The Mourning For The Loss Of An Animal Is Very Misunderstood

From the pain that arose from losing some of the animals with whom she shared part of her life, Laura Vidal’s vocation was born : to accompany people to cope with this grieving process. The lack of information on the subject led him to self-publish his first book, Wait for me in the rainbow , which since its publication has become one of the most requested bookstores in the pet category. “I wrote it as a therapeutic diary after the death of my furry, as a personal need, but it ended up changing my life because it had a reception that I did not expect.”

It was then that Laura decided to train as a doula in accompaniment in the mourning for animals and from this experience also arises her second book When you are no longer (Vergara, 2021), in which she reflects on pain, sadness and the grieving process before the death of an animal.

“In these years accompanying people I have learned so much that I felt that the first book on the one hand had fallen short and that there were things that I did not know at that time that now I have to tell and share because I owe them to those readers and so many people who I have accompanied and they have taught me so many life lessons . It introduces more tools that I believe can accompany this path of mourning. ”We talked about him in this exclusive interview for 20Minutos.

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From the very loss of your animals arose the need to turn your professional career around and dedicate yourself to accompanying people who go through the same trance. What emptiness did you perceive at that moment?

At that time, the first thing I did was look for a book on the subject and I found that there were none published in Spanish. It was then that I thought about publishing my first book to help other people.

This is a very misunderstood duel, I thought myself a weirdo and I thought I was the only person who felt that way. Because that is the message they give you, it is a duel in which your pain is not validated, in which people do not tell you ‘it is normal for you to be like this’. On the contrary, they tell you ‘how are you like this for a dog’, ‘if you put yourself like this for a dog when something important happens what are you going to do’ … They make you feel misunderstood.

“As it is a pain that is not very well seen, what you do is hide it and, in the end, that makes you think that you are a strange creature or the only person who feels it”
However, when I publish my first book and I get messages from people saying ‘I feel the same as you’ or ‘I felt that the book had been written by me or that you were inside my head’ I realized that we are many of us think the same.

As it is a pain that is not very well seen, what you do is hide it and, in the end, that makes you think that you are a weirdo or the only person who feels it. Realizing that you are not the only one is already a relief.

When people start contacting me to accompany them, I realize how empty there was. There is no specialty, not even many psychologists are prepared to deal with grief for an animal. It was necessary a figure that was dedicated solely and exclusively to that. However, when I decided to dedicate myself to this I consulted with an expert and he told me that it was going to be a catastrophe because death is a subject that people do not like to address. He was wrong. Sometimes it is important to follow that inner voice that we have. I felt that people had this void and that it had to be filled. And what I did was study and prepare to fill it out and accompany those people.

The loss of a dog, a cat or any other animal is encompassed in what many psychologists call “invisible grief”, because much of society does not take it for good or authorized. How does it harm us not being able to express that pain or sadness when it is not socially recognized?

It is one of the things that hurts the most in the duel because it seems that there are first class duels and second class duels. Suicides are also unauthorized grief or abortions. In these duels it seems that it is not valid to express your pain and in the case of animals it is exactly the same: you do not have days off from work when your animal dies, a dog is euthanized and you have to go to the office next, no You can say goodbye as you deserve to a life partner of 12, 15 or 18 years …

“An essential step is to speak, vent, be sad and live the duel to be able to overcome it because if we hide it we will not overcome it”
It is a very difficult situation and not being able to express it, be honest and share it with others means putting on a mask. There are also people who tell me that he has put it on because if he cries or says things, people scold him.

What is generated is an incongruity that causes a lot of internal discomfort when thinking one thing and doing another. A fundamental part of grief is to vent and have someone to talk to, which is why I think my job is so important. There are people who simply need someone to talk to because no one in their family or friends understands them. An essential step is precisely that speaking, venting, turning things around, being sad and living the grief to be able to overcome it because if we hide it we will not overcome it.

