When a friend loses a human family member, we tend to shower them with condolences and other sympathy gifts, cooked meals, and calls to check in for weeks and months to help them through the full range of emotional stages of grief. We remember special occasions that were meaningful to them - those that might bring back painful memories of what they have lost.
When it’s a pet who dies, fewer people acknowledge the loss itself, and even fewer are there for the duration of the mourning process. Pet grief is real - as with any family member, people grieve the loss of an animal companion deeply. It doesn’t usually resolve quickly. In fact, many people experience reminders that can pop up and trigger a flood of emotions as the weeks, months, and even years march on.
Grief doesn’t go away for our friends. Therefore, we shouldn’t stop being there for them.
There are many opportunities - throughout the calendar - for you to show the people in your life who have experienced the death of a pet that you know that their pain is still present. We'll walk you through a few of the most significant grief milestones that you may wish to acknowledge - and some ways to show your support during those times.
Sample Pet Loss Sympathy Note Timings and Quote Ideas
First Month Anniversary Following a Pet's Death
This might be the first milestone that will send your friend back through the grief cycle. Try a beautiful pet-loss sympathy card with a loving sentiment. Perhaps include a picture of their pet in a lovely frame if you think it appropriate. If you live close by, you can offer to take him or her out for a cup of coffee or go for a stroll on the day of the anniversary.
Significant Annual Holidays
The holidays - Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hannukah, New Year's - in particular can open the floodgates for a pet parent following their animal’s death. The precious cat of a friend of mine died just two weeks before Christmas, so that year it was especially tough for her - they didn’t have any gifts for their kitty under the tree.
Most likely, regardless of whether a holiday was especially poignant with his or her pet, sending a card around significant annual events is appropriate. For example, you might write:
“I know that this Christmas is rough without Patch. You’re in my thoughts and prayers as you go through the season.”
A Pet's Birthday and Other Anniversaries
If your friend routinely threw a birthday celebration for his or her rabbit or horse or bird, the first birthday without their animal companion can be brutal. This would be a good time to drop a note in the mail to let them know you’re thinking of them. Appropriate sentiments might include:
“I’m sure today is difficult, and I want you to know that I’m thinking of you and remembering Toto as well,” or “I can’t believe it’s been a year. We’re thinking of you and remembering Spot’s wagging tail.”
The Anniversary of a Pet's Death
Similarly, the anniversary of the pet’s death can be an emotional experience. This one can be especially traumatic as the time of year and the actual day may bring back a flood of memories of the final days and the grief in the immediate aftermath. Be sure to make a note for yourself to be especially sensitive around the one-year mark. Sending a card, taking your friend out for a drink to toast his or her her pet, or offering to visit the grave site with them are all ways you can show your support. You may want to try the count-up timer to mark the grief anniversary for yourself I talk about in this article.
Avoid Writing This in Your Sympathy Card
The goal of a sympathy card sent to commemorate the loss of a pet is to make someone feel better. Certain phrases can have the opposite effect. To help you express your feelings with sensitivity, here are some things to stay away from:
- Avoid suggesting you understand the pain.
- Don't try to predict how they will feel in the future since each person’s grief experience is different.
- Stear clear of comments that bring up raw emotions, such as “she was so young” or “how terrible that was”.
- Don's say, “This happened for a reason” since it rarely provides true comfort. We've got another full article on what not to say to a someone grieving pet loss.
We've got a full article on what kinds of phrases and sentiments to avoid to make it easy to express your compassion during times of pet loss.
We all need someone there as we go through our stages of grief. A simply-worded card that let’s a friend know you're thinking of them can mean the world when they think everyone else has forgotten their grief. The ones I received - from my parents and the local vet and a few friends - were incredibly meaningful to me. They showed that these individuals cared about my pain and would be willing to support me through the process. Thankfully for the most part, they were well-worded and kindly given. May you find this guidance useful as you seek to provide similar comfort to your friends going through pet loss.
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