"Do's" & "Don'ts" of Pet Loss Support
How to best support a family member or friend who has recently lost their beloved pet.
1. Respect their loss even if you don’t understand it: For a pet-parent, the loss of an animal companion is no less devastating than the loss of a human family member or a very close friend. You are not there to understand, you are there to comfort them.
2. Less is more: I truly believe there are times when silence speaks louder than words. Holding a hand, giving them a tissue or just being silently present may be sufficient. Sometimes less is more.
3. Acknowledge your shortfalls: Acknowledging that you do not know what to say to ease a person’s grief is perfectly okay. Give yourself permission to be vulnerable and honest; “I really do not know what to say to make you feel better, however, if it is okay with you, I would like to stay and keep you company.” You do not have to have all the answers and no one expects you to.
4. Be quiet and let them speak: Everyone’s grief journey is different; there is no right or wrong way to grieve. As individual as our DNA is our response to grief and loss. Some people grieve in silence while others feel the need to speak, allow them the freedom to do so. They may continuously repeat the memories they shared with their pet and/or their feelings of guilt or sadness. Being present and allowing them to express their heartache is not only invaluable to them but also very therapeutic.
5. Make yourself available: Grief does not have a time limit. For some it can take weeks, months and even years to fully accept the loss. A friendly text, email or phone call to just check in to say “How are you, is there anything you need?” can make a huge impact on someone’s day.
6. Be loving but honest: If much time has passed and the person does not appear to be moving on, lovingly speak to them about seeking professional support. Coming equipped with resources will validate that you sincerely care, as well, doing the research for them is one less burden for them to deal with.
1. Remember who is grieving: You may very well have your own experiences of loss and grief however this is not the time to tell your story. Keep your attention on them and their grief.
2. Don’t judge: Again, grief is not always linear or predictable. Don’t instruct or judge how a person is grieving. Simply acknowledge their pain and do not compare. This is their grief journey not yours.
3. Do not avoid or ignore their loss: For most people dealing with loss and grief is an uncomfortable situation to navigate. If the person reaches out, do not avoid their call for help. In times of loss, everyone needs support and comfort from family and friends.
4. Patience is a virtue: Listening to someone’s story over and over can definitely test our patience and understandably we may find ourself becoming frustrated. However, displaying a lack of patience and frustration certainly does not provide a person with the support and understanding they need. Their emotions are already in turmoil so take a deep breath, stay focused, stay patient and be there for them.
5. Be careful with your words: Our words carry much weight. They build up, tear down, create sadness or joy. Always think before you speak. Try to put yourself in their “shoes” and be cognizant of how you would feel if it was said to you. Be confident with what you are about to say. If you’re not, then do not say it. Once spoken it cannot be retracted. Words can hurt!
6. What not to say: Do not tell someone “his or her pet is in a better place”. To the one who is
grieving their pet is not - the only place that is better is at home with them. Do not tell someone “his or her pet is no longer suffering”. Though they do not want their pet to ever suffer, they do want their pet to still be with them. Do not tell someone “everything will be okay”. At that moment everything feels that it will never be okay. Do not suggest they “get another pet” to replace/fill the void of the one they just lost - would you tell someone that another person can replace the person they just lost? And finally, do not tell someone to “just keep busy”. Keeping busy is just another way to say, “stay distracted”. Being distracted does not allow a person to move through the grieving process and begin to heal. Being busy is also not at the top of their agenda because grieving is exhausting! While all these “go-to” responses may be true or helpful in the future, when someone is in the throws of grief, they need to be allowed to feel, think and respond in whatever way comes naturally. If allowed to do so, the sooner they will come to a place of acceptance and resolve.
Losing a pet is extremely traumatic. If you know of a family member or close friend who is struggling, I am here to help you and your loved one navigate through the grief journey. I am available for online appointments conducted with your health and privacy in mind. Contact me any time: firstname.lastname@example.org