Understanding loss and grief

Knowing what to say to someone who is grieving the loss of a pet:

For many people, the first loss that they have experienced is the loss of a pet. If the griever happens to be a child, this experience can set the example for the way that they handle all future losses. If you have ever experienced the loss of a pet, you know that the pain is deep; the grief is real and can often be overwhelming. People who have lost a pet often feel that their pain and emotions are not understood or worse, dismissed by many of their friends. This loss is real. When the loss happens later in life, perhaps to a widow/widower, the loss is that of the companion that helps to fill the sounds of an empty home. This pet also might have provided the unconditional love that a person experiencing the loss of a mate so craves in their period of mourning. The widowed person is sometimes made to feel foolish, grieving so passionately for a pet, when friends have seen them surviving the loss of their mate, but this loss, the loss of a pet, is the wound on the wound. It makes the heart hurt with all the emotions of every loss that has gone before. This can further be complicated if the pet was inherited from a loved one who died. When the pet dies it is like losing the pet and the loved one all over again.

Many times people who have never owned a pet, never loved a pet, say hurtful things like, “It was just a –. Why don’t you just get another?” Although they might mean well, this type of statement is insensitive. In fact, those of us who have lost pets who have been intricate parts of our lives will serve themselves better to give some time for their grief to subside before trying to fill the vacancy that can never be filled. Perhaps during that empty period the griever might offer to provide care for a friend’s pet, for short periods, allowing themselves to ease into the idea of pet ownership. Some people may continue to feel sad about the loss of their pet for many years even after investing in a new pet.

If the griever finds him/herself surrounded by friends who just don’t get it, it is smart to seek professional help dealing with their grief where the object of their loss is understood and accepted. Sharing your story with those that understand can be therapeutic. I had a friend who sent me this blog post about how anxiety-ridden he was due to the loss of her friend (more here) and talking about it helped her. Many times the griever will find that acceptance in a bereavement group which leads people who have had loss to understand how normal all the feelings of loss are, regardless of who or what is lost. The SaddleBrooke Bereavement Support Group is a free service provided by SaddleBrooke Health and Wellness. This is a drop-in group and it is not necessary to register or feel and pressure to return. The group meets every Sunday from 4:00 to 5:30 p.m. in the Coyote Room on the lower level of the HOA 1 Clubhouse. For questions call Dolores at 825-8980.