3 things NOT to say to someone whose pet has died.

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In my work with people who have struggled after their pets have died it never ceases to surprise me how insensitive the people around them can be.
The truth is that many people cannot comprehend the depth of affection we pet lovers have for our pets and thus the overwhelming sense of grief when that pet leaves our life.
Here are three very familiar things I’ve heard people say to my clients that are just so unhelpful that I wish they would have had the sense NOT to say them!

 

1. “It’s just a dog” or “It’s just a cat”

Ok, dogs and cats are not people, but the love we can have for them is as deep as, or even deeper than the love we have for our human loved ones.This is because our pets give us unconditional love throughout their lives. They are our constant companions and friends and our love for them is special. So, when they leave our lives, the pain is deep. They may ‘just be an animal’ but often they loved us more than any human could!
So, it’s not ‘just an animal’, it’s a beloved and that hurts.

 

2. “Just get over it” or “pull yourself together”.

 

Really? Would somebody say that if a human family member had died? I don’t think so.
Yet, when it comes to our pets, people who don’t understand that bond can say such ridiculous things, because they are at a loss to comprehend how we feel, they just don’t understand or they find our grief so uncomfortable to be around that they come out with such insensitive statements.

In fact, some of my clients even say this to themselves, when they still find themselves grieving weeks and months after the death of the pet. It’s not a helpful thought. It’s a desperate attempt to ease the pain, but it’s just like kicking yourself when you’re down, it doesn’t help.

What does help is to understand that it can take time to move through the grieving process. I do think it helps to get support if your feelings are very intense, as there are ways to make the journey more gentle, but bullying yourself or another into ‘snapping out of it’ isn’t the way forward.

 

3. “Just get another one.”

Ok, I know this can be meant to ease the person’s pain, but it really is insensitive. Again, would you say that to someone grieving for a human loved one? Pets may not be people, but they are family.

The timing for inviting a new animal friend into your life after losing a past one is very personal. Some people do find that it eases the loss to welcome a new friend into their lives relatively quickly, but it’s a very personal decision to make, certainly not one to be rushed into or have to contemplate too soon.

Of all three comments, I’ve seen this one hurt people the most, when the sense of loss is still keen. The fact that someone else thinks a new animal can ease that pain can feel hurtful, even if the intention was well meaning and result in the grieving person feeling more isolated and less understood.

If someone is thinking of getting a new pet, let them tell you or talk to you about it in their own time.

So, what DO you say to someone who is grieving for a pet?

If you really don’t understand what they are going through it may be best to say very little or just say that you are sorry that they are hurting.

If you are sympathetic it can help for them to have a listening ear, someone to talk to and to share about their loss or beloved memories, someone who understands.

If you know them and knew their pet, remind them that they did their best for that pet. You can ask how you can help them or what you can do to help them feel better. They may not know the answer, but they’ll usually  appreciate being asked.

 

If it’s you who are hurting.

Be kind to yourself. Take time and get proper support. There IS support out there for you, so don’t be ashamed to reach out and get proper help.
As I say in this weeks video (see below), sharing how you feel can be useful. Yet, whilst talking to friends can help and often does, some may not remain as sympathetic in the long term. Also, it can be embarrasing or hard to share the depth of your feelings to people you know (especially if they haven’t had the same experience).

So, if you really need to be heard, consider an online or telephone support service. As I also say in the video, talking about how you feel is only part of the picture (and occasionally it can be re-traumatising if you keep dwelling on the specifics of the death and agnosising over what you could have done differently).

If you want help dealing with the intensity of your grief, or help coping with the changes of facing life without that beloved friend (the sadness of seeing the empty dish or the empty chair where they sat) then consider getting personal support.
I help my clients unerstand and navigate their grief, resolve those intense emotions and find strategies for healing their hearts, so the fond memories remain whilst the pain siubsides. If you need a safe space to help you heal the pain of your loss, then please contact me.

 

The Video.

This Periscope broadcast was the inspiration for this post. In it I share tips and thoughts from talking with a lovely young girl who recently lost her beloved dog.

Over to you.

Whilst people can be insensitive to the pain of pet loss, I know many can be caring and understanding, so I’d love to hear your stories of how you’ve been helped through the grief of losing a pet, what kind words helped the most, or how you’ve been able to help another at this time.

Please do share this post with people who need to hear this.

Whilst people can be insensitive to the pain of pet loss, I know many can be caring and understanding, so I’d love to hear your stories of how you’ve been helped through the grief of losing a pet, what kind words helped the most, or how you’ve been able to help another at this time.

Please do share this post with people who need to hear this. May nobody else have to suffer in silence through their grief and may we all help those around them understand better how to be helpful in that time (rather than saying those least helpful phrases).

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