Can you help a friend with how hard and confusing grief can be?
April 6, 2022 12:02 PM   Subscribe

A dear friend of mine lost his mom to cancer in April 2020 (no funeral thanks to covid), put his cat down in May 2020, his dad has been in and out of the hospital since June 2021, and put his dog down last week. He's feeling very confused about why he feels so much more grief, weepy sadness grief, about his dog than he did his mom, or previous pets. Can you provide resources to help him navigate all the complications of this?

His mom was loving but very complicated, his dad is abusive, so very complicated. The whole thing is sad. I think there is a lot of unresolved grief from his mom dying at the height of the start of the pandemic. I also think it's a big hit to be without a pet, whereas he's always had one. But he is really worried about what it means that he is so much more clearly sad about his dog dying than his mom. And maybe he's also finding it surprising how impactful loosing a dog can be.

I think this is really common thanks to reading ask questions like this one, or this one. He doesn't have that context and is finding it very hard. Can you provide stories or resources?

He is in therapy already, but I think could just use some normalizing stories.
posted by lab.beetle to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
A dog "gets into" you more than your parents usually do. Or friends. Or anybody. Except maybe your cat (though not in your friend's case). Assuming your friend is not a child, he may have been more emotionally (inter)dependent with his dog than any of the other beings you mentioned.

I'm sorry your friend is feeling confused and guilty about not caring about the deaths of those others as much as he thinks he should, but I totally get it.

I had complicated but not abusive parents and a difficult older sister. I remember, when I was around 7 years old, lying awake in bed imaging that a robber-murderer came into our house and demanded of me that I choose one being, besides myself, for him to spare. I would go around and around and around this in my mind, lying there, and I would aways wind up choosing my wire-haired fox terrier Missy over all my family members.

I just NEEDED her more (and maybe loved her the most). Back then I hated myself for that choice. Now I'm 71 and a psychologist (but not YOUR psychologist!) and I totally get it.

and also, dogs are just Good. I wish your friend well. He's been through Far Too Much in the last two years. I'm glad he's got a therapist to talk to.
posted by DMelanogaster at 12:16 PM on April 6, 2022 [15 favorites]

I felt very little immediate sadness at the death of my mother. Years later, I've felt it more, but absolutely not at the time. I was angry at my father for dying. I was destroyed for days when my dog died. The difference? My dog never said he was surprised my wife and I were still married after 5 years (thanks, mom). My dog never drove drunk with me in the car (thanks, dad). Dogs are saints, people are sinners. Of course I was sadder about a dog.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 12:21 PM on April 6, 2022 [24 favorites]

This is incredibly common, to the point that I think it is accepted wisdom among grief counselors that losing a pet can indeed be much harder than losing a family member. A dog is so physically close to you all the time, touching you, sleeping with you, poking your leg for dinner. What human is that close to other than an infant? When you lose a dog it's like losing a limb. And for most of us our relationships with our dogs are 100% good, unlike our relationships with other humans (especially family), which are always complicated. I've lost a lot of family but grieved the loss of my dog like no other. Your friend is normal and healthy and is welcome to message me if he wants to talk about it.
posted by HotToddy at 12:21 PM on April 6, 2022 [27 favorites]

I read somewhere once that losing a pet can be harder because the pets been a constant through the other loses and is a connection to those times in you life. I’ve gone through a lot of lost in the last few years and I think anything that connects you to the times the people who you lost is hard in itself to lose. Not to ignore that the dog was probably hugely important in itself.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 12:32 PM on April 6, 2022 [3 favorites]

Yeah, as Geckwoistmeinauto says I think it's not even necessarily that you feel *less* grief for a parent than you do for a dog, it's that with the dog your grief is very uncomplicated and free-flowing. The dog never did anything bad to you. Dogs have literally been bred to be lovable, for tens of thousands of years.

