Unhelpful Comments When Dealing With Pet Loss Grief and How to Deal With Them
While you’re wandering through your grief after your beloved pet dies, you’ll likely hear some of the unfortunate and useless comments that our society believes helps those who are in mourning over a loss. I’m not entirely convinced that most people offering them are ignorant enough to actually believe these comments help. I think that some people offering what they hope is consolation hope these comments help, even though they suspect that they don’t. And I think that others buy into these myths and offer them up to grievers for lack of anything else to say. Either way, the important thing to remember is: These comments aren’t true and they won’t help you in any way. When you hear them, just ignore them, and try to resist getting into a debate about them with whomever offered them up. Don’t waste your precious emotional energy. Just smile, nod, and ignore it all.
Here are some of some of the worst of society’s responses to your loss:
1) “Don’t feel bad.”
You’ve gotta be kidding. Of course you’re going to feel bad, and you should. It’s only natural, healthy, and emotionally honest to feel bad when you’ve suffered a painful loss. The only way you’re going to heal is to feel bad first. If you suppress your true feelings, you will never recover. “Don’t feel bad” is usually followed by another comment tailored to the situation:
- A sick pet: “…He was so sick, and he cost you so much time and money, you’re better off without him.”
- Any Death: “…God needed him/her more than you did.”
2) Any comment about replacing your loss.
When your first pet died, what did Mom or Dad say? “Don’t worry, we’ll get you another one.” But you didn’t want another one, you wanted the one you had! When your pet dies, others may think you need an immediate replacement. They would be wrong!
3) “Why bother crying, it won’t do you any good.”
When you hear this comment while you’re grieving your pet’s death, you’ll then begin to think that you’re supposed to keep your feelings to yourself and that no one is interested in how you feel or in comforting you. You’ll also interpret this as meaning that it’s best not to speak about death or the feelings that are associated with it.
4) “Just give it time.”
While time does help us heal, time all by itself will not help. It’s what we do during that time that can help us heal. Thinking that time is all you need will lead you to erroneously believe that you don’t have to do anything about grief, that time will take care of everything. This is as helpful as saying that if you fall down the stairs and break your arm, you don’t have to do anything about it, just wait and time will heal your arm. A broken heart hurts just as much as a broken arm, and must be tended to as soon as possible. We all know people who are still mourning a loved one (or a beloved pet) who died 20 years ago, a mourner who is still waiting for “time to heal.”
Time is neutral. It only heals if we engage in healing actions. Time by itself just passes.
5) “Be strong for (insert name of relative or other person).”
I can still hear my uncle saying to me right after I’d been told that my father had died, “Melvin, you have to be the man of the house now.” First of all, I hardly ever saw my father during the week. He worked every day except Sunday, so I had absolutely no idea what “the man of the house” did. And, second, I was all of 12 years old. I was not a man, and didn’t want to be one yet.
We all need to be needed, to feel as if our lives matter, especially after someone whose life mattered to us has died. But, to tell us to be strong for others (our families, our other pets, our friends), without allowing us to “be weak for ourselves,” just doesn’t work. No one should say something like this to anyone, no matter how old the mourner is.
6) “Keep busy.”
Mourners are often told to keep busy so they don’t have time to dwell on their feelings. This faulty advice is meant to protect us from our pain, but it never works. It just encourages us to hide from reality, to pretend that nothing is wrong. We all know from experience what happens if we do this: hiding from our feelings only postpones the inevitable confrontation with grief that we so desperately need in order to heal our hearts. The longer you hide from your feelings the more painful it will be when they finally explode out of their cave.
So what’s the best response from others when your pet dies?
A big hug for you, and “I’m sorry, it must hurt so bad.”