Death is never an easy thing and it can be really hard to know how to support someone. When a pet dies, it can be even harder to know what to say. Do you ask what happened? Do you try to find out how upset they are? Do you ask if they had to euthanize? How do you offer support?
We have been with many people as they helped their pet cross the rainbow bridge. We have been there when they decide to euthanize, and we have been there when they allow nature to take its course. Neither path is easy and at Albuquerque Vetco we understand how difficult it can be to lose a pet family member. Here is some advice from our experience to you.
Never Underestimate the Emotional Impact
The first thing is to never underestimate the emotional impact of a pet passing away. Yes, they are a pet. Yes, they are an animal. But that doesn’t mean that they have any less emotional importance to their person than a human family member passing away. Pet’s are a part of the family, and depending on how close the person was to the pet, their pet could have been an incredibly close member of the family. The way someone mourns a pet is no different than the way they mourn the loss of a human. They will still go through the 5 stages of grief.
Take Cues from The Grieving
Everyone grieves in their own way. The best way to know how to respond is to take cues from the person grieving. If they don’t seem very upset and are very matter of a fact, just offer simple condolences such as, “I am so sorry for you loss.” If they seem really upset, maybe try to offer some more emotional support, such as asking them if they want to talk about it. If you know they were really close to their pet, offer to help them with a pet funeral, or to take them to lunch to offer emotional support. Don’t ask if there is anything you can do because most people won’t have an answer for that, even if they do need help. It is better to offer specific support, such as a meal, or helping with the remains.
Don’t Ask Too Much
Don’t ask the grieving a lot of questions, they may not be ready to talk about it. When you are offering your condolence, you can prompt them to talk by asking if they would like to talk about it. But if they don’t, then don’t push. If they are ready to discuss what happened, they will. Don’t ask if they had to euthanize, because that can be a very emotionally sensitive topic about whether they did or didn’t. A lot of people question if they made the right decision, if they waited too long, if they should have euthanized but didn’t. Asking can also put them, emotionally, back in the moment of their pets passing and they may not want to discuss it just yet. They will reveal as much, or as little, as they feel comfortable with about the details surrounding their pets passing.
Be a Shoulder to Cry On
You don’t always have to talk. When someone tells you their pet passed away, offer your condolences, but if they don’t want to talk about it don’t push them too. Sometimes just sitting with someone is the best kind of support you can offer. Hold their hand, put your arm around their shoulder, give them a long hug, or just sit next to them and share space. Comfort does not have to come in the form of words.
How Long Do People Grieve
There is no time frame for grief. Some people grieve very quickly and others take a long time. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Do no judge someone on how they grieve or for how long. It is about what is right for them. You just need to be a support for them.
If you have any questions about what can be done for a pet that has passed, please see our pet aftercare resources.