Also I think these things are additive. Like, I cried A LOT over the death of a coworker - full-on meltdown on the phone to my sister. It was an objectively tragic death but I barely knew the guy. But it happened a little less than a year after my husband died. I suppose the coworker was the death in my life after my husband's death.
posted by mskyle at 12:34 PM on April 6, 2022 [14 favorites]

I had a very similar experience. I was inconsolable for days when my dog died; when my dad died I was more just numb (but I also had some stress issues crop up months later that were related).

I think it comes down to multiple factors, including:
* Pets are simple and people are complicated
* Pets are part of your daily routine (and generally a pleasant one!), so you lose that as well
* Pets seem to worm their way into the "child" part of your brain (obviously they're not the same, but they're in the same "dependent creature" category)

And as mentioned above, given the order things have happened for your friend, the dog's death may have been the straw that broke the camel's back for the previous losses.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 12:38 PM on April 6, 2022 [8 favorites]

There are so many reasons why it doesn't seem at all surprising to me that the dog's death would hit the hardest. I assume the dog lived with him and his mother didn't, so the dog's death would leave a huge hole in his life in a way that his mother's wouldn't. He probably feels the dog's absence over and over again during the day - when he comes home and the dog doesn't run to greet him, when he thinks "time to take the dog for a walk" and then remembers, when he hears the jingle of tags and then realizes it was just his imagination. As much as he may have loved her, his mother probably wasn't an integral part of his daily life.

And you said he put his dog down. Being the one who has to make the decision to end a life can bring on some powerful emotions. Not many people have a pet euthanized without feeling some doubt or guilt or second-guessing afterwards, even when it's clearly the best decision. When his mother died, it wasn't because he arranged for it to happen.

I don't know how old his mother was, but if she was old enough there could also be a sense that she had lived her life and her death was not really a shocking tragedy but just the inevitable end that's coming for us all. Of course, if the dog was old he might think he ought to have that same feeling about its death. But old age comes a lot faster for a dog. He might not have that same sense of the dog having lived for a long time, because it wasn't really all that long compared to a person's lifespan.

And, as other people are saying, dogs are simple and good and they love you way more than you deserve, so it's easy to feel nothing but love for them. People are a lot more difficult.
posted by Redstart at 12:52 PM on April 6, 2022 [3 favorites]

In addition to the many excellent points raised above, I think the pandemic has forced some level of extra bonding that makes this loss even harder. We had to put down our cat last month after two years of working from home, and his absence has been brutal. Days of weeping uncontrollably, and it’s still hard to think about him without getting teary.

After examining some feelings that sound a lot like what your friend is dealing with, I realized that I’ve never spent as much time with another living creature as I had with my cat over the last two years. Those are some serious bonds, pet or not. I miss him so much.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 12:56 PM on April 6, 2022 [8 favorites]

awww hugs to your friend. I think more complicated relationships can be a lot more complicated (difficult) to mourn (based on personal experience). what is cleaner, more wholesome, than the love between a dog and their human? even cats are more complicated (LOL). also, I think there is an element of cumulative grief going on here. what a brutal series of events your friend has endured. the dog is (not only) a tipping point, opening a well of grief that is deep and ongoing.

I hope your friend has the support then need, and if you have an appropriate moment to encourage them that grief is big and complex and weird and they should try to be kind and patient with themselves as they can.
posted by supermedusa at 1:00 PM on April 6, 2022

So, I had the same experience, but way out of order by a number of years. Twenty years ago, my mom and dad died within a year of each other. I grieved HARD for my mom (still do) and was pretty stoic about my dad (complicated history, but still a great father and good dude).

Fast forward to me getting married and being a VERY reluctant dog owner. I was still (STILL) grieving my parents and we rescued a very gentle pug. After 7 very good years, we had to escort him across the rainbow bridge and we were inconsolable. Both my wife and I had suffered losses of both of our parents, but we had to get out of the house for a couple of days after our sweet dog died.

