When you are experiencing grief over the loss of a pet
Grief is a personal experience, with no set timeline for how long it should last, what it should feel like, or how you should express it. It can feel isolating at times, but you don't have to go through it alone.
For professional support:
ASPCA Free 24-Hour Pet Loss Hotline: 877-GRIEF-10 (877-474-3310)
- Acknowledge that you're grieving, and allow yourself to process it in any way that feels right.
- Reach out to friends or family members you trust, for a safe shoulder to cry on. They should support you in providing a space to talk about your feelings, whether you're angry or sad, or want to reminisce about happy memories with your pet.
- Write about what you're experiencing. It's often cathartic to simply write whatever comes to mind, like stream-of-consciousness writing. Remember that no one needs to read what you wrote (not even you, if you'd prefer to just put it away when you're done). Check out this article on creating a grief journal.
- Write about happy memories with your pet. Take some time to reminisce about how your pet came into your life, some of their favorite things to do, the times when they were naughty (but you could never stay mad at that face!) and the quiet times you spent together, snuggling on the couch. Write down any memory that brings a smile to your face. Consider keeping this writing separate from your grief journal.
- Enjoy photos of your pet. Gather any pictures you may have of your pet, and do something special with them. If they're already printed, maybe find a nice box or photo album to keep them together. Combine some of your happy-memory-writing with the photos, and create a scrapbook. If you have digital images, don't let them just sit on your computer or phone! Make time now to get them printed, whether it's loose prints for a box, or creating your own book at an online printer like Artifact Uprising, Shutterfly, or mpix.
- Create a memorial for your pet. Are you keeping their collar or tags? Favorite toys? Did you get a paw print or nose print made? You can buy shadowbox frames online or at your local craft store, and put those special mementos on display.
When someone you love is experiencing grief
If a friend or family member is hurting, it can be difficult to find the "right" things to say or do. Washington State University has a great resource on supporting others who are grieving.
- Actively listen to them in a nonjudgmental way. They may need a shoulder to cry on, or to talk about what they're going through. Maybe they're not ready to talk and just need a friend to sit in silence with them.
- Ask how they're doing, let them know you're there if they need anything.
- Share some happy memories you may have of their pet, but avoid talking about your own pets or experience with loss (unless they ask). Help them celebrate the pet's life by reminiscing with photographs.
- Don't minimize their experience by comparing it to others.
- Don't try to give advice or tell them it will get better soon - they don't need you to "fix" it, they just need you to be there.
- Never say things like "it's just a pet" or "you can just get another one."