Ask Away Blog: How To Support Someone After the Loss of a Pet

How To Support Someone After the Loss of a Pet

Monday, November 23, 2020

 

As you know, we lost our youngest Chihuahua, Stella in July.  It was my first loss of a pet of my very own (not a family pet like we had growing up) and it was extremely difficult.  That being said, I figured since I now have experience with a loss like this firsthand, I would do a post with advice on how to support someone that has lost a pet.   So many people told me they felt so helpless and they didn't know what to do. Hopefully this helps.



Acknowledge the Loss
It doesn't matter what kind of pet it was, how long they owned it, how it died, or whether or not you regard your own pet as much as they do.  What matters is that you acknowledge the loss.  Whatever a pet means to a person is for them alone.  I've heard people mumble about others "it's just a ___insert animal here__" and that's just terrible.  People's pets can mean EVERYTHING to them.  For me, someone without children, my dogs ARE my children simply because they're the closest thing to a kid I'll ever have.  So when someone informs you of their loss, you acknowledge it.  Don't act shocked by how upset they are, don't dismiss it, acknowledge it.  Saying something like "I am so sorry" PLUS "I know how much your dog/cat/bird, etc. meant to you" is a great choice of words.  You are quite literally acknowledging the importance of that animal to that person. 
 
Don't Offer Advice
People that have lost a pet already understand this.  So many people had said they wish they could say something or do something to make it hurt less but they knew firsthand nothing can do that.  And they were right.  Now when I reach out to someone whose lost a pet, I say the same because I totally get it.  And that comment alone helps.  Don't try to tell them how to grieve except for saying "Take the time you need" or "let yourself grieve the way you need to".   No two people will ever grieve the same.  That's just a fact.  So give your condolences and don't say more than that in terms of advice for healing, unless of course they ask.
 
Send a Gift
When Stella passed away I received several bouquets and flower arrangements and I was absolutely stunned.  That in itself told me that people were acknowledging my loss and how much Stella means to me.  Even I myself assumed people would think "it's just a dog" but they sent me flowers and gifts just as you would if someone lost a human family member.  Flowers are a soothing gesture for sure.

Another great idea is a gift of food. Food nourishes the body and when someone is grieving they often don't feel up to self care and they will start depriving themselves of nutrition.  My friend hand delivered an Edible Arrangement or fruits.  I didn't eat the first day except 2 pieces of fruit.  Same with the second day.  But then the third day I ate more.  It was super important to nourish myself and fruit was an easy to eat food.  Prepared meals and casseroles are also a  great idea. 
 
Help with the Basics
For some people, basic functions like eating, errands, and daily chore tasks can be too much to handle.    Asking someone if there's anything you can do for them is super helpful but sometimes people freeze and can't think of anything.  Luckily, I remembered the offers a few days later when things were super hard for me.  I couldn't return my library books because the library was a place Stella and I volunteered, so my neighbor took my library books back.  I couldn't handle trying to donate a box of home goods I had gathered a week before, and a dear friend took it from me and said she'd handle it.

Limit the Visits
Some people want to be left alone. They're trying to wrap their minds around their grief and the sudden loss.  If you want to drop something off, you can ask for their address with the clear disclaimer that you're just going to leave something on their doorstep.  If they want to see you more than that, they'll tell you.  Or they'll run out when you arrive.  Trust me.  That first day or 2 I really only wanted to see my closest people which meant my immediate neighbors, my parents and brother, and my closest friends.  The super close friends usually know what to do and don't need to worry about the visit.  They know the person very well. .  If they know they're going to be a wreck and they demand to come over and hug the person, it usually is a natural thing and much appreciated. 
 
Check In Often
You may feel like a burden but I promise you aren't.  Check in with your friend.  Sending a daily text (or several a day), Facebook message, etc. simply asking how they are feeling, how they are caring for themselves, etc. is very helpful. I had friends tell me I could just vent to them, and they didn't offer advice which was perfect.  Sometimes you just need to vent your pain and feelings out.  And my closest friends just let me do that.   They acknowledged my pain.  I know it's hard not to try to offer solutions but I promise you, there aren't any.  So just acknowledge what they say.  

Also, continue to check in over the next couple of weeks.  The initial first week can be crazy busy with many things and many visits.  But honestly, after a week it just goes radio silent and that can be hard to deal with.  It's the precious people that continue to check on a person that really help. 

Remember that no matter what, nothing you can say or do can ever take the pain away. The only thing that will help them is time and getting through what they're feeling.  Don't judge them.  Just offer support.  

I truly hope this helps those of you that will eventually have loved ones that lose their precious pets.
 


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