"It's just a Pet" - "When are you going to get over it" - Have you ever had that said to you?
There are many, many forms of grief but I want to talk about a type of grief called "Disenfranchised Grief" as I feel often is can be related to pet loss. What is it? Knowing what disenfranchised grief is all about may help you put a name to some things you might of experienced in your own world after the loss of your Animal Companion.
Okay, so what is this crazy term all about. If one is disenfranchised they are deprived a right to something, and intuitively (if you have never suffered this sort of loss) it may seem strange to imagine how one could be deprived the right to grieve. Grief is personal, right? We say that all the time. So, who could possibly deprive me my right to do something so personal?
Society, that’s who! Just like society tries to dictate rules for how to act, dress, speak, and operate in the world, society can also try to dictate rules around grief. These rules can be subtle or explicit, but until we are in the moment we don’t have much reason to think about societal grief rules. It’s when we lose a loved one and our life falls apart that these rules can smack us in the face – we feel pressure to grieve a certain way or for a certain length of time and/or we feel pressure to get over it and stop talking about things that make other people feel uncomfortable.
Disenfranchised grief takes this to another level, not just including rules about how we grieve, but rules about who is entitled to grieve and, in turn, who is supported in their grief. The stinging pain of these societal expectations can be excruciating when a relationship is not acknowledged or the impact of the death is not acknowledged. Grief becomes disenfranchised when we don’t have societal validation of our loss and grieving process. Society says we shouldn’t be grieving, so we feel like we can’t talk about it, we don't feel supported, we feel alone, we think our feelings are wrong.
These rules, though they may sound exclusively external, are things we internalise every day. When everyone is saying we have no right to grieve or we are grieving wrong, it is hard not to believe it on some level. If you have no support from those most important to you, it becomes even more difficult to adjust to life after a death. You may constantly feel the need to hide your grief for fear of making others uncomfortable or being alienated.
You may feel like no one understands you. It is starting to sound like a pretty lonely place, right? Ever heard "It's just a dog or it's only a cat or it's only an animal you'll be right just get another one or you'll move on". If you've had a taste of that, when it's said to you, you may feel like your grief it not acknowledged and sometimes you may shy away from working through your grief. Never EVER hide away from your grief. Share it with people who do understand and can acknowledge your grief. In order to help with your recovery, your grief needs to be expressed and acknowledged.
Whether your support is from family/friends, grief support groups or counselling it needs to be a safe space where you can be open and honest about your feelings and get the support you need. Often the "Just a Dog/Cat/Bird/Rabbit/Horse" comment can be said very loosely after the passing of an Animal Companion. I want the community to know that there are people out there that do "get it", they are the ones that will stand by your side in your grief. Seek them out, support is out there! You do not have to go through the heart break of your loss alone.