Supporting People who are Grieving
A friend or family member just lost a pet. Whatever the circumstances surrounding the loss, whether it be expected or unexpected, whether the pet was young or old—a loved one is hurting because of their loss. What do you do or not do? What do you say or not say? It is difficult to know how to act and how to be their for your friend/family member. We are here to help you help them. Here are some suggestions ways in which you can help your friend.
Perhaps most importantly recognize this is a BIG loss for your friend. For many people, losing a pet is the same as losing a close human member of the family. Support them as you would support someone how has just lost someone very dear to them.
Do Not Put Your Views/Beliefs on Them
It is important to allow your friend to go through the grieving process in their own way. There is no given time-line on when a person will get over the loss. There is no correct way to display this loss—grief can be shown in may different ways. See the Normal Grieving Process.
Perhaps you are a person that has never had a close relationship with an animal-and when you lost your pet, it only took you a short time to get over it. Remember that everyone is different and that your friend may have been very close to their pet and is very distraught about the loss. Their grief is very real whether or not you understand it. Perhaps the situation is reversed and you are very close with animals and the friend who just lost a pet is not.
You may not understand (and often times cannot understand) what your friend is going through but you can provide non-judgmental support during their time of need.
A Listening Ear
Just be there for them. Often what so many people want is to be heard. Allow them to tell their story. Listen actively. They may talk about old memories, feelings of guilt, self doubt or depression. They may go from crying to laughing to anger all within a few moments. This is ok—allow them these different emotions. It is normal to have ups and downs. See Do’s and Dont's when talking with a Friend in Grief.
Silence is Ok
It is ok for you to just sit in silence with your friend. Sometimes there really is nothing you can do or say that will make them feel better. Again just being there IF they want to talk means so much to them. Don’t think because they have stopped talking they no longer want you around. There may be long periods of silence when they do talk with you. That is ok.
Your friend has a lot going on right now and is probably processing it all. They may appear distant and not ‘in the moment’ (numb). Again this is all normal.
Above all be understanding—whether you knew or loved the pet that was lost; your friend did. Let them know it is ok to have strong feelings. Many people feel alone in times of pet loss—as if no one understands or cares for their loss. Often they get the message from others that they should just ‘get over it.’ It is important that you do not make them feel this way.
Let them know you are there to help them. If you have had a similar experience talk about it and explain how you felt. Avoid ‘taking over the conversation.’ Small comments like: I am so sorry for Leo’s death. When I lost Scruff I was so upset. It was really hard on me—I want you to know you can come to me if you want to talk of just be with someone.” Knowing others were emotional in pet loss as well as knowing they have someone to talk to will really help them. Your friend needs you. They need understanding. They need support.
Offer to help your friend. Sometimes it is hard for people to ask for help either because they are embarrassed, they don’t think they need help, or they don’t know how to ask. Let your friend know you are there to help them. Give specific offers so they and you know what you are able to do. If there is a scheduled euthanasia you could offer to go with them. They may not want you in the room but offer to take them there and drive them home. Offer to go with them to pick up the remains or help dig a grave.
Offering help that is not related to the loss is also greatly appreciated. Offering to cook dinner one night, clean their house, pick up the mail etc. all of the daily chores that can seem overwhelming during these times can be very helpful.
Giving gifts of letters, cards, flowers, donation to a local shelter in their name will mean so much to a person that is grieving. (Please see the Pet Memorial Program at Washington State University). They can help soften environment of their home and letter/notes can be read and re-read bringing them some comfort during this time.
If you knew the pet well and have some good memories with the pet-include these in the letters. Letting your friend know you loved their pet too and are hurting can also bring them comfort and be very special to them.
If you have mutual friends—tell them if they do not already know. Encourage them to send some type of condolence as well. It is important that your friend feels supported.
Perhaps this person is not someone you knew particularly well but you want to show you are thinking of them. Sending flowers, cards or a note are greatly appreciated. It is a recognition to them that you understand this is a difficult time for them. For many losing a pet is the same as losing a close family member—treat it as such and do what you would do for someone who has lost a mother.
It Takes Time
The grief process is different for everyone. See the Normal Grieving Process. Some get over the loss within weeks and for others it can take months and even years. Continue to provide support for your friend. Know that grief comes in waves and there may be good days/weeks and bad one. Holidays can be particularly painful. Allow them to tell and retell their stories. Be patient... the best thing you can do is be there.