Making Conversation: How To Talk About Grief & Pet Loss


Grief is a natural part of life. As an emotional response to the loss of someone or something close to you, it can also be unpredictable and overwhelming. 

The grieving process never has a set pattern or a guaranteed timeframe. It may take six months for some, but it can take years. Ultimately, it is an innate human response to losing a family member, friend, or even a pet. 

Some people tend to undermine the relationship between humans and animals, focussing on their differences rather than the companionship built. However, attachments formed with animals are as significant as those created with humans, with great potential to positively benefit pet owners' health

Pets can provide social support and a sense of purpose, reducing the likelihood that the owner will experience loneliness and depression. So understandably, when a companion animal dies, the grieving process may be similar to what we experience following the death of a human being.

Despite the evident research showing the emotional connection humans can form with their pets, there is often a fear that others won’t acknowledge or validate this type of grief. Pushing past these social barriers and talking about loss is one of the best ways to get through the grieving process and take control of your emotions. 

We understand it can be difficult to talk about personal grief, or communicate with those who are grieving, so we have provided a list of advice to support you and your loved ones throughout the process. 

Talking About Your Grief

After a death, we are likely to experience a range of intense emotions and feelings ranging between sadness, anger, anxiety, panic, guilt, and numbness. 

This wide range of emotions not only has the potential to be overwhelming but can also affect our way of thinking. It can cause us not to think straight and convince ourselves that we will never get over it. Expressing your feelings and talking about these thoughts can help you regain clarity. 

If you don’t feel comfortable disclosing exactly what you are feeling and how it affects you, just sharing that you are struggling with the ones close to you can be a huge source of relief. It can also assist them in empathising with your situation and support you as you continue to grieve in your own way.

Create a talking point 

If discussing your feelings isn’t your strong suit, finding talking points in the form of memorabilia, memorials, or funerals can be extremely helpful. Not to mention, tangible objects and events are more permanent measures to keep the memory of your pet alive.

Items like urns not only provide a beautiful vessel for holding your beloved pet's ashes but are a symbol of your pets life. When people come into your home, they can also be catalysts for heartwarming conversation. 

Express yourself through writing 

If talking through your grief doesn’t feel right for you, journaling, writing poems, writing letters, or any other way you enjoy expressing yourself can be an effective way of channelling your grief into something beautiful. 

Words are notoriously powerful, especially in times of grief. Writing and reading a eulogy at your pet's cremation is another opportunity for you to find relief while also celebrating the life of your pet and the beautiful impact they had on yours. 

Join a companion loss support group

Unfortunately, not everyone has the level of empathy to comprehend pet loss and how it can influence the grieving process. If you struggle to find someone who can empathise with your grief, consider joining a companion animal loss support group.

Finding a sense of community has proven helpful when dealing with grief as a great way to share with others who have had similar experiences. Some animal clinics and vet’s offer these. However, the digital space is a great place to start and fosters many niche communities.

Consider age-appropriate language when sharing with children 

Children are more naive of the nuanced emotions of life. It is important to share your grieving process with children in a delicate manner while also allowing them to grieve. 

It is always best to focus on the truth about your pets death, so there is no dishonesty or confusion. This includes talking about the death of a pet directly rather than using phrases like “they have gone” or “they went to sleep”, which can be confusing or distressing for children to understand. 

Children are naturally curious, so let them as many questions as they need, and consider sharing the news with your children's school teachers and parents of friends. A little context can go a long way.

Supporting a Grieving Loved One

Whether you have experienced pet loss or not, everyone grieves differently. It can be difficult to know how to respond in times of distress and uncertainty, even to the ones closest to you. 

What to say?

Delicate conversations are never easy, as you likely always have the person's best interest at heart. Ultimately, you want to acknowledge the person’s loss and make it clear that you are more than happy to listen. 

A phrase like “I am so sorry for your loss” is a good place to start, and referring to their animal by name is a simple yet meaningful way to acknowledge the importance of their loss.   

Don’t underestimate listening

It is one thing to ask all the right questions, but it is another to listen. Show them that you care by listening attentively. 

It can be frustrating to hear stories told repeatedly, but at the end of the day, it is their time to grieve. All you have to do is listen in a non-judgmental manner. Allowing for periods of silence is important and a great way to show that you are not in a rush for them to grieve but are there to support them.

Don’t provide unsolicited advice 

Nothing is worse during a period of emotional distress and grief than being told how to feel or what to do. As much as providing advice may come from a place of love, telling someone the best way to respond during such an emotionally turbulent time is never helpful. 

Send a memorial card

If you are still struggling to find the right words to verbalise to your loved one, never underestimate the power of a handwritten card. 

No matter the circumstance, sending a card to express your condolences will be greatly appreciated. You don’t have to write a lengthy or poetic letter, just a few words to express your sorry’s will let your loved one know you are thinking of them. 

What not to say?

We never mean to offend the ones we love, but as mentioned, these times of grief can be tricky. There are a few particular phrases that you should avoid saying: 

  • Don’t tell them that you know how they feel. Grief is an individual experience.

  • Don’t tell them to “just think about the good times”. Nothing is worse than toxic positivity. 

  • Never compare situations or say, “It could be worse”. This is not relevant or helpful. 

  • Don’t focus on timelines; grief is never linear. 

  • Never tell them, “just get a new pet”. This is not about replacing a loss.

  • Don’t use euphemisms. They deny the context of loss and simplify complex emotions. 

Human-animal companionships are extremely beautiful, and the end of a pets life can be as equally disruptive. Ultimately, losing a pet is like losing anyone close to your life, meaning grief is generally inevitable. 

For more advice on coping with the loss of a pet, contact Patch and Purr today. We can help you through the grieving process by providing support resources, cremation services, and memorabilia to keep the memory of your pet alive.

The information contained in this article is general in nature and does not take into account your personal situation. You should consider whether the information is appropriate to your needs, and where appropriate, seek professional advice.


    Grief factsheets

    If you’re in need of some extra support in the days and weeks following your pet’s passing, take a look at these handy guides written by leading figure in grief and empathy education and author of "When Pets Die: It's Alright To Grieve,"  Doris Zagdanski. 


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