Supporting Pet Loss
There can be over forty reasons why someone might experience grief and the loss of a pet is certainly one of those reasons. The animals humans share theirs lives with provide them with unconditional love. They can be companions and confidants. They are loyal and there can be an emotional bond that forms which can often exceed the bonds created with another human being.
When a companion animal dies, is stolen, is lost, or runs away the loss can often be devastating. Pet loss can be accompanied by very strong emotions and the intensity of this grief can be a new experience for some people. As a friend or family member you may want to offer support to your loved one but have no idea how to relate to this loss.
As individuals attempt to support the pet griever they often resort to a preprogrammed script that reads, “Don’t feel bad. You can get another dog.” Others may say “Don’t feel bad” followed by a list of reasons why they should not feel bad. Many times, found on that list, is the comment “It was just a cat and you can get another cat”.
These well intended comments can cause the griever to feel misunderstood as they attempt to navigate the powerful emotions associated with this unique grief. As their support system you do not want to add to their loss by creating an environment where they could feel ashamed or embarrassed. Well-meaning friends and family can underestimate the strength of this bond and in an attempt to support the griever are ill-equipped to say or do the right thing.
Grief is the normal and natural reaction to an emotional loss of any kind. Grief is also the conflicting feelings brought upon by a change in something familiar. Grievers, those mourning the loss of an animal companion, should never be made to feel their emotions or feeling are not normal. Grievers should never be encouraged to push their emotions down in order to appear strong. Individuals, who are grieving the death of an animal, should be encouraged to process their emotions, just as they would any loss. Suppressed and ignored emotions can manifest physically and emotionally. Grievers, with unresolved grief, can become sick, unproductive, and distracted. Those who have lost a pet should be encouraged to openly and honestly express their feelings.
Grievers of animals, like grievers of humans, are looking for meaningful assistance. They are looking for someone who will listen. Someone they can share their feelings with, without judgement. They are looking for a heart with ears. Someone who will encourage them to share their best memories of their beloved pet with the opportunity to talk uninterrupted free from analysis, criticism, or judgement.
In closing I have provided a few “to say” and “not to say” statements when supporting someone grieving the loss of a pet.
Four things to never say
- I know how you feel
- Be grateful you had them for so long
- He or she had a full life
- It will just take time
Five helpful things to say
- What happened?
- I can’t imagine how painful this is for you?
- I can’t imagine how devastating this is for you?
- I can’t imagine how heartbreaking this is for you?
- What was (animal’s name) like?
If you are really at a loss for how to help you can refer your loved one to The Grief Recovery Handbook for Pet Loss written by John James, Cole James, and Russell Friedman.
You can also reference The Grief Recovery website https://www.griefrecoverymethod.com/grief-support for a Grief Recovery Specialist in your area.
Tammy Adams is a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist