When Words Aren’t Enough: How to Help Someone Who is Grieving the Death of a Pet
For many people, the loss of a beloved family pet is similar to losing a person. Although the status of companion animals in our society is elevated in comparison to previous generations, there remains a lack of understanding when it comes to the intense sadness that surrounds the death of a pet. Because of these societal influences, many pet owners don’t receive the support they need from family and friends when the time comes to say goodbye to their pets.
It can be difficult to know what to do or say when someone has experienced the death of a pet, but it’s important to remember that this is your opportunity to be there for a loved one in their time of need. We hope our guidelines can be of assistance in navigating this sensitive and important time.
- Validate their feelings – Let your loved one know that their feelings are normal and that you will be there to support them through it, even during the tough times of anger, guilt, or deep sadness.
- Listen more than talk – Be a source of quiet support when necessary. Allow your friend to process his or her feelings verbally, without offering any advice or words of wisdom unless the situation calls for it.
- Offer your assistance – If can be difficult to find the time and space to grieve when the daily grind still needs our attention. Offering to help your friend with meal prep, running errands, or childcare can be enormously helpful.
- Celebrate and memorialize – Suggest ways your loved one can celebrate his or her pet’s life, such as with a memory book, framed photos, or formal memorial service. Offer to help!
- Use clichés – Avoid saying phrases such as “They are in a better place” or “Time heals all wounds”. These types of phrases are often unhelpful, as they tend to minimize the extent of the loss.
- Make comparisons – Don’t compare your loved one’s situation with any that you have experienced or have heard about. Each person is entitled to his or her own depth of emotions.
- Try to “fix” things – As tempting as it can be to scold, lecture, or offer pep-talks when we feel that a loved one has grieved “long enough”, it is important to remember that each person is unique in his or her own grieving process, and deserves our patience and understanding.
Guilt Associated With The Death Of A Pet
Pet owners often experience feelings of tremendous guilt following the death of a pet, especially if the difficult decision to euthanize the pet was made. Be mindful of this often misplaced emotion, and be sure to tread lightly around the topic. Do not offer your opinion as to what your loved one should have done, or what you personally would have done differently. Reinforce that the correct, humane decision was made and that they did the best they could for their pet.
We Can Help
Sometimes, it really helps to have the support of others who have also experienced the loss of a pet, and there are several pet loss support groups located in the Denver metro area. Here are a few suggestions: The Human Animal Bond Trust, the Association for Pet Loss & Bereavement, and Caring Pathways. Also, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at Lone Tree Veterinary Medical Center, if you have any questions regarding this sensitive issue.