It's completely understandable - my unresolved grief grew over time and when our Milo passed, it just came out. I hope your friend can takes good care of himself. Grief is very, very sneaky.
posted by theseventhstranger at 1:03 PM on April 6, 2022 [3 favorites]

There was a question on AskMeFi some time ago which I think may help explain some of what your friend is going through, in which the asker was puzzled and distressed that when his father died he wasn’t as upset as he thought he should be, but then when the president of his home country died more than a year later, he was overwhelmed with grief.

I think your friend was able to subconsciously transfer some of his love for his mother to his dog and avoid feeling her loss as acutely, but now when his dog has also died he's experiencing grief for his dog and the postponed grief for his mother.
posted by jamjam at 1:25 PM on April 6, 2022 [2 favorites]

Losing a dog is the hardest thing. It just is. You don't cuddle with your parents, reach out to your parents, go for walks with your parents, camp with your parents, and your parents aren't waiting joyously for you to come home, every single time.

Really, I lost a 15 year old cat recently. It was difficult, I waited to tell everyone because of birthdays and travels. When I told one of my daughters, she wept, because that cat had been so loving with the dog she lost, years ago. Losing a dog is terrible.

I wish him all the best, and a better spring and summer to come.
posted by Oyéah at 1:32 PM on April 6, 2022 [4 favorites]

I can relate to your friend. In April 2018 we had to say goodbye to Dean, a 2-year-old cat with FIP, and I loved that kitty so much. In January 2020 my father passed after a few years of decline with dementia. Then the pandemic hit. So many struggles there.

Last December, I had to say goodbye to my senior cat, Laney. I was and still am absolutely filled with grief about that -- seemingly moreso than when I lost my father. But consider: Our relationships with parents are complicated. At least mine was. Yes, I loved my father, but there was a lot of history there and not all of it good.

My father was nearly 80. He had suffered for years and was finally free of that. His body simply gave out, at the end. I had no control at all over that and had a chance to let him go gradually. (That is not all good, but it is not all bad either.)

Laney was 16. She had failing kidneys, Diabetes, arthritis, heart murmur and it just "was time." But I had to make the decision. I had to arrange it. I had to hold her and say goodbye knowing I could have waited another hour, another day, another week... of course I feel like I did the right thing, but did I really?

All that plays into the grief. And my feelings for Laney were uncomplicated by any "bad" history. I "rescued" her at about 8 years old from a shelter. She never let me down. She slept on my pillow every night for 8 years, as long as I was home. She was 100% pure joy for me. And she was 100% my responsibility.

And, of course, I said goodbye over and over in the days before her final vet appointment. But there's no way for her to acknowledge or understand that.

Anyway - I was shattered by losing Laney. I am still. I was torn up about Dean, but not to this degree. I was torn up about my dad, but same thing as your friend - I think it's just easier to feel those feels for a beloved pet and they just hit harder. Your friend is not alone.
posted by jzb at 1:42 PM on April 6, 2022 [2 favorites]

I have been mentally preparing for my parents to die for two decades now -- my parents are/were tough people but both of them are super high mileage.

I lost my dad this year and it felt like a logical conclusion of that process. There was no funeral because of omicron. I def have feelings about it but they're not the overwhelming crushing kind. He and I loved each other and he is an inspiration to me in multiple ways, but we were not close -- Dad was not a guy who was close to people who didn't inhabit the exact same world that he did.

My mom is preparing to die, and lives in a jurisdiction where she can seek a doctor's assistance in doing so. So she is organizing her death in the exact same obsessive way she organized her life. This means that I am even more prepared for her death. I don't know how I will react when she dies in front of me but I do know that death will be a friend to her. Her quality of life has been low lately and she has lost the ability to do the hobbies she's really really good at. My mom and I are a lot closer than my dad and I were, we talk about every three weeks on the phone for a couple hours ... moreso nowadays that her end of life plans are coming into focus.

