FFor many people, the loss of a pet is a painful and devastating experience. The grieving process can be especially difficult if a person who has suffered the loss feels a lack of support from their friends and family. In fact, says Sandra Grossman, PhD, a pet loss and bereavement counselor, pet loss is often overlooked in our society.
“Your pet gives you an unconditional love that you don’t get with people,” says Grossman. “People who don’t have pets may often have a hard time understanding how strong the bond is.”
Plus, grief makes people feel uncomfortable. “They may have never experienced grief, or they just don’t know how to help. They may have had a bad experience that they don’t want to remember. Or they may have an older pet or have lost a pet of their own and they can’t deal with what their friend is going through,” Grossman says.
After losing her own cat, Grossman became a certified pet loss counselor through the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement. She also co-founded petlosspartners.com, which offers workshops, individual counseling, telephone sessions and support groups for pet parents dealing with loss or the anticipated loss of an elderly or sick pet.
Here are some of Grossman’s general guidelines for helping to comfort a friend or family member who has lost a beloved pet:
2 Just be there.
4 Avoid clichés.
We all know some standard clichéd condolences that we think we can say to make it better. However, the person who is grieving may interpret them as insensitive. Examples of some of these phrases and the common reactions they may trigger include:
- "Just remember all of the good memories." (Your friend may be thinking: But this hurts right now.)
- "Time heals all wounds." (Your friend may be thinking: No, time is just another day away from my pet.)
- "They’re in a better place." (Your friend may be thinking: No, the best place is with me.)
5 Give serious thought to what you will say.
Grossman recommends starting out the conversation with a simple, “Hey, I just wanted to check in on you.” Then she encourages people to ask more specific questions, because it’s often hard for the grieving person to think of things. So instead of saying, “Do you need anything?” you might say something like: “Do you want me to go to the store?” “Do you want me to come over and straighten up?” or, “Do you want to plan a memorial?”
She also suggests sharing a special memory of your friend’s pet, telling them what their pet meant to you or, if you feel like it, even crying with your friend.
6Honor the pet in your own way.
Making a gesture in honor of the deceased pet isn't just a nice thing to do—it can also show your friend that you understand how meaningful their life was, and the magnitude of loss they are experiencing. Some kind gestures include:
- Making a donation to a charity or organization in the pet's name
- Framing a photo of the pet for your friend
- Helping to plan a memorial service
More Resources for Pet Grief