Author: Alison Johnson
As any animal lover knows, losing a pet can be devastating. Both children and adults can cycle through phases of grief that mirror common reactions to the death of a human loved one.
But people often feel alone in their sadness, and parents may be unsure about how to help their kids handle their emotions in a healthy way.
Now there's help: a free pet loss support group that meets monthly, alternating between Hampton and Virginia Beach locations. The Hampton Roads Pet Loss Support Group, which launched earlier this year, is led by Susanna Horner, a Yorktown-based licensed clinical social worker who specializes in the subject. Horner has help from Tyler Carmack, a Virginia Beach-based veterinarian who offers at-home hospice care and euthanasia services throughout the region.
The group is for adults only, but people who attend can -- and regularly do -- ask questions about how to help their children, Carmack says. Group meetings tend to be small, so she and Horner can tailor the discussion to each person's situation. Parents also can benefit from better understanding their own grief process, she says.
"I think children learn a lot by how their parents grieve, so making sure that the parents are working through their grief and handling it safely is most important," she says.
Virginia Beach meetings are Tuesdays at the Virginia Beach Central Library, 4100 Virginia Beach Blvd.; Hampton meetings are Thursdays at the Hampton Library, 4207 Victoria Blvd. The sessions run from about 6-7:30 p.m. and include a video on pet loss, discussion of the normal grief cycle and a period for sharing and questions. "People feel like they're crazy sometimes, when actually they're going through the same things as the other people in the room," Carmack says. "That's very comforting."
The next meetings are Aug. 14 in Virginia Beach and Sept. 6 in Hampton. For more information on the groups or other support services for families, go to www.petlosscounselors.com or www.hrvethospice.com, or call Carmack at 474-5968.