My dog is a presence in my life every hour, especially during the pandemic, and she is a snuggle monster who follows my every move. She sleeps curled up against my side and is generally the first thing I'm aware of when I wake up. She dances like a trout when its time for dinner; she has a lucasfilm sound lab collection of cute grunts and purrs to make; she nose kisses me about once every six months and that's always a reason for celebration. She greets our guests with furious alarm barking, then will rub up against their ankles, seeking affection with her hackles still up. Watching her doggie brain process cognitive dissonance is hilarious and cute. When I'm feeling low, she is always there for me, she is like a living stuffie.

When she dies, I am going to be a fucking mess. Our family has lost pets before, but none that I've been so close to, and those were devastating.

OP, you can tell your friend that this internet stranger knows exactly where they're coming from. If he's putting himself in a bad person club because he feels like his emotions are betraying him, that they're revealing that he undervalues human life, sometimes I feel like I'm right there with him. But I understand how I got here, and I am confident that I'm not a bad person for being here.
posted by Sauce Trough at 1:49 PM on April 6, 2022 [1 favorite]

I joined a grief support group during this last winter, and one of the most useful concepts that came up was that of the "grief suitcase", i.e. a concept that recognizes that we don't generally experience current grief *separately* from previous griefs.. grief doesn't really "end" or get closure in the way that we might expect want.

Learning about the "grief suitcase" helped me feel less weird/fragile/broken about how my griefs felt compounded and oversized.
posted by correcaminos at 1:54 PM on April 6, 2022 [5 favorites]

Hi, my dad died of a stroke in February 2019 then my cat died in March 2019 exactly 4 weeks later. My cat died also of a stroke. I had to be gone for a week, literally sprinting out the door to catch a flight to make it to where my dad was dying.

Actually, I have an entire AskMe about it. At the time I couldn't even broach how I felt I was betraying my dad by being so crushed at losing my cat. Silly, right? How dare you grieve another thing when you need to grieve your FATHER?! No one would say that to anyone. In fact, my dad was the ultimate dog lover and . Okay, I'm crying nevermind, let's move on.

Anyway, I've given it a lot of thought over the years. I also had a lot more "grief" in moment to moment because my cat was gone. I had extreme grief for both, compounded in a way I did not understand was possible before and I don't think people who haven't experienced it will get.

There are a few things. I believe now that death is painful in the extreme because it's a full closure of the relationship. There is no more future that involves both of you. This weighs heavily when we consider losing a person, especially a family member. We'll come back to it. There's also proximity and involvement in daily life. There's care given, support taken in. Our pets are probably higher on this scale than our adult parents and our adult selves. You have a literal hole in space where your pet would be. Your caretaking routine is gone. Your support taken from the presence is gone. It's very immediate.

It isn't that one grief is larger. It's that there are immediate things that make me cry, almost wail, even now when I think about my dad. Similarly, if I thought about how I lost my pet. Both cases were very traumatic. I didn't have to live in the same space and go about my same day to day life seeing the place where my dad would've been all the time. I don't feel responsible for my dad dying because he wasn't solely under my care for years.

I have no doubt that your friend has and will continue to grieve losing his mother. The pain of again and again feeling the sharp ache of finality knowing that it is closed off forever will come up. It really is like a wave as it's often described. The same is true for his dog, but it's right. there. in. his. face. And he was already grieving all the time his mother (even under the surface, even when his mind was temporarily free from a wave... another wave was building off in the distance).

