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How Does One Deal With Anticipatory Grief


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Hi All,

My dog Chelsea is now living with my brother but everyday I worry and think about when I will receive the phone call to tell me that she has died... This worries me a great deal and I think if I am not there she will know that I did not love her enough to be there with her... Can anyone help me with this problem..... Thank you and Take care Shelley

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I don't have any answers for you, but I feel much the same. My father has terminal cancer, and he lives 170 miles away, so I can visit, but not all the time. It's very hard to know how much to visit, or how long he will be with us. And I worry about the load on my mother, who is his caretaker. My visits are almost more for her, because he sleeps all the time. I have had many difficult issues with my father during my life, and he doesn't want to talk about all that, and I don't really either -- I worry that once he is gone, I will really regret this, but if he doesn't want to hear it...

Well, anyway, I sympathize with your anticipatory grief, I am also finding it a hard road. I hate myself for this, but I sometimes wish the other shoe would drop and his suffering would be over and done with, that he just wouldn't wake up one morning and then wouldn't have to worry about chemo and pain and weakness any more. He is already fading away, I hate watching it. And one sister says his time might be near, and she says we should support him if he wants to stop treatment -- I agree with this, but my other sister screams when we say that and says he MUST not "give up", he must keep fighting, so that is a strain in the family too. It's so hard.

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Hi AnnC,

Thank you for your respond to my post, It is so very nice to know that people do actually care and understand how you are feeling... I will pray for you and keep you in my thoughts Take care and God Bless You Shelley

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Dear Shelley,

I know from all you’ve shared with us in other posts that relinquishing your beloved Chelsea has been one of the most difficult aspects of your grief journey, and I can’t imagine how much you must miss her being right there with you now. Hugging a stuffed animal when you need a hug is fine, but it can't compare to hugging Chelsea, can it? Even though you know Chelsea is alive and well and living with your brother, you still are left with the presence of her absence in your own daily life, and it certainly doesn’t make you miss her any less.

I want to address your concern that if anything happens to Chelsea, “if I am not there she will know that I did not love her enough to be there with her.”

Have you ever watched a program on the National Geographic channel called The Dog Whisperer, featuring Cesar Millan? Cesar is today one of the most sought-after experts in dog behavior. I’ve watched his television program often enough to be convinced that he has a very special gift: his unique ability to understand and work with dog behavior, based on what he calls “dog psychology.”

In his best-selling book, Cesar’s Way, Cesar Millan makes the point that “animals are beautifully simple. To them, life is also very simple . . . The most important thing to know about animals is that they all live in the present. All the time. It’s not that they don’t have memories – they do. It’s just that they don’t obsess over the past, or the future . . . That’s perhaps the most wonderful revelation I have had from a life of working with dogs . . . Although humans are animals, too, we are the only species that dwells on the past and worries about the future . . .”

When circumstances are such that an animal must be relinquished to a suitable new home, Cesar says, “This may be heartbreaking for you, but the good news is, dogs do move on much faster than humans. The dog will feel disoriented at first when he moves to a new pack, but in nature, wolves do change packs when the need arises. If a pack gets too big for the resources in the environment, wolves will split off and find or form new groups. If you find the right home for him, your dog will adjust after a day or two. It’s his instinct to adjust and try to fit in. He’ll recognize you if he sees you or smells you again, but he won’t spend his time pining for you. Remember, dogs live in the moment.”

I share this with you, Shelley, in hopes of reassuring you that Chelsea is probably much happier living with your brother than you may think, and it’s highly unlikely that she is spending her days being mad at you for abandoning her, or thinking that you don’t love her enough to be there with her. One of the most wonderful things about dogs is their willingness to forgive their humans; they love us unconditionally, and they don’t hold grudges against us – that’s partly why we love them so much. And as Cesar Millan says, they don’t dwell on the past or worry about the future – they live fully in the present.

