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Grief and self-injury – the loss of a dear pet

Lauren and guinea pigWhen it comes to grief and losing a loved one or a pet, I do not cope so well. And the fact that I struggle at the best of times with my emotions, means going through the grief stages is extremely hard.

This year alone I have lost 4 pets already (all guinea pigs), and I am amazed that not one of those losses resulted in me self-injuring. This was a major achievement for me but unfortunately I know that many other people do not cope so well.

I remember 3 years ago, I still remember the day so well. It was Wednesday morning at around 6am. I woke to hear our family dog, a jack russell terrier called Jackie, running around the backyard coughing, just trying to breathe. My poor girl Jackie had fluid on her lungs and it just got to the stage where she could no longer swallow her medication. That morning and seeing how badly Jackie was, I knew that we had to put her down. Unfortunately I had to work that morning so could not be with her when she was put to sleep and that for me was really hard as I just wanted to save her, I didn’t want her to die, I just wanted her to be OK again and not to leave me.

There are 5 general stages of grief. These stages can happen in any order and can last for different periods of time.

For me denial came first. I was stuck at this stage for a long time. I didn’t even want to go home after work because going home meant accepting that my baby girl was gone. If I didn’t go home though, I could pretend that everything was OK, that Jackie was still alive, that she was still with me.

Following denial anger came; I became trapped in this stage and struggled through it for a period of time. I was so mad and angry at myself over Jackie being dead. I felt horrible, I felt bad. I turned to self-injury because I was hurting but at the same time I felt numb. For me, using a coping strategy like self-injury, allowed me to punish myself in my own way. It allowed me to punish myself for not doing more for Jackie, not being able to save her, for not spending every minute of every day by her side.

Bargaining was one stage that I somehow skipped, but it’s a stage that some people do go through. It is also very important to acknowledge that grief can come in many forms and does not always come from losing someone or a pet. You may also go through grief after losing a job, or after saying goodbye to a family member or close friend who you may only be able to see every year.

Depression was the next stage that I went through and this ended in me isolating myself from others and having no motivation or will to continue with life. I was sad and again felt numb. I could not see a life for myself without Jackie being by my side. I felt like I should have done more to help her, to convince my parents to let me pay for whatever treatment that my girl Jackie needed for her survival. Above all else I also stopped doing the things I enjoyed; I also struggled with the easy things in life like getting out of bed and having a shower. Eating was also extremely hard.

To this day I still don’t think I have fully accepted the death of my baby girl. To an extent I have but I think I will always question myself over if I could have done anything differently, that if I had spent more time with her then maybe she would still be alive and I think I will always be mad and angry at myself for not being there for Jackie on the day that she was put down.

I won’t deny it. Going through grief is not an easy task at all and unfortunately it does not get any easier. Just because it’s hard though, it doesn’t mean that relying on self-injury or other harmful ways is the right thing to do. Self-injury doesn’t fix anything and it is a choice. It helps you to cope and get through painful emotions and feelings but it is not the best answer and there are better things you could be doing.

At the beginning of this year Bella (one of my guinea pigs) passed away. To begin with I blamed myself so much for her death as I was home when it happened but was unable to do anything to help her. I also remember that earlier that day she was in a bit of pain but I didn’t think anything of it at the time. I remember having lunch and then giving my piggies some vegies, I checked on them an hour later and Bella had passed away – heart attack.

I was so upset, mad, angry and scared. I didn’t know what to do. I also hated the fact that Bella had passed away without me even knowing. I would have really loved to have been there with her, holding her, letting her know I was with her throughout it all.

I have always been a creative person; I love taking pictures of my piggies and then using the pictures to make short videos. I have been doing this for a few years now and I especially found that making videos of my piggies extremely helpful after Bella passed away. In a way it gave me an opportunity say goodbye to her, tell her I loved her so much and would never forget what an amazing pet she was for me.

If you are not into making videos then scrapbooking is also an option. Or (if you’re allowed to) putting up pictures of your loved one or pet as a way to remember all the good times you had with them. Writing poems is another thing that I have found helpful when I am grieving. There is also always journaling or talking to someone you trust about your loss. There are also many other distraction techniques that may be helpful to you.

In April this year I lost 2 baby piggies, one was a week and 2 days old and the other was a week and 4 days old. These losses hit me so hard. But being able to make a video that I could watch whenever I needed to or making a scrapbook was extremely helpful. I actually found myself not just doing these things to remember all of my memories with them, but also because it took up a lot of time and hence kept me extremely busy and distracted.

At the beginning of July my oldest piggie Chelsey had to be put down due to a massive bladder stone she had. Making the decision to put her down was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.

Grief cannot be judged. Everybody is unique and handles different situations in many different ways. Grief is also not something that you can compare to another individual’s experience. One thing that we can be sure of though is the fact that grief is always devastating and hard to work through, no matter what your loss has been.

People and pets do not live forever. And most times you will not be given any warning of them passing away. So make sure you live life to the fullest and have as much great times together as you can. Dying is normal and often cannot be stopped. You cannot control what happens in life so live life as if it was your last day and find the positives in everything that you do. You don’t have to use self-injury to get through and even though it may be tough sometimes allowing yourself to cry and grieve is all you need to get through losing someone.

If you are going through grief and are looking for some help and support then you may benefit from professional help or counselling. LifeSIGNS can be of some support but it is important to know that we are not qualified grief counsellors. Feel free to check out our Support Forum or look through our LifeSIGNS website where you are bound to find other helpful pages.


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