In so many ways, pets are family, too. Because we have the ability to create such deep connections to the animals we love, their loss affects us deeply. The more you lean on a pet for stability and companionship, the greater you feel their loss. For those who put a lot of time and energy into a pet, that loss can create an empty hole in that person’s life. So, as a friend, what can you do to support someone who is grieving the loss of a pet?
Realize that every grief journey is different
We grieve many things throughout our lives: loved ones, pets, relationships, jobs, etc. Each time we feel any type of loss, grief is a natural consequence. The grief may vary in its intensity, but it’s still there. So, even though you may not understand or perhaps you’re not really an animal person, realize that your friend’s grief journey is very real. For them, it’s deep and true and difficult. Accept the complexity of what they feel and look for ways to support and walk alongside them. They need friendship, kind actions, and a listening ear for the road ahead.
Allow them to express their feelings
When we feel loss, many emotions get pent up inside, so let your friend express their feelings without fear of judgment. You may not fully understand the depth of their emotions, but that doesn’t matter. This isn’t about understanding; it’s about sympathizing. Be a safe place. Be ready to hear and recount stories. Show compassion and a willingness to listen. You may hear the same stories again and again. That’s okay – telling the “stories” is a way of grieving and may be exactly what your friend needs.
Don’t try to fix it
Grief is not something wrong that needs to be fixed. Grief is the natural consequence of love. For so many of us, grief has almost become a negative emotion, but in reality, grief is beautiful. It means that we truly loved, that we felt deeply, that we were able to open up our hearts to someone or something. So, don’t try to fix your friend’s grief; allow them to experience it so they can truly heal. Some ways that we may try to fix grief are:
- Suggesting they get a new pet right away
- Minimizing the loss through words or actions
- Brushing over their feelings
Instead, let them embrace the pain. Only by confronting our pain can we begin to process it and find the healing we need to move forward.
Help them celebrate and remember their pet
There are many memorial options for remembering and celebrating our pets. For a few ideas, read 7 Pet Memorial Options. Or, if you have young children, go to 10 Family-Focused Pet Remembrance Ideas. The point isn’t to forget and move on. The true end goal of grief is to learn how to incorporate the loss into your life, reconcile yourself to what life looks like now, and find a way to move forward. So, help your friend find ways to grieve in a healthy way by celebrating their pet and never forgetting the incredible impact pets can have on our lives.
Look for ways to let them know you care
It’s really the little things that mean the most. A quick phone call to ask how they’re doing. A sympathy card with personal comments about their pet and how he or she will be missed. Sending a bouquet of flowers to bring a sense of cheer. An invitation to go on a walk to enjoy the pleasant weather. Or, send in a donation to an organization that benefits animals in remembrance of your friend’s pet. All of these things (and more!) will let your friend know that you truly care and want to stand by them as they mourn their loss.
While grief for a pet may be short-lived for some, it may be a much longer road for others. Grief doesn’t have an expiration date or a time frame. It takes the time it takes, so be ready for the long haul. Check in with them regularly. Allow your friend to feel what they feel. And be a friend always.