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The Sad case of Our Beloved Cleo or How to Cope with Grief
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GerryR
Wed May 09 2012, 10:27PM

Registered Member #3
Joined: Sun Feb 28 2010, 10:31PM
Posts: 122

The Sad Case of Cleo or How to Cope With Grief

cleo_as_pup.jpg

I was looking in utter disbelief and mounting horror at the images of planes flying into the Twin Towers, people jumping with flailing arms and legs from some of the top storeys. People running with terrified faces from the collapsing buildings. Over and over the same images kept repeating: planes flying into buildings, buildings collapsing, people fleeing with open screaming mouths.

A much smaller tragedy but much more personal and devastating for me personally was playing out at my feet. Our beloved Cleo was lying as usual as close to my feet as she comfortably could but she was obviously too weak to lift her head onto my lap as was her wont.

About a year before this fateful day, she developed swollen lymph glands all over her body. The biopsy results came back with the dreaded news: she had malignant lymphoma. I bought time for her with chemotherapy. Sadly, after a year of joyful celebration and remission, the swellings came back with a vengeance.

With the dreadful scenes on the TV in front of my incredulous eyes, I had to make the terrible decision: what to do with Cleo? That morning for the first time in 12 years she did not eat her food. Her beautiful face and head was now hairless and I could see in her eyes that she was suffering. Like so many of my clients, I had no other choice: I had to let her go.

It was not an easy decision, even though I had to help so many of my clients through this difficult time.

When one of my clients is confronted with this dreadful decision, I always tell them, "Ask yourself this question: 'Why don't I want to do this?' If the answer is, "I can't do it because I will be too sad, I couldn't stand the pain." that would not be a valid reason for not stopping the pet's suffering. I would say, "Putting Fluffy out of her pain and suffering is a gift and you should not feel guilty about doing it." I would then explain to her about the stages of grief and mourning:       (Adapted from: The Five Stages of Grief by Julie Axelrod).

1. Denial and Isolation

The first reaction to learning of terminal illness or death of a cherished pet is to deny the reality of the situation. It is a normal reaction to rationalise overwhelming emotions. It is a defense mechanism that buffers the immediate shock. We block out the words and hide from the facts. This is a temporary response that carries us through the first wave of pain. Often clients would insist on a second opinion. I would encourage them to do so. I consulted a specialist veterinary onchologist the first time Cleo's condition was diagnosed. He helped me to decide on the appropriate chemotherapy and the protocol to be followed when we administered the powerful drug Doxyrubicin.

2. Anger

As the masking effects of denial and isolation begin to wear off, reality and its pain re-emerge. We are not ready. The intense emotion is deflected from our vulnerable core, redirected and expressed instead as anger. The anger may be aimed at inanimate objects, complete strangers, friends or family. Anger may be directed at our dying or deceased pet. Rationally, we know the vet or the pet is not to blame. Emotionally, however, we may resent the pet for causing us pain or for leaving us. We feel guilty for being angry, and this makes us more angry.

I as the vet who diagnosed the illness and was unable to cure the disease may sometimes become the convenient target. Because I understand the process, I don't take offense but try to be as understanding and supportive as my client will allow me to be.

I encourage my clients to ask for extra time or ask me to explain just once more the details of the pet's illness.

3. Bargaining

The normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is often a need to regain control–

•If only we had sought veterinary attention sooner…

•If only we got a second opinion from another vet…

•If only we had tried harder to love the pet and spend more time with her…

Secretly, we may make a deal with God or our higher power in an attempt to postpone the inevitable. This is a weaker line of defense to protect us from the painful reality.

4. Depression

Two types of depression are associated with mourning. The first one is a reaction to practical implications relating to the loss. Sadness and regret predominate this type of depression. We worry about the costs and what to do next. We worry that, in our grief, we have spent less time with others that depend on us. This phase may be eased by simple clarification and reassurance. We may need a bit of helpful cooperation and a few kind words. The second type of depression is more subtle and, in a sense, perhaps more private. It is our quiet preparation to separate and to bid our beloved pet farewell. Sometimes I recognise the need and I give the client a hug.

5. Acceptance

Reaching this stage of mourning is a gift not afforded to everyone. Death may be sudden and unexpected or we may never see beyond our anger or denial. It is not necessarily a mark of bravery to resist the inevitable and to deny ourselves the opportunity to make our peace. This phase is marked by withdrawal and calm. This is not a period of happiness and must be distinguished from depression.

Coping with loss is ultimately a deeply personal and singular experience — nobody can help you go through it more easily or understand all the emotions that you’re going through. But others can be there for you and help comfort you through this process. The best thing you can do is to allow yourself to feel the grief as it comes over you. Resisting it only will prolong the natural process of healing.

Bereavement sometimes ultimately leads to enhanced personal development.

I knew all of the above but the severity of my grief when I asked my veterinary assistant to do the euthanasia was almost unbearable. I kneeled next to her and held her as the needle went into the vein. She did not flinch and within a few seconds she gave a sigh and was still.

I always tell my clients to consider getting another pup or kitten soon, not to 'replace' the beloved departed pet, but because the lively new kitten or puppy keeps you so busy and entertained that it eases the pain. I didn't follow my own advice until a few years after Cleo when we acquired our beloved Golden Retriever Amber. She is now nine years old and is a great joy to us. We will never forget Cleo but Amber certainly eased the pain for us.

amber_9.jpg

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