Disenfranchised Grief – It’s NOT just an animal

Disenfranchised Grief is grief that is not acknowledged or supported by society… and it absolutely sucks. I can think of few worse feelings during the grieving process than the feeling of being so heartbroken that you can hardly breathe and that nobody cares. Yet that, is exactly how it feels. Friendships have been broken, jobs have been lost and all because of a basic lack of compassion and understanding.

It’s true and fair to say that not everyone grieves in the same way or indeed to the same depth therefore it’s a fair assumption to make that the lack of compassion is, at its roots, caused by a genuine lack of understanding rather than malice or disregard. In saying that, there is nothing more hurtful to a grieving pet parent than hearing the words ‘It’s just a…’

Our companion animals, throughout their lives, have been a constant source of unconditional love and emotional support whenever we have needed them. The human companion animal bond is incredibly strong because we, as their care givers, are as constant to them as they are to us. Never a falling out, never a breakdown in that relationship and even when our patience has been tested to its very limit, there’s nothing but love. To dismiss a grieving pet parent’s feelings at this time as an over reaction is an unbelievably cruel act of ignorance. It may be ‘just an animal’ to them but to us, they were so much more. They were our companion, our confidante and our best friend. Only by speaking about pet bereavement openly and educating people will this stigma be challenged. Nobody in the throws of grief, regardless of species, should feel like their feelings are being invalidated by those around them. They are not weak, they are not being ridiculous and they are not overreacting. They are grieving.

When British television presenter Caroline Flack very sadly took her own life in February 2020, social media was flooded with the hashtag ‘Be Kind’. Profile pictures had ‘Be Kind’ filters, mental health was at the forefront with every post relating to mental health, suicide and bullying ending #BeKind and then Coronavirus hit. Yet more examples of #BeKind flooded the media and internet as families, friends and communities rallied to support one another. Two headline grabbing examples of tragedy highlighting the need and delivery of compassion and support in society. But sadly, that kindness and compassion and support is still lacking when it comes to pet bereavement. Not in any way comparing any of the events at all but lets just think for a moment about the inequality of it all. Why is there not enough compassion in people’s hearts for everyone? We don’t need to have experienced suicide, mental health problems or Covid-19 to feel compassion for those who have been affected by them. Society can still do that, and rightly so. So why can’t some people acknowledge the grief in others and show compassion for someone who is hurting? Someone who is in pain. Someone who is overwhelmed. Someone who is grieving. Please do not let #BeKind be a passing trend or hashtag. If you know someone is grieving the loss of their beloved companion animal, be kind.

I have spoken on many occasions about a Glasgow girl called Emma McNulty who was fired from her job because she was too grief stricken to work her shift and was unable to find anyone to cover following the death of her family dog. Millie, a Yorkshire Terrier, became part of the family when Emma was just 4 years old. Emma was quoted in a BBC article in August 2019 as saying

“I was sacked on the same day as I lost my dog. Millie was 14 and I am 18, so I don’t remember a time when she wasn’t part of my life. We did everything together. I was so close to her and she was my best pal.”

This is a classic example of Disenfranchised Grief and in my next blog, I shall be looking at why I am actively encouraging employers to implement HR policies to support their employees who are grieving the loss of their best friend. This change needs to happen. For all of us. I am in the fortunate position of being self employed and can take time off when I need to, but I will stand proudly as an advocate and campaigner for those who are not. Companion animals are NOT ‘just animals’, they are members of our families.

So please, join me in signing Emma’s petition so that there is one less thing for fellow pet parents to worry about during this very distressing time. She is nearly at her target of 35,000 signatures, let’s do our bit and help her voice be heard.