When a pet dies, friends, family and acquaintances may offer ‘words of comfort’ to the pet carer. Although well-meaning, the pet carer may interpret the comments differently to how they were intended.
I know how you feel
No one knows how we truly feel, but some people wrongly assume that we all grieve the same, especially if they have suffered from pet bereavement. They mean well and shows that they can empathise with the loss of a pet
An alternative – I cannot begin to imagine how you feel
Be strong or be brave
This implies that to show emotion is wrong. Grieving is an individual experience, you can grieve any way you want
An alternative – It’s difficult to find strength at times like this
You’ll get over it
We do not get over our loss, nor should we try to, we adjust to life without our pet - there is a difference
An alternative – A loss like this is not something you ever get over, but we do heal
Your pet was a good age
This can imply that by reaching a certain age we should somehow accept death more easily, but it doesn’t lessen your pain
An alternative – I hope in the days, weeks and months ahead that you will take comfort in the knowledge that your pet had such a happy and long life with you
It was only a dog
This trivialises your loss and is often said by those who try to shock you out of grief when in fact it shows a total lack of understanding and compassion for your loss. It
may only be a dog to them, but to you, your pet was your world.
An alternative – A dog gives us such unconditional love throughout their lives and leaves such a huge void when they are no longer with us. These overwhelming feels of loss and despair will pass
Will you get another one?
Often said as a way to divert the conversation away from acknowledging your grief, however this implies that we can somehow fill the void we have by replacing our pets as though they were a commodity. Some pet carers, even in grief, may have already thought about another pet, if only for a brief moment, but to be asked this question can be very hurtful.
An alternative – I know you probably aren’t thinking about another pet right now, but hopefully one day you will be able to give all that love you have to another pet.
At Least he didn’t suffer
This may seem like a reassuring statement, but once again, will do nothing to ease or lessen the pain, and may in fact, not necessarily be true. Remember that in the early stages of grieving, a pet carer may be focusing on their pet’s demise, and in their mind, there may have been some degree of suffering.
An alternative – allowing a pet to die with compassion and dignity is the most selfless act a pet carer can ever make, a decision made from love by putting your pet first.
You cannot compare the loss of a pet to that of a human
Pet carers are not asking or expecting anyone to compare one loss of life with another, regardless of whether that life is animal or human, and this type of uncaring comment only serves to make the pet carer feel even guiltier about their grief. Trying to enforce feelings or beliefs onto a pet carer who is grieving for their pet is fundamentally wrong.
An alternative – I can appreciate how special your pet was to you, they are part of our family and the pain can be overwhelming when they die.
A lot depends on who makes the comment and the tone in which it is said. Generally speaking, people that utter these comments fall into three categories –
Although it’s difficult, the pet carer should not take to heart a comment that was made with good intentions.
If though the pet carer feels a comment was intended to trivialise their grief or belittle them for grieving, they should remember that those people will never experience the love of a pet, they aren’t worthy of a pets love and they aren’t worthy of a response; the pet carer should ignore the remark and think no more it.
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Dawn Murray, the founder of Living with Pet Bereavement, will have her new book published in April 2023 - 'A Guide to Pet Bereavement Counselling' will be a must for anyone looking to learn more about how to become a Pet Bereavement Counsellor or those looking to support bereaved pet carers either in a professional or informal setting. To pre-order a copy or to find out more please email firstname.lastname@example.org