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Supporting a friend who may lose a pet
May 5, 2011 9:28 AM   Subscribe

How to support and comfort a friend through the illness/loss of their pets? What helped you?

My best friend's cat unexpectedly became very sick, and the vet's not optimistic about her chances. In a stroke of extraordinarily bad luck, one of her parents' cats is gravely ill, too. (The two cats in question are unrelated, different ages, and live at different houses.) Needless to say, my friend's heartbroken and worried.

I've known my friend for over a decade, I've known her cat since she was a kitten, and I know how awful it is to lose a pet. I want to help however I can. I've told her I'm here for anything, and I'm keeping my phone close at hand as much as possible in case she calls or texts, but I feel like I should be doing something more concrete and tangible.

Note that I do not live within driving distance, so unfortunately I can't do anything in person. I plan on sending something if the worst happens.

I appreciate any suggestions you have. If you've been in a similar situation and something or someone helped you, I'd like to hear that too.
posted by anonymous to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
One of the hardest things when losing a beloved companion is when people don't do anything, viewing it as "just" a pet. Good on you for wanting to help.

Just talking is great, listening (or telling) funny stories about the pet. A card will be very welcome. I've never forgotten the friends who showed up with small flowers or made donations to the vet school or Humane Society.

Basically, acknowledging her grief is priceless. When my 22-year-old cat died, I was hurt not to hear from my brother. And then later found that my mom hadn't thought the news important enough to pass along. Sigh.
posted by cyndigo at 9:34 AM on May 5, 2011


The thing that comforted me most when Zach was reaching his end was that I had a circle of a few friends who agreed that, when the time came, they would be on call to be Zach's "honor guard" when I had to let him go. When I got to the point that I knew it'd be a matter of days, they all just kept their schedules as free as they could, and would be ready for my call or email letting them know "this is the time" and then they'd come and sit with me when it happened. (As it turned out, I picked a day, but then Zach took a turn for the worse the day before and I had to take him to the emergency vet and do it then -- but one of my friends still dropped what he was doing when he got my panicked "I need to go to the vet NOW!" call and came to join me.)

Presence is the thing that comforted me most. The only thing that I think could have also helped is, in the days when Zach still had some fight left in him, I sometimes needed an extra hand to hold him still for some of his medication -- but I'm not sure how practical that would be (unless you're ready to visit her every day at "drug time" or whatever).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:36 AM on May 5, 2011


Oh -- and one of the "Honor Guard" who ultimately wasn't going to be in town the day I finally let Zach offered to plan "a wake" in exchange (really, this just meant picking a day and saying, "hey, everyone who knew Zach, let's all meet at [X ] Bar and swap Zach stories").
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:38 AM on May 5, 2011


I didn't have pets as a kid, so I wasn't really prepared for how my first pet's death would affect me as an adult. My mother told me at the time that "Everything returns to the mind of its Creator," meaning that my beloved pet was with God. That did make me feel better.

When I worked at an animal shelter a few years ago, people called us all the time asking if we had various pet-related resources, and we had a huge binder full of phone numbers for people. One of those resources was for a local grief group for people mourning their pets. (Where I live, we've got a lot of old people outliving their companion animals.) I'd suggest calling local shelters in your friend's area and asking if they have any kind of similar resource.
posted by Gator at 9:40 AM on May 5, 2011


Not cat-specific, but a page with some resources for pet loss.
posted by inigo2 at 10:23 AM on May 5, 2011


*wince* I'm just now catching that you aren't in driving distance.

Hmm. Maybe just a standing offer to visit for a weekend of her choosing? Either a weekend her pet's still alive so she has someone to lean on a bit, or the weekend after she lets him go so...she has someone to lean on a bit?

