Saying goodbye to a pet is terribly hard — and sometimes it’s difficult to know how to help a friend or family member who’s going through this grieving process.
Even with the best intentions, you might say the wrong thing or be unsure of what to do for that person.
So we’ve pulled together a few simple ways you can be a real help, plus advice for avoiding
pitfalls when someone you love is heartbroken
over the loss of a pet.
Encourage Healthy Grieving
It’s important to remember that grief is a
natural reaction to the loss of a pet and that everyone experiences the
range of emotions that come with it differently. You may be familiar with the five stages of
grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Let your
friend know that you are there to listen and that it’s completely normal to
grieve a pet as you would a person. Allow the pet owner to open up about her feelings and the special bond she shared with the animal.
Help Them Take Care of Themselves
Often people who are grieving can lose sight of their own well-being, both physically and emotionally. You can help by supplying food that’s comforting and healthy, like fruit and vegetables or a
nice, warm soup, as well as other necessities. You may also offer to help with
tasks that would be difficult to face, like picking up the pet’s ashes or
packing away the pet's toys.
Say the Right Things
Saying the right things often means avoiding
saying the wrong things. Those
include asking when one will get another animal, minimizing the loss by saying it was “just a dog” or "just a cat," telling the person to move on, or saying that heartbreak is why you don’t
have pets, among
other things. You’re best off offering your love and lending an ear.
Remember the Happy Times
Sometimes words can help, like if you have a happy memory of
the pet to share. At first, memories may be painful to recall, Dr. Marty Becker writes. But later they can make someone smile or laugh at a
beloved pet’s antics — like the things the dog chewed up as a puppy, what it was like
to bring the pet home for the first time, or their excitement about a place
they loved to visit together.
Suggest a Support Group
If your friend is still struggling after some time, consider suggesting a pet loss
support group, Dr. Patty Khuly writes. These groups can be found in many communities, and your
veterinarian may be able to help you find one. There are also pet loss hotlines
available through the ASPCA
and Tufts University, and you can
find staffed pet loss
support chat rooms through pet memorial websites.