Moab Happenings Archive
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Anticipatory Grief
Provided by Jessica Turquette – owner of Moab BARKery

Anticipatory Grief is the first thing that comes with knowing your pet is close to the end of their terrestrial journey. It’s also the part that you can do the most for your pet and yourself in terms of making the whole process a better experience. This article is dedicated to the topic of pet loss and the often-overwhelming grief that accompanies it. It features a transcript of an interview between Dr. Karen Becker and Nancy Gordon who is a grief specialist. Nancy’s passion and life’s work is helping pet guardians cope before, during, and after the passing of a beloved animal companion. Nancy Gordon is Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Life Coach, international best-selling author, consultant, speaker, and a life-changing expert.

Nancy’s Dogs Toaster and Pink Changed Her Life
One of Nancy’s goals is to help dispel a lot of the fears and avoidant behavior, anxiety and How depression that can arise from the loss of a pet. “As far back as I can remember, I was always the person people came to for advice,” she explains. “So, my calling was clear from very early on. I got my master’s degree in social work, became licensed, and had a private practice for about 17 years.

The last six of those years were after a car accident — an experience that was so devastating, my life was turned upside down. I got to a point where I couldn’t work anymore, so I had to learn the first practice of my seven practices, which is my methodology for helping people. The core of it is about surrendering. I thought when I closed my practice that I was surrendering, but I eventually discovered that I had just given up my practice. Less than a year later I discovered a rare breed of dog called the Mexican Hairless that goes back to the ancient Aztecs.
Nancy’s relationship with Toaster was profound and changed her life in many ways. Toaster eventually had puppies, one of which was Pink, who developed a luxating patella (aka a floating kneecap) and lost her leg at the age of one. Nancy went on to write a book about Pink, the dog who “lost her leg and found her courage.” Pink’s disability journey taught Nancy “how to get off the couch and just do it anyway.”

Anticipatory Grief
Nancy explains that as a longtime psychotherapist, she was very aware that loss is an inevitable part of everyone’s story, and it’s how you deal with it that makes the difference. As Toaster got older and developed several chronic illnesses, as Nancy explains it, “it became real to me that at some point, and maybe sooner rather than later, she was going to pass.”
In my own experience with clients, I’ve found that they’re often not aware they’re experiencing anticipatory grief or anxiety. “Anticipatory grief is the first experience you have of loss,” Nancy explains, “and it happens before the loss. We anticipate that we’re going to lose a pet, and feelings come up around that because we don’t want it to happen. The less a person knows about grief, and the less they’ve healed past grief, the more frightening the realization is that their pet is going to die, whether in two years or a year or a month.

What these people may experience is anxiety, depression, irritability, loss of interest in the usual things. They begin clinging to their animal. They worry, and worst of all, guilt kicks in, and people just don’t know how to deal with it.”

Dr. Becker states “I realized my anticipatory grief and anxiety — about pets who were still healthy and thriving — was robbing me of day-to-day joy and time with them because of my background stress response. I couldn’t appreciate being fully present with them. I can now, but I couldn’t for many years because I didn’t know how to manage the knowledge that the relationship would end in their deaths.”

“You’ve just touched on one of the biggest benefits of navigating anticipatory grief,” says Nancy. “We learn to hold, both emotionally and psychologically, the fact that our pet is dying, but is still here. How do we stay present? Because if we can learn to stay present, that’s where the healing begins — and not only the healing of grief, but the preservation of our connection with our pets.

You stay present and connected. Animals never disconnect; they’re always present. It’s one of the biggest lessons they teach us. In my experience, anticipatory grief is almost inevitable, and we can learn how to go through it and come out the other side whole. It’s what I call transformative grief. The blessing of anticipatory grief is that we have the opportunity, while our animals are still here, to interact with them, and help and care for them, which prevents feelings of guilt. We’re being of service to our pet, instead of them being of service to us.”

Nancy explains that grief isn’t something most of us learn how to get through. Instead, we learn how to avoid it, to “pick ourselves up by the bootstraps” and stop crying. “Unhealed grief puts a lock on your heart,” says Nancy. “It’s so important for people to realize that the key to unlocking your heart is to face the guilt and grief. Now, facing it is often very, very hard for people. Grief is meant to be shared. It’s meant to be expressed in positive, healing ways rather than stuffing it.”

The Importance of Feeling and Expressing Grief
Nancy counsels that an important first step for people dealing with pet loss and grief is to find support from others who understand what it means to lose a beloved animal. We need support from people who truly understand so that we can comfortably share, express, and process our grief.

The second step, once we allow ourselves to start feeling and expressing our grief, is to embrace self-love and self-compassion, and recognize that our feelings are normal. Grief is a natural process in relationship to loss. There’s nothing wrong with you; you’re not crazy.

