Supporting someone through Pet Loss
By Dawn Murray CABC
We know that grieving can last much longer than most pet carers expect, and that they may require support for many weeks or months after the death of their pet. Continue to offer your support for as long as it takes. Offers of sympathy from family and friends are usually given within the first few days of pet bereavement, at a time when the pet carer is feeling raw, numb, and hasn't yet had time to comprehend what impact their loss will actually have on their lives.
Once this initial period passes and everyone else appears to be getting on with their lives, the pet carer can feel very isolated and alone, and this is the time that your support will be invaluable to them. Certain times and days of the year will be particularly difficult for the pet carer, and will re-awaken their grief, but knowing that support is still there, no matter how long after the death of the pet, will be reassuring to the pet carer.
The support that a pet carer is seeking will vary, depending on what stage of grieving they are at. Obviously, if the pet carer has been told that their pet is terminally ill or nearing the end of its life, then they will be looking for guidance as to what to expect over the last days, weeks or months of their pet's life. They may look for advice on how to prolong their pet's life by introducing alternative medicines, or seeking a second opinion. They will also be looking for reassurance that they will know when the time is right to take their pet for euthanasia. Pet carers often have many fears with regard to how their pet will die; many being afraid that their pet will die in pain. Others may just be looking for someone to listen to their concerns, thus allowing them to digest and accept what their immediate future holds for them.
At the time of dying or during euthanasia, a pet carer will often look for guidance, either with regard to the euthanasia process, or about what they can do with their pet's body and aftercare options. Post death/loss of a pet, a pet carer is often looking for reassurance that they will get through their grief. They are looking for support to validate how they feel, and will benefit most from those who can empathize with their situation.
Facing family, friends and colleges after a pet has died can also be a daunting prospect, and many pet carers feel they have to lie to their boss for the reason they did not go to work, or were taking time off, for fear that their employer will not understand.
Some pet carers may want to speak about their loss, whereas others can be very reluctant to instigate any conversation, and are looking for you to prompt them. Some just need to know that you are there for them, should they need to talk. Remember, silence speaks volumes, and sometimes that is all a pet carer needs.
For pet carers who are grieving, they need to give themselves permission to grieve. This may seem obvious, but many pet carers feel that they will be ridiculed for grieving over a pet. Speaking to people who truly understand and can empathize will help the pet carer realize that there are others that appreciate the pain associated with pet loss.
Grieving affects people both emotionally and physically, and pet carers need to take care of themselves by getting enough rest, eating properly, exercising and taking time out to relax.
Joining an online bereavement forum can help pet carers, as this will give them the opportunity to write down how they feel, and share their grief with others who understand, while still maintaining their anonymity.
Above all, those who are suffering should ask for help, and not allow their grief to completely overtake their ability to function.
The key points to helping someone through pet loss are:
- Acknowledge the persons grief without saying you know how they feel.
- Send a sympathy card, flowers or condolence gift.
- Reassure them that you are there to help support them no matter how long it takes.
- Help with arrangements for the aftercare of the pet.
- They may or may not want to speak about their pet - let them take the lead.
- Offer to tell friends/neighbours that the carers pet has died.
- Help to arrange a memorial.
- Help to support the carer if they are thinking about getting another pet.
- Tell them to take one day at a time - the process of grieving cannot be rushed.
- Tell the pet carer to accept the bad days but also to accept the good days as and when they come along.