Karen Campbell, coordinator of bereavement services at Nashoba Nursing Service and Hospice, hosts both drop-in and closed groups dedicated to helping those dealing with adult loss in several neighboring communities.
This month, she will begin hosting a support group for those grieving the loss of a pet.
"People forget that pets are a part of our lives, and when they're gone, we need some support," Campbell said.
Campbell, who works with animal rescue and pet-fostering, said she has had more than 240 pets come through her care in the past 12 years.
She describes the pain people feel when they lose a pet as "disenfranchised grief," meaning they are made to feel that they do not have the right to grieve.
Many times people find that the loss of a pet is dismissed while the loss of a person is considered more worthy of grief.
"Say you live alone with a dog for 15 years and you have a brother that you haven't seen or spoken to in 10 years, and both the dog and your brother die," Campbell said, adding that people may dismiss the loss of your dog but feel bad about your brother.
"I also worked in a school system," she added. "Kids would come in upset that their pet died, and the school would always dismiss them and say, 'Oh, you will get another one.' It doesn't work like that."
There are many different types of loss, she said, and everyone has a right to grieve each of them. The Pet Loss drop-in support group will create a place for people to grieve these losses, and it will show them they are not alone.
While the loss of a pet may be painful, pets also experience a loss when their masters die.
"A dog or cat will come into the facility and sit on the bed and they won't leave, and we don't make them leave," hospice manager Alison LeGault said, as Campbell nodded in agreement.
"One time, we had a patient pass away, and then three weeks later, their dog died," Campbell said. "He just stopped eating and drinking, and could feel something was wrong."
The bond between a person and a pet is strong and comes down to natural instinct, Campbell said.
"What brings meaning to our lives is caring for something," she said.
Campbell will host the Pet Loss support group on the third Monday of each month from 6 to 7:30 p.m., at Phoenix Park on Shaker Road in Shirley. The first meeting is scheduled for Sept. 16. Although the meeting is open to drop-ins, there is limited space. Those interested are encouraged to call Campbell at 800-698-3307, ext. 320, for meeting details.
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