The loss of a beloved pet can be the deepest heartbreak of our lives. With each article, we will address and answer a key topic with Certified Pet Grief Counselor, Pina De Rosa (APLB / AAVSB).
If you wish to send in questions for Pina, please submit them to Pina De Rosa through www.PetBereavementCounseling.com
In our last topic on Pet Grief Counseling, we looked at the impact of the complexity of euthanasia and how to cope with the guilt that is so common after euthanizing a pet.
With this topic, we get to look at 7 things you want to do/say when your friend’s pet passes.
Often times when a friend’s pet passes away, we do not know what to say. We seem to experience that nothing we say or do will make a difference, and sometimes we don’t say or do anything. Or when we do, the “traditional” Sorry For Your Loss never seems enough to comfort our distraught friend. We may even worry about them and we would love to help – but how? What to say? (as well as what not to do/say)
7 things you want to do/not do when your friend's pet passes:
1. Do not attempt to be encouraging by saying the traditional “Time Will Heal” – while it is well-meaning, that does not help your friend one iota, especially now that it hurts to even breathe because the physical bond with their beloved pet has been permanently severed. It is hard for them to fathom “How do I adjust?” Time feels like torture to them. During this deepest heartbreak, we often hear the “traditional” Sorry for your Loss, but that doesn’t really help does it? Along those same lines, do not say “You Will Get Another Dog” – it would seem common sense not to say that, but people do. Again, well-meaning, but not in the least helpful. It would be the equivalent of someone telling you, after your 10 years-old child passed away of cancer or hit by a car, that you can have other children. To that effect, if you are thinking “It was just a dog/cat/bunny/horse”, do not connect your voice box to that thought. That beloved animal was very likely a family member and a “fur baby” to your friend. Instead, what you can say is “What can I do to support you?” – and then listen. Often times, they may not know how to answer… That’s ok, just be present with them, listen, ask them their favorite qualities about their pet, their favorite part of their fur, ask them how they found them (even if you know the story). Get them to talk about their beloved animal companion: it will help their healing to talk about them as they can feel they are maintaining the connection. They are likely to be wraught with guilt and possibly even self-blame. Instead of saying “no, you didn’t do any of that”, simply listen. The guilt is the pain that’s trying to come out, and it needs to come out – so, listen.
2. Often times your friend will answer by saying they do not know where to begin about making arrangements for their pet’s after-care. If you do not already know of a trusted caring pet mortician, offer to do Yelp-research for your friend. You can narrow it down to 3 pet cemetery, and 3 pet cremation places, then call them to ask for details, pricing, times etc.. Once you have that information, share the salient results of your research with your friend so they can make an informed choice. It is quite likely the last thing choice they will want to make at such heartbreaking time, hence your help will be of even greater support. For those of you in the Los Angeles area, I could not recommend more strongly the truly wonderful Scott Summerville and his www.AtGardensEdge.com - I have personally used his services twice already and I have referred friends to him numerous times, each timing finding solace in knowing my friend’s pet was in his kind and respectful hands.
The fact is, as morbid as it sounds, it would be ideal if the cremation or burial details were already in place while the pet was alive. It’s the same for people. Plan ahead. When it happens, it’s not the time to start making plans – I remember I was so distraught when that happened the first time, especially as it was a sudden and traumatic experience without a peaceful goodbye, that it was the last thing I wanted to do. I was already in a deep state of shock. Plus I was reading all these bad Yelp reviews and nightmare stories of a cat’s ashes being returned in a coffee tin, or warnings to not enter the side door of a mortician’s place of business or you’d accidentally see dead pets wrapped in cellophane, stacked high with limbs protruding! I got even more distraught – what if I made the wrong final decision? That is why, with every beloved pet I adopted after my first dog passed, I set up all the aftercare arrangements the same week they were adopted. My second dog passed away 13 months after my first one and, while certainly heartbreaking, it was a much more peaceful experience as all the details had been taken care of while he was alive. Even when I called the vet to make the euthanasia appointment, and they offered I pay on the day of, I declined and gave them my credit card number over the phone and asked that I be charged that day but that I not be bogged down with extra logistics so that I could be fully present in accompanying my boy on his final journey.
Last but not least, when they make cremation or burial arrangements, suggest that they write a letter to their dearly departed and ask the aftercare staff to cremate/bury a pet with that letter. It is allowed as long as it isn’t (plastic) material that could compromise the cremation/burial process.
3. Offer to do returns for your friend; returns of any unopened pet supplies they have at home, as well as offer donate any already-opened pet supplies to a charitable organization such as www.TreatsForPups.com to benefit homeless pets living out in the streets. Also offer to call their vet letting them now the pet passed away and to please remove them from the health check up yearly reminder list, that way they do not get thrown for an emotional loop unexpectedly in a few months. Offer to your friend that you will call their vet to set up a time for you to go to the vet’s office to donate the pet’s medications as a pay-it-forward to pet parents who could not afford them – the vet will then administer them to pets in need. In so doing, encourage your friend to see that, even now, their pet is helping other pets and pet parents.
4. Buy both these 2 books for them and have them delivered to them. Do not ask your friend if they want these 2 books – please trust me, and just do it. Your friend will read them when the time is right for them, especially during the phase of grief that pushes them towards isolation: both books will help them immensely.
“The loss of a pet – a guide to coping with the grieving process when a pet dies.” by Dr Wallace Sife
“Until we meet again: From grief to hope after losing a pet.” by Melissa Lyons
I am not suggesting either book, I am suggesting both!
5. Do not offer suggestions to “distract” them, but rather listen to their distressing heartbreak. It’s important to get them to talk. It’s also important to listen to their tears – tears are haling. Disenfranchised grief can cause the pain to deepen and you want to be able to help them alleviate the initial shock. They will go through the stage of grief, so it’s very important to ensure they receive the 2 books I just mentioned.
6. Connect them with a pet grief counselor. If they are drowning in vet bills offer to gift them the first session and as a pay-it-forward, and ask them to do the same when one of their friends’ pets dies . If you’re reading this, I’m happy to gift you the first session for a friend: you can go to www.PetBereavementCounseling.com and set it up for them.
7. A few days/weeks later, the return home of the pet’s ashes will be extremely surreal for them, so please ensure that they’re not alone when that deeply emotional moment happens. If you are with them when the ashes are returned home, I suggest that you offer to your friend, while they hold the urn, that you take a walk together in the house, the garden, everyplace the pet visited at home, and then lay the ashes to rest in the pet’s favorite spot in the house. It can be a temporary resting spot. They can find a final resting place in the house later on; that does not need to happen on the first day. It’ll feel extremely surreal for them because those earthly remains are their beloved pet, but at the same time it will feel like their companion is not there. They are going to vacillate back-and-forth between “my beloved pet is here, not he/she is not, he/she is here, no he/she is not…” and your presence will help ground them in this most surreal experience.
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