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How to Help Someone Mourning the Death of a Pet
Have you ever seen a friend or neighbor distraught over the death of a pet? If you have never owned a pet, or considered having one, have you been surprised to see someone cry? In fact, such a response is as normal as when a close friend or loved one dies.
Here’s what you should know about helping someone who is grieving the death of a pet because there is a lot of grief involved that can go on for long periods of time.
1. As with the death of a friend or family member (and most animals are considered part of the family), grief must be expected due to the degree of emotional investment in the object of loss. Emotional investment means care and concern; is deep love. Only the bereaved know the depth of this investment. Sometimes pet grief is more intense than the grief associated with the death of a loved one.
2. Give permission to show emotion by something you say or do. Give the person a hug and say, “That must hurt” or “I’m so sorry to hear that.” Use the pet’s name when you can. Recognize the close relationship between the pet and the bereaved person and encourage them to talk about the illness or what caused the death.
3. Offer to be of service in some way. Bring food home, if appropriate. Go with the owner to the pet cemetery. Provide transportation. Simply showing that you know the impact of death will be a great help to your friend.
4. Review the person’s relationship with the pet in a gentle and caring way. Ask questions about how long the pet has been in the family and where it came from. Encourage stories that involve what the pet did or did not do. All of this will give you a better idea of what the loss means to the person.
5. Grief over the death of a beloved animal is similar to grief over the death of a family member. There will be a lot of differences, some demonstrations others very reserved. Do not judge the depth of grief by outward appearances. Respect all expressions of grief. Some people will hide their grief because they fear others will make fun of their behavior. Be sure to include the children in learning about grief and death from the death of the pet.
6. Keep in mind, especially with older adults living alone, that some companion animals may be the only family the person has. Thus the animal is one of the few or perhaps the only one of the grieving people who received unconditional love.
7. If other losses preceded a pet’s death, it can make the pet’s death more difficult to cope with. For example, if a pet owner had to give up driving, had a debilitating illness, had friends move, or experienced the death of a loved one, these or other losses can easily cause overload. The grieving person will especially need a supportive and understanding community during this time of transition.
8. Guilt, anger or depression can also be associated with pet loss. Guilt is the most common reaction, especially if the owner had to euthanize the pet, wasn’t there when the pet died, or didn’t recognize the illness until later stages.
9. Help create or suggest a memorial. A photo, toy, or necklace can be used as a way to honor or remember the pet. An object that belongs to the animal can be encased in Lucite or placed on a shelf that can be easily seen.
No longer do pets play a low-key role in homes across the country. Instead, they come to fill the roles of companions, supporters, and old friends. Consequently, the death of a pet can be a heartbreaking experience for young or old alike. Become sensitive to the role the animal played in the family’s life and you will be better equipped to provide ongoing support and appropriate memories that will be very helpful in the months to come.
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