Recently, a dear team member was preparing for the death of a beloved pet and the sorrow in his words was palpable. Though I was honored he reached out, I felt inept at helping him as he waited for his pup’s kind veterinarian to come to the house for one last visit. I wanted to do the right thing….say the right thing!
As the texts between us flew back and forth, I got to thinking, “Oh my gosh! This is his “child.” This sweet little 13-year-old pup is his family! Of course, he feels he’s about to lose it.” Instantly, I was transported back to a time when I had to help my own four-legged family member die and it wasn’t pretty. In fact, I became momentarily unhinged after her death.
That’s right. When my golden retriever, Jenny died, I had a full-on grief attack while standing outside a Boston conference hotel and my then-boyfriend looked at me like I was losing my mind. I couldn’t disagree with him either — as the grief felt similar to what I felt when my child had died years earlier. I remember standing on the sidewalk feeling nauseous, breathless and broken-hearted. Yet, though the grief felt familiar, I felt different and I couldn’t figure out why.
Then it hit me: The loss of my child had been validated. I had received hugs, prayers and stacks upon stacks of condolence cards when my son died. I had given myself permission to grieve and yet when the protector of my home, my best-buddy-through-life, the one who bore witness to my journey, died suddenly, I was expected to simply get back to work the next day as though my grief did not exist. Even I felt at odds with myself about deeply grieving the loss of my pet. Why WAS that?
Because overall, we as human beings do not acknowledge that the body, whether it has four legs or two, is simply the covering for the soul… that Love Is Love.
So how to help someone who has lost a pet? How about we look to the starting line of Love: that it’s mysterious. Who knows how souls connect? We just know they do and that losing a physical connection with someone or some “being” can often tremendous emotional pain. In short, we grieve because we love (regardless of form).
Here’s what else you can do to help a grieving pet owner:
- Recognize that he or she may feel they have lost a family member and above all else, that grief needs to be validated…often and aloud. Say the pet’s name and ask about him or her in conversation.
- Ask your friend to share a funny or memorable story about the pet.
- Care for your grieving pet-owner friend or family member the way you would care for someone who had lost a beloved human. Send a card, cook a meal, take a walk together, just listen. They all help.
- Recognize that grieving well takes time. The length of time a person grieves is not dependent upon the species or form of love. So text, email, whatever it takes for a few weeks or months. Just don’t forget to stay in touch! Your grieving friend will let you know when they’re doing well again.
- Most of all, help your pet owner friend shed the self-imposed shame caused by grieving their beloved “prince or princess of the castle.” Why is this most important?
Because the only way to heal grief is by going through it, not around it.
Your grieving friend (and his or her pet from beyond) will thank you…
For more on pet loss? Read on: http://grishastewart.com/pet-loss-grief/