I would like to add that within the same grief for animals there is also discrimination between what are cats and dogs and the rest. However, the important thing is the bond that you create with it, not the type of animal and there are people who have an even worse time because if the grieving for a dog or a cat is still not very accepted, for a rabbit, a bird or a ferret a lot less.

In the death of an animal, what phases of mourning do its caretakers go through?

At the beginning there is usually a shock phase that, depending on how the death was, can last more or less. In accidental or unexpected deaths, it usually lasts longer than when it is a death from old age or a long illness. In the shock phase we feel as if what is happening to us is not true, as if we were inside a movie …

Then the denial or negotiation phase usually comes, which is that phase in which we say ‘it is not possible that he is not there ‘, in which we believe that when he returns home he will be there waiting for us …

The negotiation phase is also the phase of ‘if, if’: ‘what if I had done this’, ‘if I had taken him to another vet’, ‘if I had realized before he was sick’ … At this stage of the ‘yes, yes’ people need to speak it, however, the environment does not usually let the person vent but rather the opposite is done: ‘Don’t say that, don’t think that’ … And the person you need to turn things over to get to settle them. Because all those turns and that wanting to change the past is what leads us to realize the truth of what has happened.

“The duel is like a kind of labyrinth. Sometimes it seems that you are going to leave and yet you have to go backwards”
After this stage, the stage of rage usually comes in which we are angry. Many times that anger is directed towards ourselves, in this case we would speak of guilt, and other times it falls on the vet and even on people who have nothing to do with us but who can provoke that anger because they have what you do not have.
It is a normal stage of grief although people do not know it and are scared because they are angry and have thoughts that they have never had. Knowing that this stage of guilt or anger is normal is important because it is not a real guilt but is associated with grief.

Then we reach the stage of sadness which is generally the longest and it is as if we are depressed. Until we get to acceptance, that would be the exit. I always say that the duel is like a kind of labyrinth. Sometimes it seems that you are going to leave, suddenly you realize that you are in a cul-de-sac and you have to go back. Acceptance is that, it is learning to live with that loss because in the end to remain as if nothing had happened is not to elaborate a duel. To elaborate a duel is to learn to live and to continue being happy even though you lack that being that you loved so much.

“Staying as if nothing had happened is not making a duel. It is learning to continue being happy even though you lack that being you loved so much”
Many times, to the loss of an animal we also have to add the feeling of guilt if the decision has been made to euthanize it. How is this matter to be dealt with?

The feeling of guilt is in all duels whether or not the animal is euthanized. There are people who decide not to do it and then if their dog dies in a very agonizing way they will feel guilty for the suffering they have caused and could have prevented it. And another issue that causes great guilt is people who are not present at that time because they think it is too much. It is very hard to assume that this animal has always been there for you and you in its last moments have not been up to the task and you have left it alone.

In the end, working on the feeling of guilt starts from the basis of being aware that you have done the best you could in the moment in which you were and in the circumstances that you have had to live. The main thing is to understand that the fault lies with a person who does something with the intention of harming. However, when we act thinking and wishing the best for our furry we always do it in good faith, from love, and there can be no feeling of guilt. In the end, an animal for you will always be like a child that never grows up and when you have a child who cannot decide for himself, at the end of everything you will take responsibility because you choose for him.

We have talked about two very important steps in this duel: allow yourself to be sad and express it, take it out. What more steps do you recommend to deal with it? Is it good, as with humans, to say goodbye?

Rituals have existed since time immemorial and if they exist it is for a reason. You still don’t see much doing a ritual to a dog or a cat such as going to a funeral home to watch over them, scattering their ashes … All the people I have accompanied and who have done it agree that it has helped them a lot but it is not usually done why will they say. How am I going to tell my family to go to the funeral home or the mountains to do a ritual? However, it is something you have to do and stay with that feeling that it is very important to you.

“All the people I have accompanied agree that the farewell ritual has helped them a lot”
Another thing that helps a lot in grief is to name the emotions: write, connect … As in general we do not know how to manage any grief, what people usually do is disconnect, they do not want to feel because it is hard. We usually put band-aids and yet it is essential to connect with the pain. You have to connect with emotions to be able to manage and live them because doing so is the step to develop a good duel. The order would be that: do a ritual, whenever possible, give yourself permission to be sad and be aware that the duel is long. It is not a matter of weeks, the most common is between six months and two years.

