Supporting Families

"The only cure for grief is to grieve."  - Earl Grollman

We don't always know exactly what to say or do when a loved one loses a pet.  We may be fearful of intruding, saying the wrong thing, or somehow worsening the situation.  It is important to remember, however, that while we can't take away the pain of a loss, we can provide a measure of comfort and support.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Grief does not unfold in orderly, predictable stages. It presents as an emotional roller coaster with unpredictable highs, lows, and setbacks.  Everyone moves through the process differently.  We must allow others the time they need to process their emotions and remember that grief follows its own trajectory.

During the Early Days

Simply listen. Take time to sit down with a grieving friend or family member and ask about their deceased pet.  Let them cry, if needed.  The bereaved should feel free to express their feelings without fear of judgment, argument, or criticism.

Be willing to sit in silence. Sometimes those in mourning find it too difficult to speak.  Simply offer comfort and support with your silent presence, eye contact, a squeeze of the hand, or a reassuring hug.

Let the bereaved talk about how their pet died. They may benefit from relating the story of their pet's death, sometimes in minute detail. Be patient. Repeating the story is a way of processing and accepting the death. With each retelling, the pain lessens.

Ask how you can help. Be willing to take over as many simple duties as possible. Even small tasks can add stress to a grieving person's day. Be willing to take initiative - many people have difficulty accepting help when it's offered.

Mention the pet's name. Grieving people need to feel like their animal companion has not been forgotten, and mentioning their name in conversation facilitates the healing process.

Take the Time to Call. Text or call your friend or family member often to see how they are coping. Do not be afraid to follow-up a few days after the death or funeral.  Let them know you will make time to talk when needed. 

During the Later Months

Involve them in your activities. Invite the bereaved to attend social gatherings.  This gives them the opportunity to meet new people and helps get their mind off their loss, even if only for an hour.

Plan new activities together. Even simple activities give the bereaved something to look forward to.  Ideas include going on a short walk in their neighborhood, going out to dinner and a movie, or taking a treat to their home to share.

Always remember holidays and anniversaries. Holidays and anniversaries are generally the most difficult time of the year.  Plan ahead to call, text, or invite them to your home.  It's all right if they decline your offer - the goal is to let them know they are loved.

What NOT to Say...

  • "I know how you feel."  You could, instead, ask your friend to tell you how he or she feels.
  • "It's part of God's plan." This phrase can invoke anger. 
  • "Look at what you have to be thankful for." They know - but right now they are grieving.
  • "He's in a better place now." The bereaved may or may not believe this - offer your opinions only when asked.
  • "This is behind you now - it's time to get on with your life." Remember, grief has no timetable.
  • Statements that begin with "You should" or "You will."  Instead, you could begin your comments with: "Have you thought about..." or "You might consider..."

What You Should Say...

  • Acknowledge the situation. Example: "I am so sorry to hear that your (pet/cat/dog,etc.) died."  Don't be afraid to use the word "died."
  • Express your concern.  Example: "I'm sorry to hear that this happened to you."
  • Be genuine in your communication, and don't hide your feelings. Example: "I’m not sure what to say, but I want you to know I care."
  • Offer your support.  Example: "Tell me what I can do for you."
  • Ask how he or she feels. Don't assume you already know.  People want to be asked.
  • Share a memory of the deceased pet.  It means the world to people to know their beloved pet is not forgotten.