This is an emotion I have felt but never labelled. Now I know what it is: anticipatory grief. It’s another emotion to deal with when you foresee the loss of a beloved companion.
Sandra McCune, visiting Professor in human-animal interaction in the schools of psychology and life sciences at the University of Lincoln, England says that anticipatory grief is a normal response and “it’s part of the love you have for them”.
She says that sometimes “companion animals have hijacked our innate desire to form attachments [and] they depend on us like a child that never grows up”; good point.
Companion animals need us. They come to us and ask for what they want. They are not distracted and they don’t ghost us. They are always reliably there for us, needing us and enjoying our company.
Marlene Cimons writing for The Washington Post says that she was “paralysed with grief and guilt (did I do the right thing?)” when Hershey, her first dog, “was diagnosed with an advanced untreatable cancer and I had to let her go”.
And she lost two of her cats to cancer: Max and Leo. She implies that she feels intermittent anxiety which she described as anticipatory grief about her current companion animals, Watson, Chloe and Zachy.
She had experienced the emotional turmoil of losing a beloved companion animal after a chronic and terminal illness; an emotion which stays with you. You can experience it again but in an anticipatory way with subsequent companion animals.
Grief on the loss of a companion animal is very well known. I’m sure that many people experience grief which can be more profound on the loss of a companion cat or dog than on the loss of parents or siblings. This is normal as well.
There would seem to be an overlap between anticipatory grief and anxiety about the welfare of your companion animal. I allow my cat outside unsupervised. He is just coming in at about 5:30 in the morning. He’s typically crepuscular. Actually, his out all night on and off, which is something that the Australians would hate to hear about because they want to protect their native species so desperately.
But sometimes I think about my cat’s death outside during his exploits. The danger for him is road traffic but helpfully he is innately cautious about noisy vehicles which he sees as hostile creatures. Anyway, it is a very quiet road.
He’s a cat that needs to have his freedoms, I believe, because he is a domesticated feral cat. I tried to keep him inside and confined to the backyard but it didn’t work.
I now have the odd twinge of anticipatory grief, envisaging, almost imagining the moment I discover his death on a road or his non-return from his adventures. I have to deal with this emotion by rationalising it.
What I mean is that because I’ve experienced anticipatory grief, I’ve learnt to deal with it in the same way that one deals with grief after the passing of a cat companion.
Shorter life well lived
I still have the odd twinge of anxiety but my anticipatory grief is suppressed. My philosophy is that a shorter life well lived is better than a long one badly lived. That’s one way to rationalise anticipatory grief.
This attitude applies to people and pets in my view. Confining a cat to a home all their lives can lead to a boring, unadventurous, sterile and ultimately unhappy life in my view. There are risks outside for the cat and to the wildlife that they can prey on but my current thinking is that this is better than the alternative.
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