Time keeps moving like an ocean
Memories of you come back again
Like the dawn still lives
This love will shine on
The love we give will never end…
I feel you; I feel you everywhere
You are my soul; I will love you forever
The love we give will never end
This love will shine on – The Tenors
In my work as a grief and pet bereavement counselor, I am often asked, “How long does grief last? When will it end? When will I be over it?” There is no clear cut or predefined answer to these questions but one thing is for sure, the loss of a companion animal is not something we simply “get over”. Love, devotion, connection, affection, and caring are all feelings that live on long after our companion animals have died; these feelings don’t magically end at a given date. I think those who have grieved a significant loss understand this fundamental truth. So why then do we often hear these questions?
Grief is a normal and universal reaction to losing someone we continue to love and cherish, and there is no rationale or formula to determine just how long our grief will last. The idea of a grief timeline is somewhat misleading and puts pressure on us to transition to some ideological “finish line” within a certain amount of time. Those familiar with the grief of losing a cherished companion animal understand firsthand that associated feelings, setbacks, breakthroughs, roadblocks, triggers, and reconciliation can occur at unexpected, unpredictable times and durations. Grief is not a race (and certainly not a sprint!) with a start and finish line. It’s more akin to a labyrinth of unpredictable twists and turns, forks in the road, obstacles and road blocks. While we know there are defined stages of grief that can help guide and help us understand our process, grief cannot be mapped on a linear timeline. However, the more time that passes, and the more we actively grieve and commemorate our loss the less extreme and agonizing the emotions of grief should be. There will still be bad days and difficult times, but overall, the intensity of normal grief should very slowly begin to diminish.
It’s significant to note that you can take steps forward to re-engage in your life, while at the same time continue to grieve your loved one. Just because you begin to resume a somewhat “normal” routine or decide it’s time to bring home another companion animal does not mean you won’t continue to grieve the loved one you lost. Your capacity to be happy, enjoy life, and love again exists in addition and independent to the love you feel for your deceased loved ones. It is possible and actually quite healthy to be able to hold two opposing emotions at the same time.
So, feelings of grief will change and the intensity will diminish over time, but they will not completely disappear. Grief doesn’t end and there is no “finish line”, however, with time and openness to grieving and mourning, it should begin to feel different; hopefully more peaceful and manageable with a sense of eternal gratitude for the time and love shared together. Julie Corbin, Ph.D., LPC: Pet Loss Support Services of New Jersey