“No matter how wonderful our relationships with our pets–even if they lived their full expected life span—we never get enough of them” (Freidman, James, and James. 2014).
I am a dog fanatic and I have discovered that many of my clients are equally devoted to their pets. So, when I attended the Grief Recovery Institute training in December and heard about their new book related to pet loss I was immediately intrigued. My practice, like most therapy offices, reverberates with tragic stories of grief and loss and love. My clients often feel inadequately equipped to deal with all the changes and disappointments that life keeps presenting to them. Likewise, I always need and want new tools to help clients manage loss and the pain associated with it. Pet loss is particularly painful and isolating because “grieving pet owners tend to feel terribly misunderstood”. What better way to combat that isolation than to create a safe space for grievers to share their feelings and to complete a series of actions that honor their pet and their grief.
The pet loss group curriculum created by the Grief Recovery Institute is a six-week program designed to honor the loving relationships we have with our pets. Unlike traditional process groups with a lot of unstructured conversation between group members, these groups encourage listening, sharing, and action. The difference is subtle, but powerful. Each week during two-hour sessions, group members are encouraged to complete homework that includes reading from the book, reflecting, and completing structured assignments. The structured assignments include a history of pet loss, a review of the relationship with the pet recently lost, and the completion of a letter to a pet.
I started my practice’s first pet loss group in January. Facilitating this group has been the biggest clinical learning experience for me in years, and I have loved it. The group members have shown courage, grit, vulnerability, tenderness, and love. They have been willing to share dark feelings—like guilt, fear, and intolerable sadness. The hope is to transform these feelings into something that both honors the loss and sets them free from pain.
One of the group members suggested bringing photos to share of all the beloved pets being discussed. This suggestion was spontaneous, and it isn’t something included in the Grief Recovery Institute’s curriculum, but I have to believe, based on what I saw, that it may have been one of the most healing moments for everyone. There is power in a photograph, especially in the context of a story about loss. For instance, the picture at the top of this post tells a story of loss of health and loss of stamina. When my black lab is having a hard day, my golden retriever shows her concern. Doesn’t this picture describe that part of their relationship in profound ways?
So, if you encounter someone who is grieving perhaps ask if there is a picture of their loved one. Or, if you are grieving, perhaps share a picture with someone who cares. It could be the beginning of a conversation–leading to less isolation and more connection–both essential to grief recovery.
If you are interested in grief recovery for pet loss or for any other type of grief, please visit the grief recovery tab on our website: http://newcastlefamilytherapy.com/grief-recovery/
Or please call Laurie at 704.650.9425 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Or to learn more about The Grief Recovery Institute: www.griefrecoverymethod.com