What To Say When Someone Loses a Pet
Losing a pet is an incredibly difficult event to go through, no matter how or when it happens.
Unfortunately, there are no magic words that you can say to make everything better. However, learning a few tips on what to say (and what not to say), as well as what you can do when someone in your life loses a pet, can help you navigate this tricky, upsetting situation as best as you can.
Remember, There’s No Right Way To Grieve
Before we get deeper into what you can say to someone who has experienced the loss of a pet, it’s first important to make sure that you know that there is no real “right” way to grieve. While it might be nice to think that everyone works through the stages of grief the same way, many people skip steps or do them in a different order depending on how the loss occurred.
If you’re not familiar with the stages of grief, it may be a good idea to learn a little bit about them so you can understand more about what your loved one is going through.
Here is just a brief summary:
- Denial/shock - Normally the first stage, this occurs immediately after the loss. It can include feeling numb, like the loss isn’t real, or just simply not feeling anything at all. This stage usually lasts anywhere from just a few hours to weeks.
- Anger - While this stage doesn’t happen to everyone, it is especially prevalent in those who experienced a loss as the result of an accident.
- Bargaining - This stage is more commonly seen in people who are getting ready to experience loss after a long illness.
- Depression - Unfortunately, this is the stage that many people get stuck in the longest. Pet loss can make you feel hopeless and lost, make it difficult to eat or sleep, and some may even experience suicidal thoughts or ideation.
- Acceptance - Often considered the “final” stage, this does not mean that your loved one is “over” the loss of their pet. It just means they realize that the loss is real and they are trying to move on.
While it may be easy to judge someone for not seeming upset enough or for expressing themselves angrily, give grace and understanding to the person who has experienced a pet loss. Try to see it from their point of view. Everyone grieves in their own way and on their own timeframe.
Start By Listening
While this seems like it would be a simple thing to do, just sitting and listening to someone can actually be quite difficult. This is especially true if you’ve experienced your own pet loss. Part of human nature is to respond to things by sharing our own personal experiences. It’s just one of the many ways that we interact and connect with the world.
However, for someone who has recently gone through a traumatic event, having someone share their story can feel like they’re not being listened to when they are trying to tell their own. Try to just sit with your loved one and listen to what they have to say. Encourage them to talk about how they’re feeling, with the understanding that not all of what is said will make sense to you. Their journey is their own, you’re there to support them and be the emotional support they can fall back on when it gets overwhelming.
Know What To Say... and What Not To Say
Finding the words to express your sympathy and support can feel like a minefield. It’s important to remember, though, that your loved one knows you and that you’re just trying to help. Even if they react in anger, if you’re doing the best you can, remember that it is not about you. They’re going through an incredibly difficult time, and lashing out is normal.
According to Psychology Today, here are just a few of the best ways to show your support with your words and why they help.
- “I can’t imagine what you are going through.” - This acknowledges their grief and that everyone grieves differently.
- “I’m here if you need me.” - One of the best ways to show support without pressure.
- “Your feelings are valid.” - Everyone needs validation that their pain is real and that they are not “overreacting.”
- “I remember when…” - Talking about happy or funny times you have of their pet can remind them of the positive memories
- “You loved your pet and he/she knew it.” - This is especially helpful if the loss was due to having to make the choice to euthanize, which can come with a lot of feelings of guilt.
- “I hear you.” - This acknowledges and validates their feelings without passing judgement.
Never say that it was “just a pet” or that they can “get another one”. To many people, their pets are their family. Saying they were “just a pet” minimizes their grief and their pain.
Help Them Help Themselves
Much like when someone experiences the loss of a human loved one, grief can uproot everything in life and make even the simplest things feel completely overwhelming and impossible.
One of the best ways that you can help someone with the grieving process is by assisting them with some of the physical things that we often take for granted when we’re feeling emotionally healthy - cleaning, cooking, and other chores.
While it’s always best to help make sure they eat healthy since health foods can actually support mood, some people may prefer comfort foods like macaroni and cheese or even just having a pizza ordered and sent to their house. Ask them what they like, but be prepared to just drop them off something even if they don’t answer you. Some people find it difficult to accept help, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t need it.
Offer To Help Them With Finances
If you’re in a place where you can help financially, this is one of the best ways to be supportive. Pet loss often comes with hefty veterinary bills after the fact, which is a reminder of the loss that may continue for months after the loss actually occurs.
If your loved one is having financial difficulty, offer to help them in any way that you can. This can be especially poignant if they want to get their pet’s ashes back but can’t afford to. Giving them this gift will mean the entire world to them.
However, not everyone is well off and can afford to offer financial assistance on their own. Some choose to set up a secret GoFundMe to raise money to help pay bills, purchase memorials, etc. Once the money is raised, you can present it to them in a card. It not only helps with the financial aspect, it also shows them how much they are loved, cared about, and supported by their friends and family.
Consider a Gift That Reminds Them Of Their Pet
If words just don’t seem like enough, a wonderful thing that you can do for a loved one who has lost their pet is to present them with a gift to memorialize their pet. In fact, this is one of the best ways to cope with a pet loss, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
For people who may be religious, gifts like a pet painting that features their recently departed pet with angel wings may be incredibly helpful. It can remind them that, even though their pet may be gone from their life here on earth, he or she is in heaven, not in pain. They can even use this painting to create a special place of remembrance for their pet in their home, where they can keep other physical reminders like collars and beloved toys.
For people who are not religious, pet paintings can also be created to memorialize a pet in a way that will make the owner smile. For instance, if they are really into Star Trek, have their pet painted as a Trekkie. Alternatively, a pet painting could be used to express the pet’s personality, such as having them painted in a sports jersey if they were a really lively, active pet. It will be a way to remember the pet in a fun way that won’t make your loved one as sad when they see it.
Phone cases with a pet’s photo are another way to help them remember their pets, and are something they can take with them no matter where they go. This is perfect for people who were especially attached to their pets and brought them everywhere. While their pet may no longer be with them, they can still be part of their everyday life.
Help Them With The Physical Reminders
After losing a pet, everything reminds you of the fact that they’re no longer in your life. This can be an incredibly devastating thing to wake up to every morning.
Although it may take awhile, eventually your loved one will want to pick up the physical reminders of their pet - food and water bowls, leashes, toys, etc. However, anyone who has experienced a pet loss can tell you that this is often one of the most difficult parts of the process. Just holding your lost pet’s toys in your hands may trigger an overwhelming emotional response that may surprise you.
When the time comes, offer your help with picking their things up and putting them away. Consider purchasing a shadow box so that they can keep the items that most remind them of their pet. Don’t push or pressure them into this; it can only be done when they are really ready emotionally. Forcing it before then can have devastating consequences to their mental health.
Pet loss is devastating. Learning how to be a good support system to those going through it is one of the best ways you can help during one of the most difficult times of their lives. Always remember to treat them like you would want to be treated if you were going through the same situation, while also understanding that the grief process is different for everyone.