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"anticipatory Grieving"


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Ever since I found out my beloved dog has cancer, and even more so since our vet recommended that we stop treatment because her body is no longer responding, I have been anticipating Haley's death.

I imagine what life will be like without her. I rehearse the euthanasia (as I imagine it will be) in my head over and over again. I talk aloud about my future without her. I cry as if she's already gone from my life.

Until I read "The Final Farewell" which gives a name to this process (anticipatory grieving) I thought I was crazy.

I felt so guilty, as if I were being disloyal to Haley by thinking as much about her impending death as her life that is still going on. Some of my friends who are obviously uncomfortable with my pain have discouraged me from speaking about her death, saying "Haley will be fine. She's not going anywhere soon." But inside I have often wished she would go ahead and die because watching her struggle, even a little, is so painful for me.

I cancelled my vacation this summer and came back early because I thought she was down to her last few days. Now she is rebounding somewhat and I am both grateful and ambivalent. How many of these surges will she have, and how much longer will this emotional roller coaster ride last? I still feel bad for even thinking about my own emotions while she is the one who is dying. Yet I feel fatigued and depressed at the thought of going on like this for weeks, always wondering if this day will be her last, and if it is finally time to call the vet.

But now I know this is a normal part of grief when dealing with a terminally ill loved one. Feelings of guilt, regret, and even wishing for her death to come sooner is normal. Haley is the love of my life, and I think rehearsing the tragedy of losing her is my way of cushioning the blow by trying to work through some of the grief early, a little at a time. And I think this method has helped me to deal realistically with her life and to make tough decisions sooner rather than later.

I've already decided I will have her cremated. I've priced it at our local pet cemetery, and even lined up a list of vets who will come to our home to perform the euthanasia when the time is right. I've saved up the money and have it waiting in the bank. I've also ordered urns - one stained glass box and even two pendant urns that I can wear as jewelry. I've saved some of her hair, and taken rolls and rolls of film.

Now Haley is starting to reject her food, and we are watching her carefully for signs that it's time for her to go. I have by no means given up on her. I spend enormous amount of energy each day finding foods she will eat and even sitting on the floor next to her because she seems to eat better that way. But I think the anticipatory grieving that I've allowed myself has helped to make me more rational and realistic about this stage in my baby's life. And I'm really grateful that grieving in advance is recognized as a legitimate frame of mind. Knowing that I'm not nuts have given me confidence to allow my grief to come through.

I just hope I can stay strong as her body slowly and haltingly lets go, and make the decision at the right time - so I will have no regrets when I look back on how I handled it all. I guess that's one of my biggest worries. I hope I have the strength and wisdom to do this right. sad.gif

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My dear friend,

My heart goes out to you as I read of your efforts to make your last days with your beloved Haley as special as you can. I'm reminded of that beautiful line from the Simon and Garfunkel song: "Preserve your memories; they're all that's left you." The memories you are making now as you care so lovingly for your loyal friend are the ones that will sustain you in the days and weeks ahead. I have no doubt that you will find the strength and the courage you need to get through this, because your motivation stems from your love for Haley. There is no purer motivation than that.

I want to refer you to some additional readings that I hope will offer you some comfort at this sad and difficult time. Please go to the PET LOSS ARTICLES page on my Grief Healing Web site. Listed there are many articles about euthanasia which you may find helpful. See also the beautiful writings on my Comfort for Grieving Animal Lovers page, especially the excerpt from Rita Reynolds' lovely book entitled Euthanasia: The Merciful Release, and Martin Scot Kosins' touching piece, The Fourth Day.

Please know that all of us in the Pet Loss Forum are thinking of you and holding you in our hearts.

Wishing you peace and healing,

Marty T

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Thank you so much for replying. I am finding much comfort and help online, and so much useful information. Tomorrow I plan to visit our local pet cemetery to ask some questions about the cremation process. I want to know what to expect when that time comes.

Haley had a good day yesterday, but today she is not eating and is rather listless. I realize this pattern may continue for another week or two, maybe even longer. But she still enjoys her rides in the car, and has no difficulty getting around. She is also drinking plenty of water each day, so I don't think the end it quite upon us. I'm grateful for more time to read and prepare. Thanks again.

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