And then, since death, I would say that it is a pending issue, I recommend to all people not to be afraid of it because it is a whiting that bites its tail: we do not want to know anything about it because we are afraid of it but we are afraid of it because we do not know nothing about her. Learning from death in the end teaches you to live and enjoy life in another way, change your priorities. I always recommend people to watch talks, documentaries or read about death … something that we have almost forbidden more than forgotten. However, death will come yes or yes and whether you are prepared or not depends on you.

“The duel is long. It is not a matter of weeks, the most usual is between six months and two years”
What warning signs can make us see that we are not coping well with grief and when do you advise seeking help?

For me a very big warning sign is noticing that you do not change. Grief is a path and on that path you go through phases and different pains. A sign that you are on the right track is that you have ups and downs. Do not think that the lows are bad because the duel is a roller coaster. However, if months go by and a person is still in the same place, in the same emotions, in the same level of pain … that is an alarm signal and that the path is not being made.

This usually happens because there is something that is preventing you from moving forward, something that you are not processing. Being at the same point for a long time, not living the mourning and, above all, that more than two years have passed and that you continue to feel that you have advanced us in the mourning and you cannot accept death, that you are very sad, that it has chronic fact …

The duel is elaborated, it has an end, an end that is not overcoming but you cannot be in mourning indefinitely, you go through stages. Elaborating the duel is not forgetting and there are people who believe that if they overcome it there will no longer be anything that unites them to their furry. What you have to make these people understand is that pain is not a bond worth remaining or one that no one would like to leave here. The bond that must unite us and the one that must remain after overcoming the duel is love. In these cases it is necessary to seek help.

“A sign that you are on the right track is that you have ups and downs”
When do you know that you are overcoming that duel?

Going in the right direction is having days of ups and downs, it is crying, having a sad time, it is feeling all those emotions we were talking about … being aware that grief is not linear, the stages come and go and you feel which is a path. That is the sign that you are making the way.

For children, on many occasions their first contact with death is when they say goodbye to a dog, a cat or another pet. How should we manage it with them?

As parents we have two options. One is to take advantage of this learning, teach them from a young age to manage a duel and give them tools. You have the possibility of letting your child learn or invent a bizarre story, such as that he has gone on a trip to the moon. The sooner we face death and the sooner we generate tools, it will be much better for all of us if we are prepared from a young age. The important thing is to explain things according to their age, answer their questions and also make them see how valuable life is.

“If your child’s parakeet dies and you quickly replace it with another, what teaching are you giving a child?”
If a parakeet dies and you quickly replace it with another, what teaching are you giving it? That life is replaceable. If you tell him not to cry and be exaggerated, you are telling him not to show his emotions.

But if you tell him that he has died, that he will no longer be there, that we will go through a sad period and that whenever we remember him we can talk about it we can give him a wonderful teaching and give him permission to be sad, to speak, to feel understood, to see that it is normal to cry and that with time they will be better.

Many people tend to fill that void by adopting another animal. Is this recommended or do we have to wait?

Running for another animal what you are doing is putting a plaster on a wound that is infected, an avoidance maneuver to avoid the duel. The duel is to add alcohol to disinfect. Does it sting? Of course. Is it something we want to go through? No, but what you are going to do is heal that wound. Generally, in addition, people who run for another animal then begin to compare with the previous one and this is not fair for the animal that arrives at a house with a lot of expectations placed on it or for the person, because it is not going to find that replacement because it is a different animal with different needs.

How do you know that it is time to adopt again? You have to see from where you are making the decision to adopt that animal. If you are deciding from the fear of being alone or from the fear of pain, it is not a good decision; But if you are taking it from love, from wanting to share, from wanting to give and receive, then it is a good decision. And it is what makes the difference.