Dealing with Premature Grief

One of the most common pieces of advice that I give to people that I meet whose dogs have been diagnosed with cancer is to “live in the moment,” just as our dogs do.  I think it’s how they manage to stay so happy and resilient throughout their lives — they don’t waste time regretting things that happened a year ago, or even ten minutes ago, and for the most part, they don’t sit and worry about the future much either.  Content with the here and now, our dogs are models for how to deal with a diagnosis of cancer.

Unfortunately for us humans, living in the moment seems to be against our nature, especially when faced with a cancer dignosis.  We fret and we worry and we regret.  We play things over and over in our minds, wondering if we have done the right things and made the right choices.  We torture ourselves imagining the future, usually imagining the worst.  And in all of this angst and sadness, we not only forget to appreciate the small, joyful moments in front of us right now, but we also begin to transfer our negativity and sadness onto our animal companions.  This can create a self-fulfilling prophecy, as emotional stress is a contributing factor to how well an animal, or person, can fight off disease.  So, think of maintaining a positive attitude as an Emotional Cancer Treatment — just as valuable and important as any of the chemotherapy drugs, radiation treatments or holistic therapies you might use.

But how do we make this leap from WANTING to live in the present, to actually DOING it?  It’s certainly not easy.  I specifically remember having a melt-down moment in the park with Georgia, when she was as happy and healthy as we ever could have expected during her cancer treatments.  Here she was romping through the park on a beautiful afternoon, and all of a sudden, all I could think about was what it would be like without her here, and all of my fears and sadness about the future came flooding to the surface in my tears.  In retrospect, I think of what a waste that was, as I would give anything to go back to that moment in time.  But, in that moment, I couldn’t help it.  It’s natural and normal for us to have these emotions and to automatically think about what the future might hold.  In fact, this experience of premature grief  is such a normal part of our coping process, that it actually has a name — “Anticipatory Bereavement.”  We basically grieve before we have to in order to start preparing ourselves for what we expect to be a very painful and traumatic experience.

It can be a very overwhelming thing to deal with alone, and as mentioned, anticipatory bereavement is of little to no use to our animal companions in their fight against cancer.  So it’s our job to work through it — to figure out how to address these feelings in a healthy way so that we can then go back to being FULLY with our animal companions, living in the present and cherishing each and every moment together.

To help you with this, there is a fantastic online chatroom offered through the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement that specifically helps those struggling with Anticipatory Grief.  It meets online the first and third Thursdays of each month from 8:00 PM to 10:00 PM Eastern Time.  The chatroom is run by trained pet loss and bereavement counselors who will help you thought this difficult time.

For more information on the chatroom, CLICK HERE.

The APLB also has a list of excellent books on pet loss on its website.  To view some of their recommended resources, CLICK HERE.


For additional support and information as you cope with the challenges of canine cancer, please visit Georgia’s Legacy at

About Kerry Malak

I am a Bulldog mom, Reiki Master/Teacher, pet loss counselor and canine cancer advocate who loves working with people and animals to help them live longer, happier and healthier lives.
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