Relating to Family Members, Friends, Pets, and Zoo Animals

When Little Mac was receiving hospice care, we shared information from VNA Health about dealing with grief. Now that she is gone, the concepts regarding grief for a family member or human friend at end-of-life are also applicable to the anticipated or actual death of a beloved pet and of Little Mac. We hope you find this useful.

Grief is normal. Grief over the anticipated the death of a loved one is also normal and is called “early bereavement” or “anticipatory grief.”

Witnessing the dying process is an intense and demanding experience. Though your loved one has not yet died, you may find yourself feeling the pain of loss and experiencing a range of grief emotions and responses to this loss.

You may feel like you are in an emotional limbo, feeling hopeful for their comfort and additional time – and yet feeling despair as you see the signs that they are near the end of life.

Though anticipatory grief can be a painful process, having time to anticipate the death can allow for you to absorb the reality of the loss over a period of time and to say goodbye.

You may experience some of the following aspects of anticipatory grief:

  • Heightened fear, anxiety, depression, and helplessness
  • Changes in your own physical health; physical exhaustion is commonly reported
  • Feeling overloaded and overwhelmed
  • Feelings of unreality, disbelief, and denial
  • Grieving the future you thought you’d have
  • Feelings of anger, hostility, and guilt
  • Grieving the change in your relationship
  • Wanting your loved one to die so they (and you) can be at peace, released from this limbo state

Some suggestions as you anticipate your loved one’s death:

  • Acknowledge you are grieving and allow yourself to express your grief.
  • Pay attention to your own needs and to recharging all of yourself: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
  • Simplify your life in any way possible; make lists, delegate chores, say no to additional responsibilities. It is okay to take a raincheck or put some social engagements on hold.
  • Take advantage of your support system. Reach out for and allow help from others. Connect with a counselor.

Thanks to VNA Health for use of these materials, which are adapted from

Julia McHugh

About Julia McHugh

Julia McHugh, APR, is the Zoo's Director of Public Relations.

500 Ninos Drive, Santa Barbara, CA 93103