Amanda Gregory, LCPC, EMDR

The death of my dog, Sandy, impacted me more than the death of my father, and someday I will heavily grieve the loss of my cat, Mr. Bojangles. I will need the people in my life to express understanding, acceptance, and support. The last thing I’ll need is for these people to pass judgment, minimize my grief, or try to fix it.

Be Curious. Too often people view grieving the loss of a pet as a less significant experience when compared to grieving the loss of a human. Yet, some people may have a greater emotional response to the loss of a pet when compared to the loss of a human. There are many factors that come into play which impact the grieving experience, such as the level of attachment in the relationship and the moment in the lifespan when the loss occurs. It’s important to be aware of someone’s unique grieving process and to accept their process as it is. It’s easy to express judgment without meaning to do so. Here are a few phrases to be aware of:

  • Avoid Saying:

“You can get another pet/Are you getting another pet?”
“It was “just” a dog/cat/snake/bird.”
“It could be worse, you could have lost a person.”

  • Say:

“How are you feeling?”
“What’s this like for you?”
“Tell me more about your pet.”

Express Acceptance and Support. When someone is grieving it can be tempting to try to ease their pain or “fix” their grief. This can lead to statements which imply that you are minimizing their experience instead of accepting it. It’s important to provide support while also communicating acceptance. Here are a few statements to consider:

  • Avoid Saying:

“They are in a better place.”
“They are no longer in pain.”
“Be strong.”
“There is a reason for everything.”

  • Say:

“You have every right to feel the way that you do.”
“I wish I had the right words. I’m here for you.”
“Let me know if there is anything I can do. I mean it, please let me know.”
“I can’t imagine what your feeling. I’m here to listen.”
Saying nothing, just be present.

Understand the Loss. Death is likely the first situation that comes to mind when someone is grieving the loss of a pet, but that’s not always the case. There are many life circumstances that bring about the loss of a pet, and one circumstance does not warrant more understanding or acceptance than the other. For example, a pet might be lost, rehoused, or the relationship between a pet and a human can change due to illness, old age, or environmental factors. It’s important to understand that a loss is a loss. Here are a few phrases to keep in mind:

  • Avoid Saying:

“At least they’re still alive.”
“They will come back.”
“You were the one who decided to move.”
“These things happen.”

  • Say:

“It sounds like this is a real loss for you.”
“Tell me more about what you’re going through.”

Check in. The grieving process can change from moment to moment. A person who lost a pet might feel ok one minute but the next minute they might feel angry or depressed. It’s important to check in with them to provide support. There is no expiration date on grief. Certain days of the year or anniversaries can recharge feelings of grief and loss. Therefore, you can check in with someone months or years after the loss occurred. Here are some phrases to keep in mind when checking in:

  • Avoid Saying:

“Are you over this yet?”
“It will get better in time.”
“It’s time to move on.”

  • Say:

“How are you feeling today?”
“Can I check in with you later this week?”
“I want you to know that I haven’t forgotten and I’m still here for you.”

Grieving the loss of a pet can be a devastating life event and it’s important to know how to support someone who is grieving such a loss.

Have you experienced a loss or do you need help supporting someone who is grieving? You might benefit from counseling. Contact Symmetry Counseling to schedule an appointment.