I'd let her pick the date (and pick if she even wants this). Sometimes people process that kind of grief in a weird way; in the week after Zach died I went into this loopy housecleaning binge where I reorganized three entire closets and even did some remodeling. What I'm getting at is, if she turns you down for a visit, don't take that personally, she may just be working through stuff.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:28 AM on May 5, 2011


I lost a pet on Saturday. Things that are making me cry but also helping are:

--Friends that are checking in on how I'm holding up
--People who I've told at work (to explain why my face is randomly tear-streaked) acknowledging that I'm going through something sad
--Close friends that spent a lot of time with her telling me things that they'll always remember about her
--Telling my boyfriend what I'll miss about her and having him tell me things that he misses about her
--People telling me that we took good care of her
--Sending a donation to the humane society where we adopted her, along with a picture of her and a letter thanking them and telling them how much she's meant to us all these years
posted by amarynth at 10:38 AM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


What has helped me is being reminded that, while my pet was with me, it had a happy life and was well taken care of and much loved and that's so much more than most animals have. I took comfort in knowing that.
posted by rhartong at 10:54 AM on May 5, 2011


This is what happened to me, a little under two months ago.

A few things come to mind that really helped.

1. Listening. If your friend talks at long, long length abut her cat, her cat's life, her cat's illness and treatment, her own feelings, just listen.

2. Validation. One of the biggest things that helped actually came from my parents, with whom I have a rocky relationship. Every time I called my parents to let them know what I had chosen to do at every stage of my dog's illness and death (he had been the family dog we grew up with, who I took with me when I moved away) they said the following: "You're making the right choice, and we know the choices you make in the future will be the right ones too."

After my dog died, the worst feeling was that he would just fade into oblivion and nobody would remember him but me. So,

3. It helped SO much when people offered their condolences when he died, especially when they shared memories of him, especially those people who actually sent cards -- which I kept in my purse when I had to travel right after he died. I'm going to be keeping those cards forever, so I think one of the best things you could do is to write about as many memories of the cat that you can think of, just make it as long as you can. Let her know it's clear that you will never forget the cat.
posted by Ashley801 at 10:57 AM on May 5, 2011


When my dog died of cancer (3 weeks before my wedding! UGH), what really helped was people being willing to listen to me talk without rolling their eyes and thinking she was just a dog. That dog was my partner and friend while I was living alone, so she was way more than just a dog to me. Also, when she was diagnosed with cancer (and she lived a couple of months after the diagnosis) I was appreciative when people listened to me talk about my helplessness (how do you explain illness to a dog?) and about my guilt for not taking her to the vet sooner for the diagnosis. I had to process my helpless feelings and my friends really listened and helped me with that.

I still love the fact that even though it's been 10 years, my grandmother still talks about Savannah (the dog) and talks about how much Savannah would have loved playing with my nephews. To me, it means that she acknowledges the significant place Savannah had in my life and that means alot.

Excuse me...there's something in my eye. Must be allergies.
posted by MultiFaceted at 11:28 AM on May 5, 2011


Everybody's different, but I would encourage your friend to let her other friends know. Whenever I have lost an animal, I send an email to the people whom I know care about me, most of whom are already aware of how much my pet has meant to me over the years. I give specifics about what brought about their demise, but I also add happier notes, like what their last good days were like & what we did together, and funny things like silly nicknames bestowed upon my pet by friends.

This gives everyone a chance to offer support and offer their own warm and/or amusing anecdotes. It becomes like a big group hug. Not only am I cluing in my friends as to what's going on with me emotionally, I'm asking for their love and support. It helps get me through it every time since, as we all know, all of our animal friends depart our lives too quickly. Thank you for being there for your human friend!
posted by PepperMax at 12:19 PM on May 5, 2011


When my beloved dog was nearing the end of her life, I had a wonderful friend send me a plaster kit to make an imprint of her paw. The paw print sits on my desk and reminds me both of a wonderful creature who changed me forever and the profound kindness shown by a friend.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 12:42 PM on May 5, 2011


When a close friend's Golden Retriever became ill and died a few months ago, I donated to our local Golden Retriever rescue. I then sent a condolence card saying what I'd done, and expressed the hope that a dog like theirs would find a family like them through the rescue.

They've thanked me a couple of times for that, so I apparently hit the right note.
posted by workerant at 1:38 PM on May 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ms. Yuck had a twenty year old cat that could jump from the floor to the top of the fridge. It cracked its spine on the edge of the counter one day and we had to put him down. She was inconsolable until I went to the shelter and got a kitten.

When my Mom's dog died, she stayed upset ("I am without dog") until she got a puppy 5 months later.

