College of Veterinary Medicine
Pet Memorial Program
Dos and Don’ts when Talking with a Friend in Grief
What TO do
- Listen in a non-judgmental manner
- Let them ‘tell their story’ as many times as they need to
- Ask them how they are doing
- Offer to help—repeat this offer
- Let your friend know you are there for them
- Share with them your wonderful memories of the companion animal who has died
- Share that there are NO right or wrong behavior for grieving—everyone is different.
- Reflect on the feelings they are expressing and help them explore them and the reality of the death
- Know that they may have emotional set backs
- Be there for them in the days as well as weeks, months, and years following the death
- Allow periods of silence
- Know that your friend will always grieve the loss but will learn to live with it
- Help them celebrate the life of the one they have lost
- Help those who are in the process of grieving develop the rituals they need to get through those early difficult times
- If the person who is in grief is suicidal it is your moral and ethical responsibility to refer them to a mental health professional
- Offer suggestions to help them through their grief such as Memorializing a Pet
What NOT to do
- Do NOT impose a timeline for feeling better—there is no timeline for grief
- Do NOT tell them you know exactly how they feel—no one can ever experience pain, grief, and loss in exactly the same way
- Do NOT tell them time heals all or that the person or animal they loved is in a better place.
- Do NOT try to ‘fix them’ or make it all better—no one can ever do that
- Do NOT use euphemisms that tend to deny the extent of the loss
- Do NOT get a new pet for your friend!!
- Do NOT tell them they can ‘get another dog/cat etc’
- Do NOT compare one griever’s loss or experience to another’s. Comparisons are attempts to minimize the loss or to force the griever to behave the right way
- Do NOT encourage them to make major changes in their life
- Do NOT suggest they medicate their pain with alcohol or tranquilizing drugs. Avoiding the immediate symptoms of grief can ultimately lead to complicated and unresolved grief
- Do NOT scold, give advice, lecture or pep talks to them when they are feeling down—let the grief process take its course.