LOSS AND THE BURDEN OF GUILT
|Even if there is no basis for it, we often feel guilty
for what we did or didn't do to save a pet from a terminal illness or
accidental death. We really do assume a god-like role in our pets'
lives, taking complete responsibility for every aspect of their care.
When something goes wrong, it's only natural that we feel responsible
for that as well.
Guilt is a normal response to the perception that we've somehow failed in our duties and obligations or that we've done something wrong. It generates a whole mixture of feelings including shame, inadequacy, insecurity, failure, unworthiness, self judgment, anxiety and fear of punishment.
If your pet is diagnosed with a terminal illness, you may feel guilty for not having noticed symptoms sooner. You may feel guilty about your decision to euthanize your pet, thinking you should have let your pet live longer. Conversely, you may feel guilty that you didn't euthanize your pet soon enough, thinking you were selfish in your unwillingness to let the animal go. If your pet was critically hurt or killed in an accident, you may feel guilty that you didn't foresee it or prevent it.
Know that guilt is a normal part of grieving. It's only human to dwell on the what if's and if only's: "If only I'd done something differently, this never would've happened." Yet it's probably safe to say that, when your pet's accident, illness or death occurred, whatever happened was not intentional on your part. You were doing the best you could and, given the information available to you at the time, you were doing what you normally would have done. Harsh as it may seem, consider that even if you had done things differently, your pet still could have died in some other way the very next day! Sometimes we act as if we can control the random hazards of existence, even when we know that death is a fact of life.
Healthy guilt allows us to own up to and learn from our mistakes. It gives us a chance to make amends, to do things differently next time, to come to a better understanding of ourselves, to forgive ourselves.
What You Can Do That Helps
If you find yourself saddled with guilt over the loss of your cherished companion animal, here are some things you can do to get relief:
Copyright © by Martha M. Tousley, RN, MS, FT, DCC All rights reserved