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Understanding Disenfranchised Grief


Disenfranchised GriefThe following is a recap of an episode of the Wolfie’s Wish Pet Loss Pawdcast, Disenfranchised Grief and Anticipatory Grief: What Are They and What to Do About Them. These versions of grief are common among those who have experienced the loss of a beloved pet. Listen or read on to learn what these terms mean and how to cope with them after pet loss.

What is Disenfranchised Grief?

Disenfranchised grief refers to grief that society doesn’t acknowledge or accept. Pet loss is a prime example and is often minimized by comments like, “It was just a pet.” These remarks can be incredibly hurtful because they invalidate the deep bond we share with our pets. The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) has conducted extensive research showing the unique and profound connections between humans and animals. This bond has evolved from pets being mere animals in our yards to beloved family members for whom we now throw birthday parties.

The Cultural Shift in Pet Loss Grief

Over the years, there’s been a significant cultural shift in how we view pets. This shift underscores the need to accept, validate, and treat pet loss grief. For example, did you know that prolonged grief disorder is a recognized condition you can get treatment for? This acknowledgment is a step towards validating pet loss as a legitimate source of grief.

Pet Bereavement Leave Petition

To further this cause, I co-authored a petition on advocating for Pet Bereavement Leave. This initiative has received endorsements from notable professionals, including Dr. Katie Lawler, a psychologist known as the Pet Doctor. At the time this article was published, we collected over 1,100 signatures. Our goal is to reach 40,000 to present it to the legislature. Your support can help make this a reality.

The Impact of Disenfranchised Grief

When people lose pets, they often feel misunderstood and isolated. It’s crucial to change the conversation around this type of grief. At Wolfie’s Wish, we offer various support systems, including a Facebook group, virtual monthly support meetings, and the Wolfie’s Wish Pet Loss Pawdcast. These platforms provide a space for people to share their experiences and feel understood.

Validating Grief

Friends and family often try to help by suggesting it’s time to move on or by saying, “It was just a pet.” While well-intentioned, these comments can be hurtful. Instead, asking questions like, “How can I support you?” or “Would you like some company?” can be more comforting and validating.

Anticipatory Loss

Anticipatory loss occurs when we know our pet’s time is limited. It’s challenging to stay present when we’re preoccupied with the inevitable. Our anticipatory loss cards help you focus on the present and prepare for what’s to come. Quality of life worksheets and palliative care options can also assist in making informed decisions about your pet’s care.

Solutions for Grief

At Wolfie’s Wish, we’re committed to offering practical solutions for pet loss grief. I created affirmation cards as a simple daily practice to help cope with grief. These cards, developed with pet bereavement specialist Saskia Kostka, focus on self-care and staying present with your pet, especially during anticipatory loss.

Professional Support

It’s essential to seek professional support when dealing with pet loss. Veterinarians, vet techs, and pet bereavement specialists can provide valuable guidance. For example, Dr. Jen from Sage Paws offers coaching to help people make informed decisions about their pet’s end-of-life care.

Resources and Courses

Click this link to download sample anticipatory loss cards from the Wolfie’s Wish gift shop. If you find them helpful, you can purchase the full set using code “Redirect” at checkout for just $4. We also offer a variety of resources, including books, support groups, and an upcoming self-paced anticipatory grief course.

Self-Care During Grief

Taking care of yourself during this time is crucial. Allow yourself to grieve and seek support when needed. At Wolfie’s Wish, we provide tools and resources to help you navigate this challenging period.

Avoiding Substances

As someone who has been clean and sober for 15 years, I understand the temptation to use substances to cope with grief. However, facing your emotions head-on is crucial for healing. If you need medication, follow your professional’s advice, but strive to process your emotions healthily.

Sharing Experiences

Losing a pet leaves lasting scars on our hearts, but those scars are a testament to the love we shared. I cherish the time I had with Wolfgang, my Covid companion, even though it was brief. Finding a “soul pet” is a unique and special experience that makes the pain of loss worth enduring.

Upcoming Episodes and Support

In our next episode, we’ll discuss when it’s the right time to get another pet. We’ll also have guests from Australia sharing their insights. If you or someone you know is struggling with pet loss or anticipatory grief, direct them to Wolfie’s Wish for helpful resources and support.

Together, we can end the stigma of disenfranchised grief and provide the understanding and support needed to heal.


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