Grief is such a hard thing. We live in a death-denying society. We hide away our emotions and are shamed into feeling we should be getting over the loss in some well-defined timeline. But grief in pet loss needs to be witnessed, whether death happened naturally or through euthanasia. Grievers don’t want to feel like people are afraid to be around them. They want to talk about their loss and feel cared for and loved.
One of the biggest reasons people shy away from the bereaved is because they worry they’ll say the wrong thing or come up empty handed. Well, I’m here to tell you… that doesn’t matter. It’s actually better to say nothing and just listen. People coping with loss typically really do want to talk about their loved one. It’s not a taboo topic for them, they would welcome a non-judgemental ear to just listen to their stories and let them openly share how very sad they are. Like Alan Wolfelt PhD loves to teach, “Mouth closed, ears open, and presence available.”
You don’t have to be a certified counsellor or therapist or expert in anything to companion someone in grief and loss. You just need to show up and meet them wherever they are in their grief journey. To help you along the way, and with the inspiration of renowned grief educator David Kessler, I created a list of the best and worst things to say to someone in grief.
- She lived such a good long life
- He’s in a better place
- Everything happens for a reason
- I know just how you feel
- My dog died last year, and this is how I felt
- Aren’t you done with grieving yet? He died a long time ago
- You can get another pet
- At least you still have your other pets
- Be strong, be brave, keep your chin up
- Let me know if you need anything
- This will bring you closure
- Say nothing, just show up and be a quiet, comforting presence
- I’m so sorry for your loss
- This must be so hard for you
- My dog died last year as well but how does this feel for you?
- Whatever you’re feeling is OK
- You’ll be in my thoughts
- I don’t know how you feel but just know that I’m here by your side
- My favourite memory of your loved one is __
- Tell me a little bit about him/her
- I wish I had the right words, but I don’t. Just know that I care, and I love you
- I’m free on Sunday afternoon if you want to go for a walk
- I’m coming over tonight with a pizza so we can hang out and do nothing
This list is by no means comprehensive, and each phrase won’t be right for every person in every situation, but it’s a guideline to help you feel less helpless and afraid. And that will, in turn, help the grieving person that you care about and wish to support.
Even though there is never really a finish line (that elusive closure that people keep talking about), the overwhelming sadness and heaviness will eventually lift for them, little by little. The days will become brighter and the memories warmer and less painful. In loss, people never really stop grieving, fully heal, or “get over” the death of a loved one. But they learn to readjust their life and carry this grief with them in a way that they can still feel whole, and peaceful, and able to function in life again.
When you stand beside and walk with someone in grief, with an open heart and mind, you give them so much hope and strength to carry on. So, thank you for being that person, and taking the time and energy to read this blog, and to help where help is needed the most.
Dr. Lianna Titcombe, BScH, DVM, CHPV
Companion Animal Euthanasia Training Academy
Pronouns: she, her