What is anticipatory grief?

Anticipatory grief is that awful, horrible feeling you get when you know something bad or unpleasant is going to happen. It may be mild like the butterflies you get in your stomach before going to the dentist or it may be far more long lasting and destructive.

With our pets, we know when we get them that it is more than likely that we will have to decide to have them put to sleep in the future. When they are young, fit and agile we don’t even give this a thought.

As they start to age and slow down and not be able to do as much as they did in their youth, we might start to think ‘that’s a shame’. Gradually they become less and less able and we start to physically grieve for the loss of the life they once enjoyed but even more at the looming event we know is on the horizon.

I speak from experience when I say anticipatory grief is hideous. It causes physical and emotional pain unlike anything I have ever experienced before. For me it was actually worse than saying goodbye because it never leaves you alone. It is a constant companion that you have to try and hide away to function normally on a day to day basis.

You live with this awful feeling because you know the time is not right and because you love your pet so much you put them before your own feelings.

So how on earth do you deal with this feeling while carrying on with life and caring for your pet? It is hard. Some days it is harder than others and I had many times where I broke down when I felt overwhelmed.

Looking back it is easy for me to say but I know it is much harder when you are going through it. When things start to become too much, take time to be in the moment with your pet. Sit with them in a comfortable place and just be with them. Don’t think about the past or the future, just think about that exact moment of being present. Talk to them, tell them you love them, smell their fur, feel their heartbeat, give them their favourite treat.

Speak to people about how you feel. It is easy to shut people out but try and have one or two people you can really talk to – ideally ones who are not phased by tears and snot! Crying is normal and healthy and often after a meltdown I would feel a lot better about things.

Finally if you are finding things too difficult to manage, speak to your GP. I started on a low dose of anti-depressant and although I was reluctant it did help.

If I can give a glimmer of hope, I think the more anticipatory grief we experience, the more readily we can accept the loss of our pet when the time comes. When Gillie was put to sleep I was sad but I felt a huge sense of relief that he was no longer in pain. The anticipatory grief has been replaced by a sense of sadness but I am also now able to smile and laugh when I think of him and the Gillie that comes to me in my memories now is pain free and full of joy.

Please do get in touch if you are experiencing this and you would like to talk. x