Manifestations of grief can differ from one person to another. These manifestations occur on physical, intellectual, emotional, social, and spiritual levels:
Physical: Crying, sobbing, wailing, shock and numbness, dry mouth, a lump in the throat, fatigue, exhaustion, sleep disturbance, appetite disturbance, body aches, stiffness of joint or muscles, dizziness or fainting.
Intellectual: Denial, sense of unreality, confusion, inability to concentrate, feeling preoccupied by the loss, experiencing hallucinations concerning the loss (visual, auditory, and olfactory), a need to reminisce about the loved one and to talk about the circumstances of the loss, a sense that time is passing very slowly, a desire to rationalize or intellectualize feelings about the loss.
Emotional: Sadness, anger, depression, guilt, anxiety, relief, loneliness, irritability, a desire to blame others for the loss, resentment, embarrassment, self-doubt, lowered self-esteem.Social: Feelings of withdrawal, isolation and alienation, a greater dependency on others or a reluctance to ask for help.
Spiritual: Bargaining with God in an attempt to prevent loss, feeling angry at God when loss occurs, renewed or shaken religious beliefs.
Growth from grief: Many people are familiar with the Kübler-Ross model for the stages of grief:
Shock stage: Initial paralysis at hearing the bad news.
(Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, On Death and Dying, Macmillan, NY, 1969)
Below is a similar outline developed to describe more specifically the phases of grief for pet loss.
Initial Awareness of Loss: In this early phase of grief, pet owners may acknowledge that pets’ deaths are imminent. Pet owners dealing with the initial awareness of loss often show signs of shock or denial.
Coping with Loss: During this phase of grief, clients experience their pets’ dying processes or deaths. Veterinarians can help in coping with the loss through answering questions, assisting with important decisions, preparing clients for their pets’ deaths or euthanasias.
Saying Goodbye: Many pet owners want to say goodbye to their pets before, during, and after their pets die. Veterinarians should support clients’ methods of saying goodbye by encouraging their open expressions of grief.
Painful Awareness of Loss: In this phase, many pet owners realize that no way exists to avoid grief and thus, allow themselves to experience the full extent of their painful emotions. The numbness that accompanies shock and denial seems to lift and can leave deep feelings of sadness, depression, loneliness, and guilt. The changes and adjustments that pet owners make in t heir day-to-day, companion animal-centered routines are common catalysts for the onset of painful feelings. Support from veterinary professionals and staff and friends and relatives are needed during this phase.
Recovery from Loss: Pet owners that reach the recovery phase of grief focus their energy back into normal life activities. For some, feelings of sadness still surface, but happier memories again gain prominence.
Personal Growth through Grief: Many pet owners who progress through normal, healthy processes of grief find meaning in their pets’ deaths. They realize that the death taught them important lessons or helped them change old, outdated habits and attitudes. Nonjudgmental listening often helps to finally reconcile pets’ deaths.
This phases of grief described above are not discrete – most grievers move back and forth among them. Schneider, J. Stress, Loss, and Grief. Aspen Publications, Gaithersburg, MD, 1984 and Lagoni, et al).