“There’s a quote I share with clients, especially those who feel their loss is unbearable,” says Nancy. “It goes, ‘If there is ever a tomorrow when we’re not together, there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think, and loved more than you’ll ever know.’ That’s a quote from Winnie the Pooh.

Understanding the journey of pet loss and working through transformational grief leads to hope, healing, growth, and resilience. In growing through our grief, we honor our pets.” If every time you think about how much you love your pet, it’s followed by the thought that he or she will be dying soon, you instantaneously minimize good feelings in favor of feeling anxious about losing your animal.

Address this as soon as you recognize your pattern. By addressing it, you’ll have a richer, more meaningful relationship with your pet without the distraction of an emotion that isn’t serving you at that time. “The last stage of grief is not just acceptance, in my opinion,” says Nancy. “It’s transforming it. It’s finding meaning. It’s opening your heart to another pet. When people feel that the loss of a pet is unbearable, they’ll never get another one. Unhealed grief puts a lock on your heart, but there’s a key to unlock it.”

Creating Happy Memories While Grieving
Veterinarians can be a great help in a client’s anticipatory grief process through end-of-life and euthanasia discussions. “Toward the end, Toaster had seizures that turned into undiagnosed fainting spells,” Nancy explains. “She was used to going everywhere with me, but she couldn’t any longer, and I started thinking about how I would feel if she passed when I wasn’t home. It became part of my decision-making process, with my veterinarian’s help, to understand what the next few months would look like for Toaster so I could plan for that.

You need to be able to think straight when you’re in the anticipatory grief stage. You need information and time to make rational decisions about what will be in the best interests of both your pet and you.

Many clients call me the day before they’re going to lift up™ (euthanize) their pet can still make that time special and healing. Sadly, those calling a day after have missed that opportunity.”

When she’s reached in time, Nancy can help clients with pets in the final stage of life learn how to balance feelings of anticipatory grief and anxiety with the desire to make their animal companion’s last days as wonderful as possible. Most of us aren’t born with the ability to create memories and positive moments while we’re in pain. “The gift of anticipatory grief is that it gives you one last opportunity create a healing parting instead of a traumatic one,” Nancy explains. “This honors your pet and prevents future guilt and regret.”

Dog-Friendly Walks/Hikes
in the Moab Area

Corona Arch - Easy/Moderate. 1.3 Miles one way. Trailhead is 25 minute drive from Moab.
North on US-191 to Potash Road (Utah 279).

Mill Creek Pathway - Easy. 1.1 Miles. Little to no driving. Starts at the intersection of 100 South and 100 West,
a block off of Main Street.

Portal Overlook - Hard. 2.0 Miles one way. Trailhead is 20 minute drive from Moab.
North on US-191 to Potash Road (Utah 279).

Grandstaff Canyon - Moderate. 2.0 Miles one way. Trailhead is 10-minute drive from Moab.
North on US-191 to the River Road (Utah 128)

MoabBarkery website

Dog Friendly Walks/Hikes in the Moab Area
Trail or Walk Difficulty Length
(one way)
Proximity to Downtown
MillCreek Pathway
easy 1.1 miles Little to no driving
Starts at 100 S & 100 W
Portal Overlook
(trailhead @ Jaycee Park)
Hard 2.0 miles 25 min drive N on US-191 to W on Utah 279 (4.2 miles)
Moab Rim Hard 3.0 miles
(to Hidden Valley trail)
8 minute drive 2.6 miles down Kane Creek Blvd from US-191
Negro Bill Canyon
(aka William Grandstaff Canyon)
Moderate 2.0 miles 10 minute drive N on US-191 to
W on Utah 128, 3 miles
Hunter Canyon Easy 2.0 miles 25 minute drive (mild off-road)
7.5 miles down Kane Creek Blvd from US-191
Corona Arch Trail Easy/Moderate 1.5 miles 25 minute drive N on US-191 to
W Utah 279 (10 miles)
Hidden Valley
(trailhead at end of Angel Rock Rd)
Hard 2.0 miles 10 minute drive S on US-191
3 miles to Angel Rock Rd
Fisher Towers
(trailhead 2.2 miles off Utah 128)
Moderate 2.2 miles 35 minute drive N on US-191 to Utah 128, then 21 miles

Tips for enjoying your time with your dog here in the Moab area:

  • Bring lots of extra water for you and your dog.1 gallon per day for every 60lbs of dog!!
  • Don’t let dogs chase wildlife (especially coyotes, they can lead dogs into an ambush).
  • In the city, dogs are required to be leashed, but on public lands off leash with voice control is allowed.
  • Slickrock and sand is very abrasive!  Check paw pads often, or buy and use booties.
  • If it’s over 85 degrees only consider early AM or late PM hikes, daycare or leave your dog at home.
  • Pack out my poop!  Seriously or the other hikers without dogs will eventually demand no dogs allowed!

To see past articles about animals, pets and their care check our archives.

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