What is grief?

Grieving is not an illness but a process of adjustment to loss. It can be significantly influenced by life circumstances and by the individual’s stage of life when the loss occurs. The combination of these life circumstances and life stage make up what’s is known as loss.

Grief is our reaction (psychological, cognitive, behavioural and physical) to the loss.

Mourning is the outward expression of grief, often but not always through rituals such as funeral services and rituals of remembrance.

Bereavement is the loss of a significant other in our lives.

There are many types of grief:

  • Anticipatory grief:  This is the onset of a grief reaction prior to an actual loss.  This often occurs when the owner is given bad news e.g. a terminal diagnosis or poor prognosis.
  • Chronic grief:  These reactions are prolonged over time and appear not to lessen in their intensity.
  • Delayed grief: These reactions are inhibited, suppressed or postponed. The grief expressed at the time was insufficient for the loss experienced. The real impact of the grief might surface later and be associated with another loss that is of less consequence than the first.
  • Exaggerated grief:  This occurs where normal grief reactions become excessive and debilitating. Despair may become clinical depression, and anxiety increase into panic attacks or phobic behaviour.
  • Masked grief: This occurs if a person has intense feelings but doesn’t express them after a substantial loss. The unexpressed grief may turn up in psychosomatic conditions (physical illnesses of a psychological origin) or in psychiatric disorders

When a loss is unrecognised and unacknowledged by others in society it is known as a “disenfranchised loss”. The person grieving may be left feeling totally alone in their grief. An example is when someone says to the grieving person “it was just a pet”.

There are so many ways people can react to grief:

  • Physically: people may experience headaches, tiredness and feeling sick (nausea)
  • Emotionally: sadness, anger, disbelief, despair, guilt and loneliness.
  • Mentally: Forgetfulness, lack of concentration, confusion and poor memory.
  • Behaviourally: Changes to sleeping patterns, dreams or nightmares, changes to appetite, or not wanting to go out/leave the house.
  • Socially: People may not feel like seeing anyone, or avoid seeing certain people.
  • Spiritually: Peoples may struggle to have faith in the things that they once believed in.

It is important to know and recognise when you are grieving and that you allow yourself as long as you need to grieve.  It is also important to know that there is no set time limit on how long you should grieve for.  Losing a beloved pet is an incredibly hard and important loss. You have lost a loved member of the family.

The Blue Cross Pet Bereavement service is free for anyone who has lost a pet or are facing saying goodbye. Call 0800 0966606 from 8.30am-8.30pm 7 days a week or

(Thanks to Blue Cross Pet Bereavement service for some of this material)