This helps with grief and your friend lost an incredible resource to deal when their dog died:
1. Routine (nope, the dog gave a routine and they're gone)
2. Purpose (similar to routine, also gone)
3. Being cared for
4. Activity, just moving around

I talked too much already, but please, I hope my words can help your friend find some peace. I always come back to the lyrics from the song Welcome to Earth Pollywog by Sturgill Simpson: "I've been told you measure a man / By how much he loves." It's true.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 2:17 PM on April 6, 2022 [4 favorites]

This article touches on feeling more grief after losing pets than parents, and I found it helpful when I lost my dog.
posted by sillysally at 2:50 PM on April 6, 2022 [1 favorite]

I think what correcaminos wrote about the "grief suitcase" is interesting. My mom passed suddenly about 4 years ago and it blew my mind, it was so terrible and hard to understand. Then about 4 months later I had to put my 13 year-old cat to sleep. I felt miserable, it seemed excruciatingly painful and it bewildered me that it felt so bad. I was talking to a friend who is a psychologist that day and he just told me "You're still grieving for your mom!" and I realized, ohhhhh yeah. Sure, I loved my cat but obviously I was still slowly working through the reality of my mom's death and the pain of losing my kitty was just a fresh wound that deeper grief could flow through.
posted by Locochona at 2:54 PM on April 6, 2022 [3 favorites]

There's not a lot of research on this, because it can't be monetized and grief is hard to quantify in order to measure. That's also why you can't really say you grieve this one thing harder or more or greater than this other thing - all you can really observe is that they may not be the exact same experience. It is an unreasonable expectation that one will have the exact same experience every single time and that they will be quantitatively or even qualitatively comparable.

I've been volunteering in some grief support the past couple of years, often with young adults, and I've had a bunch of conversations where they go "I'm a monster, I'm not grieving, I haven't cried once" and after 5 minutes of conversation I find out they're failing out of school because they can't concentrate, they've had chronic hives for six months, and ended all their friendships with people who still have their parent or sibling or whoever it is they lost, but sometimes they still enjoy playing tennis so they're obviously not grieving. They're grieving plenty. People have weird and often naive and heavily media-influenced ideas of what grief is, how long it lasts, and critically: that the expression is somehow correlatable to the relationship or the magnitude of the loss.

That's not how it works. What you feel inside, what you output physically, what effect a loss has on your nervous system and physical and mental health is dependent on a thousand variables, not just a few. There's definitely some practical stuff you can point to - if you don't live with a parent the reminders don't tend to be as in-your-face as when you lose a pet, one often has decades to come to terms with the fact that their parents will likely go first and with a dog you only get maybe 15ish and you don't even believe it for most of that. Family relationships are significantly more complicated than pets.

Also at the end of the day we are mammals and not really apex predators, and in a lot of people the bigger the hurt, the harder our nervous system tends to try to keep it on the down-low so the hyenas don't notice. We shove big hurt way down into places it can be hard to take it back out to work on right away, and it tends to drift back to the surface over long times. One of those times can be when we have a simpler more accessible loss.

And so in a very real way they actually can't say they grieve xThis more than xThat, because it's impossible to separate Previous Loss xThis from New Loss xThat.

I have come to believe it's important to recognize all the tiny little ways grief emerges - stuff you cannot see for the fog until sometimes years later. And wow does context play a part too - I lost my MIL and my father 3 weeks apart, and then 3 weeks later was the original lockdown. I will never ever be able to really differentiate my grief at those losses from each other or from the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic, or the pandemic from the election, or the pandemic from my work burnout, or...the pandemic from more pandemic. It's absolutely going to be an influencing factor for your friend as well - everyone's resilience has been ground to fine powder over the past two years. But if it wasn't this there would be some other backdrop, you can't even separate the things that are all happening at the same time.

In conclusion, your friend should be kind to himself. We re-grieve our losses over and over again in fresh contexts for the rest of our lives, he isn't dishonoring anyone and he isn't broken and he isn't Doing It Wrong. The grief for his dog contains the grief for his cat and his mom and and old friends and lost opportunities and things that will never happen in the future. We can hold tremendous threads of sorrow and one does not cut the other off. I hope he is able to find peace in that, and really deeply believe he isn't hurting or dishonoring anyone because of how he feels in any given moment.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:11 PM on April 6, 2022 [45 favorites]

He's feeling very confused about why he feels so much more grief, weepy sadness grief, about his dog than he did his mom, or previous pets. Can you provide resources to help him navigate all the complications of this?

