Grief can bring with it periods of loneliness and isolation.
Some may choose to find comfort in messages, hugs and social interactions after their pet’s death, while others may need solitude to process their emotions and memories.
Our founder, Angela Schneider of Big White Dog Photography in Spokane, Washington, has experienced both.
In today’s episode she explores the deep emotional connection people have with their pets and how the grief of losing them can lead to isolation.
She dives into the way society often downplays the significance of pet loss grief and the impact of unsupportive reactions from others. She explains that isolation, whether self-imposed or societal, can affect the grieving process in both positive and negative ways.
For many, Angela says, the best path may be to find a balance of solitude with social interactions to navigate the grief journey in a healthy way. She encourages honoring your emotions while seeking support from friends, family and, when needed, professionals.
What to listen for
1:41 Why we develop such profound connections with our pets
2:45 How grief can be a very lonely journey
3:38 What happens if we withdraw too much
4:43 The benefits to finding time and space to yourself
7:07 When healing begins
Welcome to One Last Network and The Art of Exploring the Loneliness Within.
When Shep died in 2014, nine years ago last Sunday, I sought comfort in the messages I received, the hugs given, the comments on the Facebook post in which I announced his death.
But when my died in January 2022, I wanted none of it. I outright told people I didn’t want messages or comments or even hugs.
I just wanted to be alone.
Alone with my own emotions.
Alone with my own memories.
Alone with my own tortured thoughts of why didn’t I go home this past Christmas, why wasn’t I better daughter, why didn’t we have a better relationship, why over my lifetime on so many occasions did she choose to be a mother in name only.
I just wanted to be alone.
The relationships we have with the beings who leave us to grieve them are directly related to the way we grieve them.
The bond we share with our pets is profound and deeply emotional. For many of us, like those of us who live child free, our pets give us a chance to be maternal, to be the mom we maybe never had.
They offer us companionship, love and support in ways we may not receive from our human family and friends. They listen without judgment, comfort us and stand by us without question.
A 1997 study by John Archer of the University of Central Lancashire in the United Kingdom found that we develop deep emotional connections with our pets and when they die, it can be equally as, if not more than, painful, overwhelming and isolating.
Pet loss grief in particular can spiral us into a place of solitude.
Society in general diminishes the significance of our grief.
“It was just a dog.”
“You can get another one.”
The people closest to use can often be the culprits by invalidating us, failing to support us. It leads us down a path of feeling very alone, lost in this new world without our best fur friend.
And this solitude — whether imposed by society or ourselves — affects the way we grieve.
Any prolonged isolation can exacerbate our feelings of sadness and hinder our healing by keeping us from interacting with friends, family or support resources who can and are willing to offer comfort and understanding. Engaging with others can offer fresh perspectives and new ways of thinking about the loss.
It can cloud our judgment and lead to ruminating on negative thoughts. If we withdraw too much from the world, it can lead to feelings of depression, anxiety or other mental health challenges. That’s why grief expert David Kessler encourages us to engage with the world in some way every day, especially when we’re in acute grief.
Allowing ourselves to be seen also gives us the opportunity to share stories and memories with those who will listen, especially if we seek out others who have experienced a similar loss. We can find the validation and reassurance we so desperately need to find our path to healing.
And we may be missing opportunities to be distracted from our grief. There is a benefit in finding people or activities who will let us step outside this cloak of sadness even if for brief moments.
Interactions with others and the world at large can help us gradually shift the emphasis from loss to healing and ultimately learning to live with the loss and within this new world.
And yet, there are benefits to seeking time to ourselves.
Sometimes we just need the space. Pet loss grief requires time and space to process the intense emotions we’re feeling. That time and space allows us to be introspective, to reflect on the love we had … have … for our companion animal, and to feel the void with which they’ve left us. Our solitude can be a safe place to feel all our feelings — from sadness to anger to gratitude and that forever love — without fear of judgment.
And we get to express those raw emotions — yelling at the walls, ugly crying into our pillows — because doing that around others can be challenging for us. Having the freedom to cry and scream or whatever keeps us from having to mask our feelings, from having to explain ourselves, from having to answer questions and seeing the looks of pity or disregard we may experience from those who just don’t get it.
The unfiltered expression of our emotions can be cathartic.
We also get the space to figure out our coping strategies on our own. Rather than listening to all the you-shoulds, we can explore what works for us. Because everyone processes grief differently. We might try writing in a journal, drawing, listening to music or simply sitting in silence. Being alone can facilitate the discovery of our path to healing.
As long as we practice self-compassion, the solitude we find when grieving can help us process our loss without external judgment and we can work toward releasing ourselves of any guilt, regret and self-blame.
Navigating the intricacies of pet loss grief is such a deeply personal journey, and the decision to seek solitude during this time carries both benefits and drawbacks.
Ultimately, the choice to be alone or seek companionship during our grief depends on our personality, our coping mechanisms and our support network.
We can strike a balance between solitude and social interaction and that can be key to navigating this process in a healthy and productive way.
At the end of the day, it’s important to honor our emotions, the life of our best fur friend, the adventures we shared and the bond that grew from the moment we first laid eyes on each other.
You can seek professional help if you feel it’s necessary, but remember that healing takes time, regardless of whether you want to do it by yourself or in the company of others.
Next week, I take you on a journey to an animal sanctuary in Spokane, Washington. I interview my friend Kit Jagoda of River’s Wish Animal Sanctuary on how a boy named River and his loss inspired Kit and her partner Pete to make a difference in the lives of animals in need.
Until then …