Bereavement: Understanding Grief, Guilt & Acceptance

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Bereavement: Understanding Grief, Guilt & Acceptance

Post by Happy Hoppers on Fri Nov 18, 2011 2:54 pm

Understanding Grief, Guilt, and Acceptance
Sarah Jane


Sarah Jane with 'Peanut Butter' : 2006-2009

It goes without saying that losing someone that you love is devastating, and the same goes for those who choose to share their life with animals. Unfortunately due to their average life spans, we, as rabbit owners, are likely to experience several companion losses in our lifetime. Animals are our companions, our friends, and if they have been accepted as part of the family it goes without saying that their loss reflects that.

Unfortunately the support that we need after a loss, is not always there when the grief is for a much loved animal, and even less so when that animal happens to be a rabbit. There has always been a certain stigma attached to those who are struggling to grieve for an animal, some people struggle to empathise and this makes the individual feel more alone with their grief.

In recent years it has become much more socially acceptable to grieve for the loss of a horse, a dog or a cat. However, despite this rabbit owners are still often expected to move on from their grief quickly and quietly. Rabbits are still widely seen as a children’s pet, and unfortunately many rabbits are still living in less than adequate conditions with little or no human interaction at all. And while this is not the case for all rabbits, it is a fact of life for many, and the result is a rabbit and human who have missed out on a bond so rewarding, which prevents many people from understanding a rabbit owner’s grief.

Pets can offer us physiological protection, they nurture the care giving part of us, and some people are able to exhibit emotions they perhaps struggle to portray in human interaction, which is rewarding and strengthens the bond between animal and human. The bond can improve self esteem; create a sense of belonging for ourselves and a purpose. This bond is timeless, it is defined by significant moments in our lives, family ties, times of struggle and hardship, but also times of happiness. The loss is often the end of an era. But the downside to this incredible bond is the vulnerability we can feel when we are left unprotected and alone.

The combination of these factors often means that people feel misunderstood and sometimes ashamed to express the loss they feel. One of the benefits of belonging to a forum such as Happy Hoppers, is the emotional support available in times of bereavement. Members understand the loss, and offer a sympathetic ear to those who are suffering the loss, and knowing that there are people who understand your emotions can really make such a big difference. But even when you have the support, the grief can still be very difficult to understand and work through.

Euthanasia

One of the biggest issues that rabbit owners often face is the issue of euthanasia. The last act of kindness we can show our pets, offering them a dignified pain free release as opposed to continued suffering. For many rabbit owners it is the hardest decision they will have to make, because emotions have to be placed to one side and the decision based only on the quality of life.

In an ideal world our rabbits would pass away in their sleep due to old age, and live to the higher end of the average lifespan. Some people are blessed with having the decision of euthanasia taken away from them, however the vast majority of rabbit owners will have to, or have had to make that decision, to end their rabbits’ suffering.

Guilt

Guilt is a part of grief that is difficult to avoid, however for pet owners and more specifically rabbit owners, it is something which can become a vicious circle and hold us back from acceptance. Often rabbit owners can find themselves struggling to get the support they need for veterinary professionals, out of hours vet services sometimes do not understand the severity of the case, or even if they do understand the research is not as advanced as it is with dogs and cats, and many rabbits are treated on a trial and error basis, which can sometimes hinder the progress or even survival of the rabbit.

Unfortunately this leaves us as owners in a difficult position, because while our guilt is misplaced, it is very difficult to move on from the ‘what ifs’, and looking back in hindsight, contemplating different avenues that could have been explored. Feeling this way can cause distress and misplaced guilt. As rabbit owners we have to accept that treatment is not as advanced, and we cannot always get it right. Rabbits hide their illnesses well, and that in combination with the other factors already discussed, this means that we are continuously fighting an uphill battle.

“If only I had noticed sooner, what if we had tried a different treatment?” And so on. Often we are given choices of treatments, and this can play a huge part in our guilt because we wonder what would have happened had we made another choice. The fact we often have to make the choice to euthanise our pets adds to the guilt, however often this is a no win situation because we either have to make the choice to euthanise or witness their decline in health, and watch them suffer.

In addition to this, often illnesses and health are discussed on between owners, as friends and on internet forums, and sometimes owners can feel the cycle of guilt rearing its head again; if a certain treatment has worked on another rabbit, what could the outcome have been if we could change the decisions we made? This is quite possibly the biggest question that rabbit owners will ask themselves weeks, months or even years down the line. We have to accept that we can only act within our knowledge and experience at the time. The possibility that had we known what we know now, we could have saved them, can torment even the most logical of pet owners. We have to forgive ourselves, because guilt is counterproductive and will prolong the grieving process and prevent us from progressing to acceptance. Rather than feel guilt, we should feel proud that our rabbits have contributed to the research and experience of our veterinarians, because that could save the life of other rabbits in the future.

Acceptance

Our rabbits passing will never be easy, we spend so long dedicating ourselves to improving the future for all rabbits we often forget how fragile they are, but we all have to take confidence in the fact that we gave our rabbits the best life that we could, and be grateful for the time that we had with them. Members of Happy Hoppers often look back on their own threads detailing their rabbit’s lives, adventures and behaviours, and it provides a comfort.

Grieving for our rabbits is never going to be understood by everybody, and we shouldn’t want it to be, because that’s what makes them so treasured. We are lucky to have the capacity to grieve for an animal that so many people pass by in their life, completely unaware of how truly special they are.


The Pet Bereavement Helpline (Uk) is 0800 096 6606. Calls are free, and lines are open betweem 8.30am to 8.30pm daily.
The RWAF also offer bereavement counselling through their helpline: 0870 046 5249 lines open between 10am – 2.30pm daily.


This article was first published in Hopping Mad! Bunny Magazine, October 2011. The original article can be read HERE
Produced for Hopping Mad! Bunny Magazine Copyright © Happy Hoppers Forums Uk - October 2011 - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.


Last edited by Jay on Tue Nov 22, 2011 9:08 am; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : Formatting)
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