I am so sorry for your friend, this is hard in any case. I also lost a complicated parent a few years back (pre-COVID) and my answer which is slightly sarcastic and slightly not is "Because pets don't suck in ways that we feel are their fault. Parents (some parents) absolutely do."

My favorite metaphor for managing grief generally is this really simple thread about the box and the ball and the button. At least it feels accurate to my feelings. I have lost pets and have always felt like there was a lot that was ON ME for various reasons just because I was my pet's whole world. That can feel like a lot.

I really think the most important part of helping someone with grief is just validating that it goes how it goes, it's okay to feel how you feel, and if it's been a long time and it's getting in the way of other things in your life, there are lots of people who can help with this kind of thing (therapist, religious advisor, support group, many options) and they can really be helpful.
posted by jessamyn at 4:48 PM on April 6, 2022 [4 favorites]

Pets are a huge part of our daily lives, and dogs in particular are a huge part of their human’s daily routine. It’s totally understandable that the daily change of losing a pet would be felt in more obvious and constant ways than the death of a parent, who presumably lives in a different place and isn’t seen as often. (Not to mention that so many people have complicated relationships with their parents!)
posted by nouvelle-personne at 6:55 PM on April 6, 2022

One other salient difference - when my parent died, it was an objectively big deal. There were forms and certificates, we had to deal with banks and bills and possessions and relatives. We didn't do much in the way of death rituals, but we had to think about them. You can channel a lot of grief into doing necessary/expected things, or thinking about them, or supporting the people handling them.

With my cat, I had to make the decision - but afterwards there really was not much to do but feel sad. (In a horrible silent home - I second everything said above about pets' role in daily life/routine.)
posted by mersen at 8:13 PM on April 6, 2022 [6 favorites]

Chiming in to say that grief has no timetable and doesn't work in the way that the media portrays it, or capitalism would prefer it work, where you take a day or a week off or whatever and then you are over it.

I can't speak to the pet experience specifically but I hope that my comment will still be of some use.

In the last few years I have lost a parent and two close friends, and with each death I found my grief behaving differently; I found that when my first friend died I was grieving my dad; I found that when the second friend died I was grieving the first friend all over again. The comment upthread about each new loss being "a fresh wound that deeper grief could flow through" is probably one of the most profoundly true I have read in my life, thank you Locochona.

It's also an intensely personal yet at the same time universal experience. It is really difficult and troubling to think you are not grieving 'right', in a way supported by culturally accepted narrative, in a way that makes sense to other people. But the thing is, underneath the culturally accepted narrative, most people do not actually grieve the way they think they're supposed to. Your friend isn't alone.
posted by unicorn chaser at 4:43 AM on April 7, 2022

I feel like this is the bargain we make when we get pets: The only time they will ever cause us pain is when they die. But the pain of their loss will be so much greater because every day leading up to it they brought us so much joy and love.

There's also something about the way we communicate with animals. We may use words at times, but there's so much intuitive body language, so much touch, so much just "being there". They depend on us to provide for them, and in return, they give us all the love in the world.

They become a part of us. They accept us unconditionally, even on our worst days. Their love is reliable and stable and beautiful in its simplicity, as is our love for them in return.

It's such a pure form of grief when you lose a pet. I lost my horse 3.5 years ago, and I felt like the best part of me died the day I lost her. I still can't talk about her without starting to cry. Her loss touched me in a way that nothing else ever has. It's just one of those things.
posted by litera scripta manet at 7:31 AM on April 7, 2022 [1 favorite]

You always grieve more for those that are dependent on you. It's biological. While they are alive you have to be constantly vigilant and responsible. There was no problem if he didn't check in with his mom for forty-eight hours, but he absolutely could not do that with his dog. His mom could choose her own food. He needed to make sure he had picked up dog food, that it was the right brand and type. If his mom wanted something she could pick up the phone or type out a text message and tell him with words. She was easy. If his dog wanted something, his dog had to whine, paw, bark or whimper or head butt him. And then he had to develop enough empathy and theory of mind to figure out what the dog wanted. He spend an enormous amount of time being aware of his dog.

