Pets become members of the family. So, when someone you love loses a pet they love, they need kind words that recognize their grief. Pets offer unconditional love, which is why their deaths hit their families so hard.
People and their pets create bonds that are beyond language. They learn to communicate, take care of each other, and grow old together. So, when a friend’s or family member’s pet dies, the words you say matter. If you are uncertain of what to say or uncomfortable saying anything at all, you can always say, “I’m sorry,” and leave it there.
Another kind gesture includes sending a card in the mail. People do not get cards in the mail like they used to, so sending one lets your friend know that you are thinking about them. People often send flowers when someone dies and you can send them at the death of a pet, too.
Fortunately, there are several caring, kind, and empathetic things you can say to people who have lost a beloved pet.
Say: Would it help you to talk about them? I’ll listen.
Some people need to talk about their grief. It is important to allow them to share with someone. If they don’t feel comfortable talking, don’t push them. But, if they do feel ready to talk, your job is to listen. Just listen.
Say: Your pet had the greatest life because of your love.
In general, empathy does not involve judgment. But, these words show that you recognize the relationship and you see your friend’s emotions. These kind words give reassurance to your friend, especially if your friend is questioning their judgment about putting a pet to sleep or not paying for a potentially needed expensive pet surgery.
Grief can put people in negative spaces in their minds, so kind words like this help them to recognize that they did give their pet a good life.
Say: I’ll stop by at 5:00 with dinner tonight.
All too often, people will ask their grieving friends or family members if they need anything. Many times, people who are grieving do not think about their needs. So, instead of asking what they need, bring them something you know they need.
If you announce that you will bring dinner at 5:00, you must show up at 4:50 with dinner. Do not leave the people you care about waiting or second-guessing.
Share a memory of your friend’s pet. Say: “Remember when…”
When you share a fun memory of your friend’s pet, it lightens your friend’s mood. According to Dr. Jannel Phillips with the Henry Ford Health System, grieving affects the part of the brain that controls emotions and memory. So, when people grieve, they often neglect to consider their favorite memories.
When you bring up favorite memories, you help stimulate that area of the brain. You also help your friend or family member move through their grief so they can return to life without their beloved pet. Be sure that you do not make judgments. Instead, just talk about the pet and the special moment. If you have photos, send them to your friend. They will appreciate the gesture.
What Not to Say After a Beloved Pet Died
There are several things you should not say because they do not offer empathy and compassion. Instead, they downplay the emotions your friend or family member is feeling. So, do not say:
Don’t Say: At least it wasn’t …
Your friend is grieving a beloved family member. Any sentence that starts with “at least it wasn’t” will not help them put anything in perspective. Those words only make things worse because you are telling them they shouldn’t feel this way and that their pet isn’t worth the sadness they are feeling.
Don’t Say: You can always get a new pet.
Your friend needs to grieve. Let them. Instead, buy them a pizza and bring it over for dinner.
Don’t Say: You had 12 years together.
You might feel like these words offer solace, but they don’t. They remind your friend of why they are grieving. Instead, bring up favorite memories with sentences that start with “Remember when…”
Don’t say: I know how you feel.
While this might seem like it is empathetic, it isn’t. You don’t know exactly how your grieving friend or family member feels. Telling them that you know how they feel also belittles their emotions. It makes you seem like you are a know-it-all. Instead, you can say “I can’t imagine how you are feeling.”
Relationships between people and their pets matter and so do the relationships between people. If someone you care about has recently lost a pet, share your condolences in a way that best fits your relationship.