Start a plot with people who live closer and get them a new cat. It helps and it is not something people who lose a pet can bring themselves to do.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 3:04 PM on May 5, 2011


Start a plot with people who live closer and get them a new cat. It helps and it is not something people who lose a pet can bring themselves to do.

Have to STRONGLY disagree with this here. Surprise gifts of pets to someone who didn't explicitly ask for them is one of THE main reasons that animal shelters are packed today.

It could also be extremely upsetting to the person who has just lost their pet -- "you think my pet is so interchangeable with any other pet that he could just be replaced that easily." Or, the new pet could be resented and unloved because he's not the old pet and doesn't fit the exact hole that the old pet left.

If the person IS thinking of getting another pet, they probably want to be the one to choose the pet themselves.

Also, sometimes, when a pet has been old and sick for a long time, maybe years, and has required a great deal of care, the pet's death brings with it a certain amount of freedom that can be a relief in a way. Not everyone wants to jump right back in.

I would very very strongly caution against this.
posted by Ashley801 at 4:40 PM on May 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


When my beloved Labrador died -- I was 7 when we got her, and 21 when she had to be put down, so she was there for my whole life -- my boyfriend said "Before, when she was still alive, there wasn't a lot you could do for her. You could love her, and you could help her, but she was still in pain. Now, though, you CAN help her; you can remember all the best times you had, when she was chasing squirrels or bounding through the woods or 'hiking' with you in that dog way where she runs ahead and then runs back and then runs ahead and then runs back, or her joy when she found something really smelly to roll in, or whatever. When you stop and think about those times, really experience them, I believe that wherever she is, she experiences them too."

I married that man, and that wasn't the only reason, but it was definitely a good sign for all the things that made him a good man. He really cared that I'd lost my dog, it was really important to him.
posted by KathrynT at 5:07 PM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


KathrynT: "Before, when she was still alive, there wasn't a lot you could do for her. You could love her, and you could help her, but she was still in pain. Now, though, you CAN help her; you can remember all the best times you had, when she was chasing squirrels or bounding through the woods or 'hiking' with you in that dog way where she runs ahead and then runs back and then runs ahead and then runs back, or her joy when she found something really smelly to roll in, or whatever. When you stop and think about those times, really experience them, I believe that wherever she is, she experiences them too."

Oh, is this making me cry. I lost Barney, my Welsh Terrier in February (he was less than 2 weeks away from his 15th birthday) and I'm still reeling from the loss. What's really helped me get through is all the support I've received from family and friends - on Facebook, via email, and even some cards in the mail. It's meant so much to read or hear other people's memories of him and see how many lives he touched other than mine.
posted by SisterHavana at 9:40 PM on May 5, 2011


We lost a very beloved bulldog this week. We only had her a year (adopted her at six years old, and she had a lot of special needs), but she was and always will be loved. Just having people check on us has been helpful. One important thing is to acknowledge the cat as not just a pet, but a family member. Just something as simple as "how's your girl doing?" instead of "how's your cat doing?" can make a big difference. Losing a pet can hurt very very bad, and showing you understand that it's not "just a pet" can mean a lot.
posted by azpenguin at 10:17 PM on May 5, 2011


It could also be extremely upsetting to the person who has just lost their pet -- "you think my pet is so interchangeable with any other pet that he could just be replaced that easily."

One of the questions that hurt the most when we lost Tessa last year was, "So, are you going to get another dog?" What, you think she was just some random dog? A dog that I can just replace by going and picking out another? Same person asked the same damn probing prying question when we lost another senior pet a couple of months later. Losing a pet isn't cause for celebration by acquiring a new pet. Pets aren't retail therapy.

Another really awful experience: being pinned in a corner and asked, "How are you FEELING?" This might work okay for other people, but not for us or for anyone we know. Frankly, we didn't want to talk about it unless we instigated the conversation.

The kindest and most thoughtful encounters were with people who sent a supportive message, offered to take us out to dinner, sent a card, or the one who brought us a fruit basket. They made it clear that they were there but they didn't insist on intruding, and didn't insist on asking questions that were painful.

I have a stack of pretty postcards that I like to send when people are going through tough times, often just with a little note that says "thinking of you" or "lots of love." It doesn't have to wait until the climax of the tough times, either; can send one or many.
posted by galadriel at 11:51 AM on May 6, 2011


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