So he was way more tightly bonded to the dog in many, many ways than he was to his mum. And this bond is now left totally hanging. Everything he does will have a dog-shaped absence in it, from being careful when he shuts the bathroom door, to making sure the chicken bones go back in the fridge instead of into the garbage, to no longer needing the tennis ball in his jacket pocket, to hearing a noise in the night and automatically thinking it is his dog, or expecting a responsive torrent of barking.

His dog provided him with physical affection, company, purpose, structure... His dog NEEDED him. His dog needed him way more than his job or his friends or his mother or anyone else in his life.

And then there is the last straw phenomena. We are, to some extent prepared for many years for the death of our parents and we know that if all goes well, some day we will be orphans, and that it is appropriate for us to grow away from our parents. Even so, the loss of a parent is big. And so is the loss of a cat, a job, one's hair, the other parent. There's only so much one can absorb before grief on grief piles up and brings one down to one's knees. No, no, no, not you too! Not you already! For some people it could be the hair loss that triggers the sense of keening devastation, but it is the result of cumulative grief. The more we lose sometimes the more we cling to and value the little we still have.

In a way he's like the little child in foster care, clinging to the teddy bear when the losses have been piling up - and then the teddy bear too is lost.

Also worth noting that dogs fill much of biological urges we have designed to make us effective parents. And the highest trauma that can happen to a parent is to lose a child they struggled to keep alive and healthy and happy when that kid is between about the age of eight to eleven. There is a fair chance that the death of his dog is triggering the same biological grief as the loss of a child that lived the same number of years that the dog did...
posted by Jane the Brown at 8:28 AM on April 7, 2022 [3 favorites]

A dear friend of mine lost his mom to cancer in April 2020 (no funeral thanks to covid), put his cat down in May 2020, his dad has been in and out of the hospital since June 2021, and put his dog down last week. He's feeling very confused about why he feels so much more grief, weepy sadness grief, about his dog than he did his mom, or previous pets. Can you provide resources to help him navigate all the complications of this?

I've been in a similar emotional place. My older brother died unexpectedly in Feb 2021, my father descended into full blown dementia in June 2021 and went into long term care in Aug 2021, and my mother ended her life because of terminal breast cancer in Sept 2021. 2021 was a pretty shit year for me as well (and everyone else) with the pandemic. I even capped it off by breaking ribs on Dec. 30th just to ice the cake. So I spent some very recent time thinking about my own emotional responses to trauma and grief.

I'm not at all an emotional person and for me the grief that still bubbles up or even washes over me now and again is not something I think of as belonging to a particular person or cause. It is an emotion I am feeling because it is something inside me and something triggered it to manifest. So being emotional about the passing a dog is likely obviously linked to the dog as a stimulus but it doesn't belong to the dog. It belongs to your friend. It is his grief and it is inside him. The dog likely isn't necessarily exclusively what filled the well of grief that his current emotion is drawing from. That well can be deep and it can be more or less filled depending on what has happened in life. In my case I got to cruise along grief free with a mostly empty well for 5 decades. Then last year the well was suddenly full and sloshing over at both predictable and also almost random provocations. It also sometimes didn't slosh over when people would think it should. Grief ebbs and flows unpredictably.
posted by srboisvert at 11:00 AM on April 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all for all of this. My friend feels super supported by all of the comments. I'm not sure which to favorite, because it might just be all of them.
posted by lab.beetle at 6:06 PM on April 11, 2022 [2 favorites]

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