How to support someone grieving the loss of a pet

On “The Daily Show” this week, host Jon Stewart broke down while announcing the death of his beloved three-legged brindle pit bull. Saucepan – a raw and moving segment that exemplified the deep pain felt by many pet owners.

When an animal dies, owners lose companionship, affection and “just unconditional love, and we don’t find that in many places in our lives,” said Sherry Cormier, a psychologist and author of “Sweet Sorrow: Finding Enduring Wholeness After Loss.” and pain.”

Our society tends to be “pain-phobic,” Dr. Cormier said, and there is a sense that the feelings brought on by the loss of a pet are relatively low on the hierarchy of suffering, or that it is something people should be able to do. front facing. cope and overcome quickly. Dr. Cormier and other loss experts said that’s not always true; and shared ways to help a loved one cope with the loss of a pet.

The loss of a pet can lead to disenfranchised grief, meaning it is not validated or recognized by the rest of the world, said Michelle Crossley, an associate professor at Rhode Island College and vice president of the Association on Loss and Grief. Of pets. Therefore, “many people end up suffering in isolation for fear of rejection from other people,” she said, adding, “They worry about not understanding or minimizing the loss.”

Be simple when expressing your condolences, Dr. Cormier recommended. She suggested something like: “I know your animal was a very important part of your life and your family. “I can see how much he meant to you and how much you already miss him.”

Pet grief is often complicated by feelings of guilt if your friend or loved one chooses to euthanize an animal to minimize suffering, Dr. Cormier said. He did it with two golden retrievers, but noticed that the circumstances were quite different. One lived a long and happy life; the other had to be euthanized unexpectedly due to an aggressive brain tumor.

Resist the temptation to say “I know how you feel,” he cautioned, even if your intention is simply to express empathy. “Every person’s pain is unique,” she added.

Rituals are an important part of the grieving process, Dr. Crossley said, but they are sometimes overlooked when an animal dies. Maybe your friend would like to hold a memorial service, he suggested, or would like to make a keepsake box with photos and some of his pet’s favorite toys.

If your friend or loved one is experiencing anticipatory grief (i.e., you know a pet is aging or likely to die soon), you can ask if you can help her plan some “bucket list” activities she would like to do with her. she. pet. You might consider giving your friend a meaningful gift. For example, Dr. Crossley has seen people turn a pet’s water bowl into a flower pot. (He has a shelf where he keeps the ashes of the five dogs he lost, along with photographs and footprints of them, he pointed out.)

Consider the physical component of losing your friend. “People report really intense physical longing, often comparing it to what they imagine it feels like to lose a limb,” said Judith Harbor, a veterinary social worker at Schwarzman Animal Medical Center in New York City, who helps lead groups. pet loss support. (which are another option for people experiencing acute grief after the death of a pet). There’s no easy solution to that longing, she said, but sometimes an object to hold or hug, like a blanket that belonged to the pet, can help.

The fact that people sometimes feel embarrassed to talk about how much they miss their pet can contribute to feelings of loneliness and isolation, Dr. Cormier said. Simply encouraging them to share stories, photos or videos of their pet, if they choose, can help them feel less alone in their suffering, he said. And, if possible, listen more than you talk.

All experts noted the misconception that pet-related grief does not last as long as other types of grief. But it’s cyclical, Dr. Cormier said, urging people to check in with friends and loved ones not just days or weeks after a loss, but for months or even years after the fact.

Don’t ask if your friend or loved one intends to get another pet, Harbor said. He lamented that almost everyone he had counseled after the loss of a pet had been asked that question. Grieving takes time.

“Don’t forget about them,” Harbor said of the grieving pet lovers. “Check in and give them time to talk to you about your pet. “This is really significant, because people often feel like the world is spinning and time is passing and no one remembers their animal.”