Today’s guest article by Joy Davy is one that hits home with me. I have experienced the loss of three pets (which were like my children), and have definitely wanted friends and family to simply just tell me “I’m sorry this happened to you”, or “this really sucks and it’s OK to be upset”. Our friends mean well, but sometimes don’t know what to say or how to handle the situation – so their natural response is one that will help you feel better by making the situation seem like its not so bad.
For anyone reading this who has lost a pet, it is so bad.
Joy shares with us what we shouldn’t say to friends and family who are grieving the loss of the pet, and how to handle the situation instead…
If you care about someone who is having a hard time following the death of a cherished animal companion, you probably would like to say something to help the person resolve the grief and begin feeling better.
Please, do not say any of the 6 most common things that are said to people grieving the loss of a pet.
“It was just an animal.”
Yes, it was an animal, and the person completely understands this. It was an animal that was also an emotional support, a member of the family, and so much more. You would not say “It was just a —fill in the blank” for any other loss. “Just a grandmother.” “Just a best friend.” This is no different. Although you may not think you would ever have such a deep relationship with an animal, this does not mean that your friend is wrong to have loved an animal companion so much.
“Why don’t you get another one?”
This is not the loss of a cell phone. This is the loss of a unique relationship. With time, your friend may be ready to invite another animal companion into his or her life. Rushing a new pet in will not help, and may hinder the grieving process. The person has to be ready, and he or she is the best judge of that.
“Aren’t you over that yet?”
This implies a judgment, and an impatience on your part. No one wants to stay stuck in grief. Coming out of a grieving period takes more than a simple decision to do so. Allow your friend to take the needed time, to mourn, to resolve the grief naturally. If your friend seems to be stuck in grief, you could help by finding the name of a professional counselor who understands pet grief, and passing that name along. This would show that you understand that this process is hard, and is worthy of attention.
“Other people have greater losses.” Your friend knows this. And it doesn’t lessen the pain one bit. Again, it feels like a judgment when you imply that this significant loss is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. To your friend, it is very painful. There is no use in comparing one person’s pain to another’s. It doesn’t help.
“You shouldn’t feel this way.” We all have a right to our feelings. Feelings need to be acknowledged and understood. If you find yourself wanting to tell your friend to not feel the feelings, take a look at your own comfort level with your own feelings. Are you also intolerant of your own emotions? To live fully, we must experience all the colors of life, even the sadder ones. We needn’t fear our feelings. If we sit with them, they change.
“It’s time to move on.” This is no one’s call but the griever’s. While it is true that an unresolved grief can become a chronic depression, and that is something to be avoided, it is no one’s right to put a time limit on another person’s grief. Again, professional help can be suggested. But allow your friend to move through grief at his or her own pace.
So…what should you say?
Simply, “I am sorry for your loss.” Let your friend talk about the feelings, without trying to change them. Be a supportive listener, without trying to think of “the right thing” to say. Only be there.
about the author:
Joy Davy, MS, LCPC, NCC, is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor with a special focus on Pet Grief and the Human-Animal Bond. She is the author of “Healing Circles: Grieving, Healing & Bonding with Our Animal Companions”, facilitates a Pet Grief Support Group, and works with individuals as they navigate their way through this very difficult type of bereavement. Joy has been an animal lover and rescuer all her life, and has experienced the healing power of animals. She shares her home in Illinois with her animal and human family. You can find out more about Joy’s book and pet grief support on her website at www.joydavy.com