By Farah Dahabi, Grief Support Specialist and Director of Mental Health First Aid at the LightHouse Arabia
Our pets are family members that companion us through life’s joys and sorrows, offering unconditional love, laughter, unspoken affection, and entertainment. Over half of the world’s population owns a pet, with a cat or dog being the most common furry companion. Aside from being a lovely addition to a family, simply cuddling or holding a pet can decrease stress levels, feelings of loneliness and even reduce physical pain and blood pressure.
Where there is love, there also comes grief at some point . The only cure to grief is to grieve. Grief is the inner experience of loss, and it has no end point. Each person’s grief reaction will be different depending on their personality, attachment to their pet, and the circumstances surrounding the loss. There is no right or wrong way to grieve a loved one. The most defining feature of grief is that it arrives in unexpected waves; it can feel like having your back to the ocean and never knowing when the waves may arrive or what the size of those waves may be.
Pet owners also experience disenfranchised grief, where friends tend to dismiss or not acknowledge the scale of the grief of losing a beloved pet which further complicates the grieving process. If grief is ignored or anaesthetized, it is more likely to rise in the form of depression, anxiety disorders, addiction, or physical illness.
Our tips for Grieving Pet Owners:
Acknowledge your grief is just as valid as losing a person.
Know that there’s no right or wrong way to grieve and that grief gets softer with time, but it has no endpoint.
Grief has no set stages, and your healing journey will not be linear.
Give yourself permission to process all feelings with compassion. Do not say anything to yourself that you would not say to someone you love or respect.
Our tips for Supporting a Friend whose Grieving a Pet:
Offer solidarity through listening, not advice-giving. Grief cannot be solved, only supported.
Do not say things like “It was just a dog/cat”, “You have to accept this”, or any statement that begins with “At least.”
Say their pet’s name. By saying their name, you are not triggering their grief but reminding the person of their pets life.
Ask Open-ended Questions. You may ask questions like “What has your grief been like this week or month?” or “Would you feel more comfortable telling me more about what your pet was like?”
Have empathy. Try understanding how you may feel if you were in their place. You may say, “That sounds really difficult to go through”, “I can’t imagine what this is like for you”, or “I’m here to listen if you’d like to talk.”