It’s tough losing a pet, and it’s especially difficult to watch it happen to someone you love and feel like there’s nothing you can do. I’m sad to say I’ve had more than one experience both losing a dog and providing comfort to those who’ve lost theirs. Even if your relationship with the pet may not have been close, to their person that animal was likely one of the most important, if not THE most important, companion in their lives. It helps to remember that.
But fear not, uncertain humans, because helping someone grieve shows how great a friend you are, and it only takes a bit of practice.
1. Be able to listen and not just hear what they are saying.
Don’t just sit there like a paperweight sitting on all the words that could be said. Genuinely listen to what this person is saying and respond in a way that makes the death of their pet just as significant in your eyes as it is in theirs. Conversation is about more than back-and-forth; they need to know they can trust you and that they can cope in a way that won’t be judged. Empathy is a key word here.
2. Hugs are awesome, if you’re into that kinda thing.
People will cry. I cried. You would cry. If both parties are cool with hugs and crying on shoulders, it’s a really sweet gesture.
3. Be self aware.
You should be able to share your own experiences without causing the other person to feel like they need to grieve for you, too. Know when enough is enough, and try not to compare your ability to cope with theirs. Most importantly, don’t feel like another’s grief has to be your burden—becoming overwhelmed with emotion won’t help anyone.
4. Simply be a friend by being there.
Your presence during this whole terrible ordeal is probably a huge relief to those suffering under the burden of their loss. The number one thing that friends have told me in these situations is that they were just so grateful to have a support system. Feelings of emptiness and loneliness can be debilitating, and having the chance to share your feelings, memories, concerns, or fears with someone who empathizes is an amazing thing.
5. If they need a little something more…
Perhaps if you don’t have experience with the death of a pet, or if your friend just needs a little more help than you can give, there are a number of support groups for this purpose. There are also online forums available to chat with others going through the same thing, and some rescue organizations even hold support groups on-site that are open to anyone who needs them.