I have a feeling that all of this is much harder on you, Shelley, than it is on Chelsea. If in your heart of hearts you considered Chelsea as your "fur child" you would not be alone. As an animal lover myself, I can assure you that I love my dog Beringer just as much as I love my (human) children and grandchildren -- and that does not mean that I cannot distinguish between my love for humans and my love for animals. It's just that our animal companions love us in a way that's DIFFERENT from how our fellow human beings love us -- the love we feel from our pets is unconditional, complete, unwavering, loyal to a fault, completely without judgment -- is it any wonder that we miss them so much when they are no longer with us -- regardless of the reason? And in some ways, having to relinquish our pets to someone else can be even more painful than knowing they have died -- because we know that they are still here in this physical world, but they are not present with us. So it's hard to know how to continue loving them in their absence, especially when we know their unconditional love is now being given to someone other than ourselves. All of this can leave us feeling angry, guilty, sad, lonely, jealous -- as well as pleased, proud and grateful that we were able to find someone else willing to provide our beloved pets with a happy, loving home -- an entire mish-mash of conflicting feelings! And you are NOT crazy or silly to be having any of these feelings. These are NORMAL reactions. Grief is a NATURAL response to losing someone we loved very much, and we grieve in proportion to the attachment we have to those we have lost. In that sense, grief is the price we pay for loving. You may be thinking, "I shouldn't feel this way because I know my dog isn’t dead" -- but feelings aren't always rational, and they are neither right or wrong -- they just ARE, and it's very important to acknowledge and express them so they can be dealt with, worked through and released. Yes, your Chelsea is still alive, but she is no longer with you, you still miss her terribly, a part of you may still feel guilty for having to give her up in the first place, and you still need to let yourself grieve your loss of her.

I cannot say whether visiting Chelsea once a month will help -- you know yourself and Chelsea better than I do -- but I can alert you to some things you may want to consider. Since she now lives with your brother, I’m going to assume that he is providing a loving home for her. Does visiting Chelsea in her new home make it more difficult for you to adjust to her loss -- or harder for Chelsea to adapt to her life without you? Might your brother mistakenly get the impression that you are "checking up" on him and don't trust him enough to take proper care of Chelsea? Do you see this as a temporary or a permanent arrangement? In other words, did you relinquish Chelsea with the idea that she now belongs to your brother? When you see the two of them together, do you get the feeling that they’ve bonded with each other, and that Chelsea now looks to your brother (rather than to you) as her primary person, the leader of her pack? If so, does that stir up any negative feelings (of sadness, guilt, jealousy, etc.) in you?

If you see this arrangement as permanent, Shelley, it may help both you and Chelsea to find a way to say “goodbye” to her. Keep in mind that saying a proper and thorough goodbye to Chelsea doesn't necessarily require that you are together with her physically, and it doesn't mean that you won't ever visit her again. This goodbye is more for YOU than it is for Chelsea. Perhaps you can say goodbye to (and ask forgiveness from) her spirit, by creating some sort of special goodbye ritual -- use your imagination and do whatever feels right for you. Light a candle, write a poem, plant a rose bush in her honor, create a little place of remembrance complete with photographs where you can go to think about and remember (and talk to) your lost dog in your new home -- whatever you do is totally up to you. What's important is that you find a way to meet your own need to say goodbye, so that this precious dog is freed to move on with her new “master,” and you are freed from all those negative and painful feelings. Keep in mind, too, that although you must find a way to let Chelsea go, you need not let go of the relationship you have had with her -- for that will stay with you as long as you keep your memories of her alive in your heart and in your mind. Remember, talk about and cherish all those special moments -- that is her legacy of love to you. Relinquishing her to someone else does not mean that you must erase all memories of her in your own life, or that you can never visit her again in your brother’s home. Why would you want to do that when she meant so much to you? This is more of a symbolic relinquishment, acknowledging the sad reality that Chelsea no longer belongs to you, that now she has become your brother’s dog.

Whatever you decide to do is strictly up to you, Shelley. What really matters here is for you to find some peace, and as you continue on your journey, I hope you’ll let us know what you're thinking and how you’re doing with all of this.

Wishing you peace and healing,

Marty T

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Hi Marty T,

The set up with Chelsea is like this, My brother has taken her for me but She is still my dog, We are treating it like I just had to place her with him because of someone has an allergy to her... I know others who own dogs but they live with others for the same reason.... It still does not make it easier but that is the way it will have to stay....I visit her as often as I can and she loves when I come to visit her... My brother does pay for her keep just because I have not got a lot of money... He has two other dogs and four cats so one more did not make much diffference... He tells me when she goes to the vet and I help pet sit when they go away some where... Take care and Thanks for your post earlier... Shelley

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  • 2 weeks later...

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