Having a support network around you is important when grieving, that support may come from family, friends or colleagues. Sadly for many pet carers that support is not there simply because those closest to them are unsure how to help support them, or those around just do not understand the pain of pet bereavement.
There are generally two categories of grieving that pet carers exhibit when grieving either Instrumental or Intuitive grief. Identifying which one your friend is experiencing is relatively straightforward.
Intuitive grieving is easily identified as the emotional reactions we usually associate with grieving. It is where the pet carer will express how they are feeling and openly display emotion - especially crying.
A pet carer with Instrumental Grief may focus on the more practical aspects of dealing with bereavement, and show little, if any emotion, and be thinking about how their life will be affected in the future. This type of grieving may come across as uncaring and indifferent, none of which is true.
One of the most common observations by pet carers grieving is that even close family and friends are at a loss as to what to say or do to help support them, leading to frustration and further upset for both parties. Regardless of the type of grief, it is important to know that, a pet carer will grieve for a longer period than you would anticipate. You cannot rush them through grief, there is no quick fix. Offering practical support will help, for example, telling others that your friends’ companion has died, offering to help with aftercare arrangements, be available to listen to your friend talking about their pet – often repeating the same story over and over, for days, weeks or months.
Help source support groups or a pet bereavement counsellor (see section on choosing a pet bereavement counsellor). Do not suggest they get another companion. Don’t keep asking how your friend is, eventually they will say they are ‘fine’ by way of reassuring you, when that may not be true! Appreciate they are on a lonely journey of grieving, but you can walk beside them on that journey, offering love and support. Pet carers tend to neglect themselves especially in the early days of grief, so encourage your friend to eat something, but don’t be disappointed if they don’t, try again later. Encourage your friend to get out in the fresh air – go for a short walk together. Be prepared for long periods of silence. Offer to help with practical issues – shopping, contacting the vet or checking pet insurance documents to see if they are covered for cremation costs. Let your friend know that you are contactable whenever they need you, as often as they need you and for however long they need you. Help with research for ways to memorialise their pet. Talk about their pet.
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Founder of Living with Pet Bereavement, Dawn Murray, speaks with award winning podcaster, Anna Web, about Pet Bereavement