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How to Support Someone Who Is Grieving the Loss of a Pet with Ann Hoff

Lori Davidson | 01 May, 2024

            Comforting a friend after the loss of a pet

Loss is an inextricable, indiscriminate, unavoidable part of life for a pet parent/owner. Even if we have experienced such a deep loss ourselves, despite our best intentions, trying to find the right words or what to say and do can elude us when we are in the face of another’s loss. Grief is not something to be solved, and it is inevitable. I see it more as going through a dark tunnel, you know you will see light again, but you don’t know when and you completely don’t like being in the dark.

One of the things that stands out caring for someone who is suffering a loss, is that all people grieve differently, and you want to be aware of that person’s privacy. Many people believe you should give someone space. However, this isn’t always true. Immediately after a loss can be the most valuable time to be there for someone because they will be in shock and not moving through their life very well. That is why when my grandmother died, the community came with casseroles galore, so we didn’t have to worry about cooking and what we were going to eat. (Believe it or not, my mother’s doctor also wrote scripts for Valium for me and my mother to help us cope during this stressful time! I was only 9!!!).

Pay attention to the grief-stricken person’s life and see what they need. Do they need you to dog sit, clean litterboxes, walk their dogs? If you notice dishes piled up in the sink, do dishes! LOOK AROUND and see what is needed to be done. The more aware you are, the more you can support someone who is grieving. Ask them what events they have on their schedule and if they need help cancelling anything. Do they need help dealing with other people because they don’t want to talk to anyone right now? Maybe you can help them with writing thank you notes for the casseroles people have brought to the house. We all have skills, and just because you can’t cook or don’t have the time during the day to walk the dog, doesn’t mean that you can’t help. Think of your skills and how you can best serve your friend that is grieving.

 My best advice is to contact them early, and let the grieving person know you are there. Your presence alone is symbolic of your caring. You may be told that nothing is needed right now, but at least they know you are thinking of them, and that they can call you if they change their minds- they have someone to rely on.

If you are out of town and not in the area, you can send something to the person’s house- like a memorial gift from Pet Perennials. I like to give something physical if I can, something that your grief-stricken friend can see and get comfort from when you aren’t there for them in their house. Reaching out in person is important, but if you can’t, calling or texting is the next best thing. I have had clients send me flowers when I lost a pet, and truthfully, I was surprised and delighted that I received them. It wasn’t necessary, but it was really comforting- and reassuring that the people I had been there for wanted to be there for me too.

Don’t assume that someone has a lot of family so you would just be extemporary and not needed. I have had clients who everyone in their human family is on the other side. Other people may have a ton of family members available, but they aren’t that close, and they don’t understand the person’s love of cats/dogs. The saying that friends are the family you chose is so true. I have a painting in my bathroom that states: “dogs are the only chance you have to choose family members.”  It is so accurate a statement, and it also puts in perspective the important place in the household your pet holds. Treat your friends like they have just lost a family member, and you can’t go wrong.

One thing to really remember is that it isn’t what you say, it’s how and when you say it. Compassion must be present, along with listening so you know how the person feels and can tune into what they really need. Many of us love giving advice. (I am really looking you at men here! I have noticed that some men don’t just “listen” they feel obligated to find a solution to problems!) Obviously, it hurts to see a friend hurting, so it feels normal to you to want to “fix” them, so they aren’t hurting anymore. (If you have ever taken a friend to look at pets at a shelter after they have lost their dog/cat you are guilty of this).

Remember: you can’t heal grief and you can’t hurry grief. It is on its own timeline (When someone is going through the tunnel of grief, they could even stop for there for a while). What you need to do is make sure your friend is heard, seen, and valued- both the friend and their pet that is no longer present. IT WILL MEAN THE WORLD TO THEM. One way to start this conversation would be to ask your friend what their best moments with their pet were, why they appreciated them so much, what were their quirky habits? Share with your friend some of the memories you have with the crossing pet. Remind them that love doesn’t die.

Don’t try to “bright side” people. Saying things like, “at least they didn’t suffer,” “They’re only a cat, you can get another one easily,” or “Now you can get that French Bulldog you always wanted!” isn’t helpful. There might be a time to say, “Let’s go get that Bulldog!” but it isn’t during the initial grief period. The best thing to do is to meet people where they are. If they are quiet, you can be too. If they are trying to be light and hold it together, don’t try to push them to tears. They know when they feel safe to cry, and it might not be at that specific time. When I cry, my nose stuffs up completely and then I have a tough time both breathing and talking. Ideally my safe place is where I can cry and know that I won’t have to be presenting at an event or speaking to clients any time soon.

Don’t compare your grief to theirs, it isn’t the same thing. You might be able to share a story of what helped you get through your grief, but you don’t tell them they have to do the same thing. We don’t resolve grief; we fold it into who we are. We become different. The grief breaks our hearts, but then the heart heals larger and wiser.

Ann Hoff is a well-known Animal Communicator, Intuitive Medium, and a regular contributor to our FB Group “I Am not Crazy Because I Talk to Animals” and leads a monthly Zoom call with members wishing to chat with a pet, or simply ask Ann a question. This month's content addresses the earthly lessons we learn through loss.

Pet Perennials Gift Perks Service becomes a compassionate ally for pet-centric businesses, offering a seamless and affordable solution for expressing condolences. Through unique products like the Healing Hearts Candle, the Crystal Rainbow Suncatcher, and the Pet Perennials Garden Kit, and more, businesses can build lasting emotional connections with clients, reaping the benefits of goodwill and loyalty in the process.

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