By Sean Zucker –
Regardless of circumstance, losing a loved one is a devasting experience. The grief can lead to a variety of physical and emotional issues, such as depression, trouble sleeping, feelings of anger and bitterness, anxiety, loss of appetite not to mention general aches and pains. This anguish even extends to the loss of a loved pet. Yet surprisingly, despite the heartache, a recent New York Times article claims losing an animal companion can make a person emotionally stronger.
Previous WellWell reports already underscored the benefits of having pets, especially dogs. Pooch pals seemingly help people lead healthier and potentially longer lives.
Last year, for example, WellWell explained that the simple act of walking with a dog is a stress killer. It noted a study conducted by the National Center for PTSD that focused on how dog walking helped relieve symptoms of PTSD in military veterans. Dog walks were even more beneficial than taking a stroll with another person.
“Vets with severe PTSD symptoms in the dog-walking group saw the greatest improvements in heart rate variability, suggesting that footing it with a furry friend can soothe an agitated mind. For veterans with severe PTSD who walked with a human the results were not as promising,” the report stated. “In fact, stress levels actually worsened over time when the vets took a stroll with another person.”
Those results came hot off another WellWell report that suggested having a dog could help a person live longer.
“Let’s cut to the chase. Get a dog and chances are you’ll be happier, healthier and live longer,” it said before highlighting research that found having dog around may even help improve a child’s reading skills.
Unfortunately, this all makes losing the pet that much harder, even though a person is probably better for having that relationship.
The New York Times explained that the process of acceptance and letting go of a loved pet helps build resilience necessary to navigate a slew of life’s obstacles.
“When you lose one that is close to you, something inside shifts. And yet the death of a family pet can remind us of how vulnerable, precarious and precious life is. It’s that process of acceptance and letting go that builds the resilience necessary to navigate an array of life’s obstacles. We hone an ability to adapt to the evanescence of our lives with grace and hope,” the Times stated.
The outlet evidenced its claims by bringing in a handful of human psychology experts to express their belief in the benefit of the grieving endeavor.
“We’re changed and transformed by the loss,” noted Leigh Chethik, a Chicago based clinical psychologist. “It brings impermanence and death into an updated internal, emotional map. This loss can help us with whatever comes next, whatever future losses may be in store. We come to see that we can create a new understanding and attach to new dreams.”
Chethik continued by calling the loss of a pet a dress rehearsal for losing a human family member. For kids, she explains, the death of a pet exposes them to an existential crisis or struggle related to the idea of impermanence and mortality, often for the first time. While the process is still painful and traumatic, it helps them build the emotional muscles to grasp the concept and better align them for future sorrow and hardship.
Psychotherapist Jessica Harvey added that the act of embracing the loss of a loved pet helps build important skills of emotional pliability and healing. “The idea that grief can often be the price of love is helpful in developing resilience,” she said. “By focusing on the positive elements of having a pet as the cause of why the hurt is so powerful when they are gone, we can begin to heal.”
Bottomline—grieving is both painful and helpful.