As you may well be aware, The Ralph Site has a very active Facebook page where over 40,000 friends share their experiences and emotions, supporting each other through the toughest of times. You may not know that there is also a private closed Facebook group where members can share their innermost feelings and receive advice, sympathy and a virtual hug from others who have experienced, or who are now going through, the same maelstrom of emotions. Membership of this group is by request or invitation from existing members.
Initially brought together by a shared experience of loss, these pet carers from across the world and from every different walk of life, quickly form strong bonds of empathy and friendship with each other that help them bear the burden of their grief, if only in some small way. Posts to the closed group page are often incredibly personal and raw; those who have recently lost a much-loved friend share their thoughts and feelings honestly, safe in the knowledge that there is no judgement, only understanding and love.
There are many common themes running through the language of grief. The word cloud here illustrates the most common themes and emotions shared by pet carers across The Ralph Site Facebook pages. The size of each word is determined by the frequency with which it features, and so the largest words are those that are the most used:
As you can see, the most commonly used word is ‘sorry’, closely followed by ‘loss’ (indeed, these are often used together, “I’m sorry for your loss”). Knowing that a stranger cares about how you are feeling is both comforting and empowering. In the depths of grief it can feel like you are the only one feeling the pain, and a virtual hug, in the shape of a few kind words, can provide some welcome light in the darkness. ‘RIP’ is also much used and offers the comfort of knowing that these pets are now in a better place, where they will not age or feel pain.
Many Facebook users clearly take comfort from the idea that their pets are waiting for them at Rainbow Bridge, where they play with other pets who have passed, each restored to health and vitality. When the pain and loss does not make sense, giving a shape and colour to the experience in the form of a heavenly place such as Rainbow Bridge can help enormously. Many pet carers struggle with the thought that their pet may be cold and alone in their final resting place, and so thinking of a much-loved friend in a better place is a welcome relief. Whether or not you are a spiritual person, and regardless of which God you may believe in, accepting that the mortal remains under the ground are simply the shell that once held the spirit and beauty of a dear friend can help alleviate some of the guilt that accompanies burials and cremation. Many members of the Facebook community discuss how they have dealt with moving house when their pet’s grave remains, and amongst the empathy there are many practical tips to be found. One person shared her plans to be cremated with the ashes of her much-loved cat, so that they can at last be reunited – an idea that many others found both inspiring and comforting.
“Thinking of you” and “in my thoughts / prayers” are also very common sentiments on The Ralph Site Facebook pages. Often friends will post details of their pet’s imminent passing or ongoing struggle with illness or old age, and friends will keep checking back for news. Knowing that someone has been thinking about you as you come to the end of a difficult day offers a powerful sense of support and solidarity.
Members of The Ralph Site community have each gone through the heartache of losing a dear friend and understand the range of emotions involved. ‘Guilt’ is another common thread – making the decision to put a pet to sleep is traumatic enough, without the added weight of responsibility that comes with actively ending a life. Of course, taking this decision actually represents the ultimate selfless act when undertaken with love and to ease enduring pain, but this can be hard to accept in the moment. Reading countless messages from friends telling you that you’ve done the right thing, and that the guilt will pass, helps the healing come quicker.
Many pet carers refer to their ‘fur babies’, illustrating the close and enduring bond that we form with the pets in our lives. This can be hard to understand when you have not experienced the intense emotions evoked by sharing your life with a pet, any several people report receiving harsh comments and unhelpful advice from work colleagues and friends who simply don’t understand the depth of grief that can accompany the passing of a pet. Using the term ‘fur baby’ helps illustrate this connection and can spread the understanding that a pet is not to be seen as a possession, rather as a true family member. Bereavement is therefore equally valid, whether it is following the passing of a grandparent or a child’s beloved guinea pig.
Looking at the words and phrases we use both to describe our grief and to support those going through it is very enlightening. Ultimately however, the most frequently used expressions of support across Facebook do not come in the form of words: x’s as kisses, and emojis feature strongly throughout as friends share the simplest expression of solidarity through images of broken hearts, footsteps, animal faces and rainbows.
Sometimes words are just not required.
Until next time, very best wishes from Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support
Please note: The Ralph Site is not affiliated with the third-party organisations in any of the links shared here, and the views, ideas and suggestions expressed in this and other blogs are simply shared with the intention of helping you, our friends, take care of the special animals in your lives.