It has been proven that we need support during grief. In a study where they looked at being supported during our grief, they found that the best overall satisfaction in support came from people’s animals. (Cacciatore & Colleagues at ASU studied 372 adults with traumatic grief, 2018). In fact, animals were ranked the highest among all forms of social support- higher than friends, family, community members’ therapists, counselors, and even faith leaders.
So, what do we do when we lose the beings that support us most? When they looked at what were effective examples of support, they included “acts of emotional caring” such as an empathetic phone call or text message. This is a far cry from what pet parents often hear; “it was just a pet.” or “can’t you just get another one?”. We need to educate those around us how to be of help when we are grieving.
To be honest, most people are awkward in the face of another’s grief. That is compounded when they are not “animal people” and don’t understand the deep bond between another human and their pet. Think about it: your dog sleeps with you, eats with you, is there for your most vulnerable and private moments. Of course, they are part of your support team. Many people that don’t have animals don’t understand this.
In the above study, the next most effective support team after pets was mortuary staff (at a 65% approval rating). With pets, this source of support is seldom available since most of us either bury or cremate our pets at the vet’s. So, this isn’t an option in those cases. It would be great if we created a new tradition in this case and held a ceremony for the deceased pet. The above research also shows that it is important to reach out to someone who has lost a pet. That an “act of emotional caring” from others CAN make a difference.
As an animal communicator, I know I can provide a connection to the pet on the other side that is valuable to many. Many of my clients sleep better after talking to their deceased pet through me. Plus, I have found that many pets plan on reincarnating back to their owners. This is proof of the connection that we have with our pets, that they come to us again, that love returns to love, and the support they give us does not end with the death of their bodies.
One of the participants in the study described satisfactory emotional support as: “...telling me my grief is valid, that my feelings are real. Basically, just allowing me to be.” Or “Just letting me mention his name without an awkward silence or changing the subject.”
For me, I have more than one animal, I have a tribe. That way when I lose a pet, we are all here to support each other in the loss. It is still hard, but I couldn’t imagine my house being completely void of four leggeds- that on its own would spiral me even further down. Of course, you can’t just go out there and replace one pet with another until you are ready. But your remaining pets will usually step up and try to fill the hole in your heart. Then what I have found with most my clients, a new animal crosses your path or needs a home right when you are ready for them.
Good information from the study is also this: Patients in the study appreciated others actively reaching out to them to offer practical aid. Effective support meant connecting with like others through grief support groups, in-person or online, and on social media. “Time spent with others who share a common tragedy of loss was reported as very supportive in the data.”
So, when someone you know loses a beloved pet, sending them a token of how you care about them matters, it helps. Listening to them helps. Taking initiative is one of the take away messages I got on this study of grief. Don’t just say, “call me if you need something.”. Show up with a meal and share it with them. Sit with them and listen to them talk about their pet. Know that to them, the pet is as important to them as a human being. If you do this, you will definitely be of comfort. That is what you do to be someone that helps shoulder the burden of grief.
As a human medium, when people on the other side come through to talk to loved ones, they don’t say what job they had or what they did for a living. They mention those great stories of the love shared, the laughter that happened, the odd habits that were theirs alone. The fact that they love you, or even more common, that they were proud of you. That is what they remember and how they want to be remembered.
When pets come through from the other side, it is usually with pure love. They also say the crazy things they loved to do. That they are healthy and out of pain. That you shouldn’t feel guilty for the choices you made about their health care. After all, they are in heaven, sheer bliss, so what is there that you are feeling guilty about?
Ann Hoff is an animal communicator and leads a monthly FB Group with us the last Wednesday of each month, 7PM ET. Join us next month – info can be found on our Group page: