As a society, we are not equipped to handle grief and loss, and many people don’t know what to say to someone who is grieving. This can be compounded when the loss is that of a pet. Even people who are genuinely sorry and want to express their sympathy often don’t know what to say to comfort the grieving person.
It is difficult to know what to say, and as a result, people often, without meaning to, say the wrong things that, rather than providing comfort, only serve to upset the grieving person even more. Sometimes, the best thing to say is to simply acknowledge the loss – because the only thing worse than saying the wrong thing is to not say anything at all. As I’m dealing with my own grief about Amber, I’m once again reminded of how much some of the things people say hurt, even though they’re offered with the best intentions.
I know how you feel.
Everybody experiences loss differently. While we may have lost pets ourselves, we can’t know how the grieving person feels, because each pet and each relationship is unique.
Saying something like “I, too, have lost a pet, and I remember how awful it feels – my heart goes out to you” instead acknowledges the griever’s feelings without being presumptuous.
It will get better or time heals all wounds.
Grieving people know this on an intellectual level, but they sure don’t feel that way, especially not in the early stages of grief. Trite phrases like these only serve to minimize the loss and the very real pain the grieving person is feeling now.
Acknowledge the grieving person’s sadness and pain without diminishing their emotions by suggesting that they’re only temporary.
She’s in a better place now. It was probably for the best. It was God’s will.
Any variation of this will not be helpful to someone who’s grieving. Even if their belief system supports this, they’re not going to find comfort in these words, and they may, in fact, serve to emphasize their pain.
Even if the grieving person believes that our animal friends never really die and that their spirits live on, any of the above phrases, directed at them in the middle of profound sadness, invalidate the very real pain of missing the lost pet’s physical presence.
Let me know if there’s anything I can do.
This is a classic, and natural, response to grief – we feel helpless, and we want to help the grieving person. However, people who are grieving don’t think straight, and usually don’t know what they need help with, and reaching out or asking for help often requires more of an effort than they can handle.
Offer to do something concrete instead, such as bringing a prepared meal to the grieving person, or running errands for them. If you know the person very well and you think it would be acceptable, stop by to check on them. Otherwise, call them, but accept that they may not want to answer the phone. Leave a supportive message, and check back again a few days later.
It was only a pet.
I find it hard to believe that some people are still saying this – it is callous and uncaring, even coming from someone who’s not an animal person. I’m fortunate that the majority of people in my life are animal people, so I’ve not heard this one personally, but I’m being told that it still happens more than you would think.
When are you going to get another one?
Not quite as shocking as the one above, but equally inappropriate. Grieving pet parents know that getting a new pet can never replace the lost one, but getting a new pet after a loss is a very individual decision – everyone’s schedule is going to be different. (Read Life after Loss – Getting a New Pet for more on this topic.)
Most people are uncomfortable in the presence of others who are crying. It is painful to see someone you care about cry, but by telling them not to cry, you are prolonging the grieving process for them.
Tears heal and are part of the natural grieving process. One of the best things you can do for someone who is grieving is to let them cry in your presence. Offer comfort, but don’t make them feel that it’s not okay to cry.
There is no “cure” or “solution” for grief – it’s an individual journey. Navigating through the grieving process is difficult not just for the person who is mourning a loss, but also for those around the person. The best thing any of us can do for someone who is grieving the loss of a pet is to set aside our own discomfort with death and loss and gently support them in their grief.