We’ve talked in a past blog about how you can support someone who is grieving the loss of a pet. In today’s blog, we’re revisiting this subject with some suggestions about small gestures that can make a big difference during a time of loss.
1. Share a memory
When a pet dies, it’s easy to feel like no one really understands the depth of the loss. By sharing a good or funny memory you have of the animal who has gone, you are telling their bereaved family that their pet mattered to you too.
2. Write a card
Pet bereavement doesn’t share the same rituals as human bereavement. Yet there is growing recognition that, for many of us, pet loss grief is comparable to the grief we feel when a human we love dies.
Sending a sympathy card is a small but powerful gesture to show that you recognise your loved one’s pain.
3. Listen unconditionally
If your grieving loved one feels up to talking about their loss then please try to listen unconditionally. You might be tempted to try to focus on something you see as positive (“At least you can get another cat”) or talk about a time you lost someone (“I felt just the same when …”) but this can end up trivialising the bereaved person’s feelings.
It can be hard but one of the kindest things you can do is just listen.
4. Acknowledge how bad things feel
In conversations about grief, sometimes the very best thing we can do is to acknowledge that things are sad, shocking or unfair. Having someone say, “That must feel really awful” can be a lot more comforting than having someone say, “She had a good life” or “At least it wasn’t a person you’ve lost”.
5. Tell your loved one that you’re thinking of them
Being sad and grieving is a lonely experience. It can mean the world to receive a text that says, “I’m thinking of you”.
6. Offer some practical help
Even simple everyday tasks can feel impossible when you’re grieving. People often say things like, “Let me know if I can help in any way” but the bereaved person may not follow up on this.
Instead, try saying, “I’m popping to the shop now – what do you need?”, “I’d like to cook a meal for you. Would that be OK?” or “Let me pick the kids up from school tonight so that you can have a break”.
7. Be careful about the language you use
The language we use to talk about death is interesting. It’s such a daunting topic that people often slide into euphemisms such as “passed away” or “no longer with us” to talk around the subject. Some people find this comforting but others don’t. Many feel it’s okay to talk about death and dying – after all, that’s what has happened.
Our advice is to follow the lead of the bereaved person or even to ask them outright what language they feel comfortable with.
8. Give your loved one something to hug or hold
Part of the pleasure of caring for an animal is the tactile connection you make with them. If your loved one doesn’t have any other pets, they may be missing the comfort of holding and stroking their companion.
Sometimes, giving them a cuddly toy, pillow or even a blanket to hug or hold can be soothing. They’ll probably appreciate a hug from you too!
9. Check in with your loved one regularly
If support is offered when someone’s grieving, it’s usually in the days and weeks immediately following the bereavement. But grief can hang around for a lot longer. Pet carers often appear to be coping well because it’s what our society asks of them, but your loved one may struggle without their companion for a long time to come.
Try to check in with them regularly to ask if they’re okay, offer support and let them talk about their pet if they want to.
10. Contribute to a cause in honour of your loved one’s pet
If you’d like to do something to honour your loved one’s pet, perhaps you could donate to or volunteer to support a cause in their name?
For example, you could tell your grieving friend or family member that you’ve donated some blankets to the local cat rescue or sponsored a dog in kennels. It’s a way of keeping the pet’s memory alive in a positive, life-affirming way.
11. Refer your loved one to further sources of support
Sometimes people who have lost a pet need some extra support. It can be helpful to talk to others who have experienced a similar loss and understand its impact.
If you feel that your loved one needs more support, you could tell them about pet bereavement counsellors, The Blue Cross Pet Bereavement Service, Paws to Listen grief support from Cats Protection, or The Ralph Site’s private Facebook group.
Above all, just remind your loved one that they’re not alone.
As always, very best wishes from Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support