How to help a person through the loss of a pet

I’m so sorry I’ve been neglecting my blog. The past six months has gone by so quickly. Mum and I continue to miss Chelsea every day – but I’m so glad for all the memories of my special, amazing little Labrador. I thought I’ write a quick blog though to try and help other people who may be experiencing the loss of their pet – and also to gently advise people of how they can help – or not help someone who’s pet has died. Warning: These are only my opinions – and I take no responsibility for any offence anyone may take at my suggestions. Things which are helpful: Let yourself grieve – in any way you want. Cry, scream, or, allow the numbness to wash over you for as long as it takes. Nobody can tell you how long to grieve, or how to do it. I’d describe my grief as being like a faulty bath. I’d be aware of it dripping away in the background, but I could more or less cope. Then something would happen and the taps would just burst into life. I was out with Friends the other day and I heard a song which my guide dog trainer played on the radio on the first day I started training with Chelsea. I just started crying! Talk about your pet if you want to – with those who knew them the most. Mum misses Chelsea lots as well – and we talk about her almost every day. Don’t do anything you feel you should. If you want to scatter your pet’s ashes – do it. If you want to keep them on your chest of drawers – or on your coffee table – that’s fine. Ask the person about their pet. I love talking to people about Chelsea. People who never met her don’t share the feelings I do – so it’s great to have a chat with someone about all the funny things she did. Lastly, pay special attention to any other pets you have – love them, hug them and tell them it’s OK. Jimmey missed Chelsea as well – and it was heart-breaking when he sniffed her blanket when Mum and I returned home after Chelsea died. Now, some things which I feel are not helpful to say to a person who’s lost a pet. Never, ever say “I know how you feel!” or “I know how it feels!” you don’t – because you’re not me! Also, it can feel quite false at times. I tend to say: “It’s awful isn’t it! I don’t know what to say!” You’re acknowledging the feelings of the other person – without making it all about you. A dear friend, who has had guide dogs but hasn’t had to face the awfulness of the last chapter sent me a lovely Email. It was straight from the heart and – like all the lovely messages I had about my Chelsea, I’ve kept it. Please don’t tell someone who loses a pet at an older age: “Well, she was 14!” It’s horrible when a pet dies young – I know that! But, it’s just as bad when the pet has had a long and happy life. I might say to someone who asks how old Chelsea was: “Well, she was 14 years and 3 months – but we still miss her heaps!” But that’s my choice and I wouldn’t tell somebody they were lucky to have her for such a long time. Now, this is tricky – people mean well when they say it – but be very careful about jumping in with: “So, will you get another dog now?” Timing is important with this one – as well as barrel loads of sensitivity. Lots of people asked Mum this – when it was the last thing on her mind. Lastly, don’t be afraid of talking about the pet. Funny stories, things they did. Not everybody will know your pet has died. I went to see a friend the day after Chelsea died – and a man came up to me and asked how she was. More crying – which is embarrassing for other people I know, but my friend explained to him what had happened – and I told him it was OK to talk about her. Not everybody will want to talk – and that’s totally fine as well. The last point is to just grieve how you feel you want to – and for anyone going on the awful journey of loss with a friend – be there, be kind and just listen.

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