someone; but when I finally decided to open up about my feelings, I wasn't really sure how to find the right kind of support.
There seemed to be no one with whom I could share my grief. Co-workers and acquaintances would sympathize - to a degree. You know, "it's just a dog". Although I found empathy amongst my family and friends, some of whom were also suffering through the loss of their pets around the same time I was, they didn't seem to relate to where I was in my own recovery process. My parents were dealing with the loss of their Chihuahua, who was like another child to them. If we tried to discuss our mutual grief, it was a complete tear-fest. My friends only wanted to live in the past or bash the veterinarians who "could have done more". While I wanted to share their grief, it wasn't really helping me deal with mine. I decided to look for a more positive support group outside of my surroundings.
The problem was, I had built up a lot of little "myths" in my head about support groups and online forums, and those myths made me very wary about opening up to strangers. I was worried I'd encounter a bunch of negative folks, who just wanted a place to dump their baggage. Don't get me wrong: there are support groups that exist just for that purpose, and if their members feel better going there, that's all that matters. But I wanted to get OUT of my dark place, not wallow around in it. I was also concerned about being asked for money or "membership dues". It's a shame, but there are some really awful people out there who prey on the emotionally vulnerable. More than anything else, though, I was just afraid of being criticized as a "bad pet parent". How would I find compassionate, nonjudgmental people who understood what I was going through?
Fortunately, I found wisdom, comfort, and support from our online Basenji community. I was able to find closure by talking to other Basenji people about their experiences. My recovery was aided by adopting another Basenji to fill my days with love and purpose. Out of all the places to revel in the ups and downs of life with our best buddies, this was the right place for me. But if our community didn't exist, what then?
According to an online article published by the Mayo Clinic, a support group should be personally beneficial and recommended by several sources. The Clinic also points out some "red flags" to watch out for, including:
- Meetings that are predominantly gripe sessions
- High fees to attend the group
- Disruptive members
- Judgment of your decisions or actions
- Keep in mind that online support groups are sometimes used to prey on vulnerable people.
- Be aware of the possibility that people may not be who they say they are, or may be trying to market a product or treatment.
- Don't let Internet use lead to isolation from your in-person social network.
If you are experiencing grief due to the loss of a pet, please know that whatever you feel is natural. Nothing can change the past, but the future has promise when you know that you don't have to grieve all alone. Take care of yourself and ask for help. There is no shame in talking to other people, especially people who care and understand because they, too, have loved and lost.