How to Support a Friend Who Lost Their Pet
Over the last year, one thing has become abundantly clear: Many Milwaukeeans have turned to their pets to help them endure the challenges that have rolled in one right after another.
We can say the same for our staff at Krause Funeral Homes. Our grief therapy dog, Bennie, has brought us so much joy during times of sadness, exhaustion, and difficulty. Through it all, Bennie still exhibits uninhibited joy. He still needs his routine, which involves a lot of play and fresh air. He still acts like he hasn’t seen us in days when we walk through the door – even if we’ve just been away for five minutes.
Bennie so much more than a pet; he’s a member of the family and we can’t imagine our funeral homes without his wagging tail, smiling face, and calm demeanor.
Thinking of how much we love Bennie brings to mind our therapy dog who came before him. Oliver, who belonged to Krause Funeral Home President Mark Krause, his wife, Joan, and their daughter, Nicole, died back in 2011 and will always hold a special place in our hearts. Like Bennie, Oliver also found a special niche at the funeral home.
You know how you can feel stress melting away when you spend time with your favorite animal? That’s the legacy Oliver left behind. Not only did he spread happiness at our funeral homes, but he also enjoyed visiting schools and nursing homes in the Milwaukee area. From students to seniors, you can imagine the attention he received – and he took it all in stride.
When Oliver died, we didn’t “just” lose a pet. We lost a source of unconditional love, comfort, companionship, and joy. Through this experience, we also came to understand how to support others who lose their beloved animal companion.
A pet’s death dramatically changes everyday life. And sometimes, other people don’t understand the depth and complexity of the sorrow that follows.
If you have a friend or family member who has recently lost a pet, here’s how you can help:
- Acknowledge the loss and express your sympathy. Call them. Send a pet-specific sympathy card in the mail. If appropriate, you might even stop by in person to see how they’re doing.
- Talk about setting aside time to acknowledge the loss, pay tribute, and share memories. A funeral is a helpful step toward healing. We see every day how the ritual of gathering together to pay tribute to a loved one can help with the grieving process. The same applies to pets. There’s something about setting aside time for a final farewell, feeling the support of others, and sharing stories and memories that cannot be replicated. This may be a funeral or memorial at the burial or scattering of cremated remains at a significant location.
- A good listener can put people at ease during times of grief. To get the conversation going, you may want to ask:
“What did you love most about your pet?”
“What will you miss the most?”
“Remind me how you and your pet found each other?”
“Are you doing anything to help you remember how much your pet meant to you?”
“Tell me a good story about . . .”
- Follow up. It is very important to stay in touch after the death of a pet. Milestones like birthdays and holidays are often difficult, as is the void that is left behind.
- Remind them that you can’t rush grief. One unique element of pet loss is that some people will try to downplay the pain. They might say, “It’s only a cat!” or “It’s only a dog!” Of course your animal companion was much, much more. People grieve differently and it’s important to be patient along the way.
- Help your friend find others who have also lost their pet. We can’t say enough how helpful it is to talk with others who have experienced the death of a pet. There are pet loss support groups and you can check online message boards from the comfort of home. Many people have told us that their best sources of support following the loss of their pet came from people outside of family and friends. Don’t hesitate to reach out to find those who can relate to what you’re going through.
Experiencing death may be an inevitable part of pet ownership, but it’s never easy. Remember that we’re here for you through all of life’s ups and downs. No matter the type of loss, we are the kind of compassionate neighbor you can turn to day or night. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us anytime.