Helping friends deal with a pet death
December 1, 2013 3:39 PM   Subscribe

My friends’ cat died yesterday. How can I help them?

My friends’ cat died yesterday. They sent out a mass text this morning letting everyone know what happened. The cat was getting up there (13) but they thought they had years left with him.

They are devastated and in the text asked us all to refrain from calling or texting them for a few days – they aren't even really able to discuss it yet. I’d like to do something for them- I was thinking of having a plant of flowers delivered, but maybe someone has a better idea? What did friends/family do when your beloved pet died that helped?
posted by aviatrix to Pets & Animals (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
People have sent cards, as well as email and texts (but I did not specify no texts). And this is recent - we had to put our oldest cat to sleep just two weeks ago. They really might just want a little time of no externally-generated reminders; they have plenty in their living space. I'm still catching glimpses of Lady from the corner of my eye, and looking to spot where she liked to sleep.

When they're ready to resurface, tell them how sorry you are, and ask if there's anything in particular you can do - I've had friends (and vets!) who donated to shelters and and veterinary research institutions in my pets' names. Thanks for being such a thoughtful friend.
posted by rtha at 3:48 PM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

When this happened to me not so very long ago, I asked for some time--just as your friends did.

The people who were the most comforting and helpful to me were the ones who respected that request and who just sent along their thoughts by e-mail or letters. I got a few lovely plants, and a friend of mine also asked (by e-mail) if he could come by one night with dinner. Both were perfect gestures.

One other thing: Avoid asking them if they're going to get another pet. This is the worst kind of question to be asked and probably also the worst kind of conversation topic for people who are grieving.
posted by yellowcandy at 4:03 PM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

The most important thing is the thing that I think will clearly come naturally to you: take it seriously. It's real grief, and it will take them time to get over, and they will experience a certain number of encounters with people who look at them slightly puzzled and say, "But ... it was a cat." I think as long as you respect what they've asked for and take it seriously, whatever you decide will be received with appreciation. The flowers are a nice idea, but I can't imagine a note wouldn't also be a lovely gesture. But if they've asked for a few days with no e-mails or texts at all, I'd wait a few days to send anything. They really may be just trying to get their equilibrium, and if they want radio silence right now, I'd delay even the note/flowers/what have you.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 4:03 PM on December 1, 2013 [8 favorites]

We also had to put a well-loved elderly cat to sleep a couple of weeks ago. We posted the news on FB and emailed/called family who had known the cat. Our friends mostly responded by the same method. I'm still not entirely ready to discuss it beyond the flat facts of the case. I second Linda_Holmes: taking their grief seriously is the best thing you can do along with respecting their request. A note or flowers would be a lovely gesture on top of that after they're ready for company.

Also seconding yellowcandy: don't ask about getting another pet.
posted by immlass at 4:29 PM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

What helped me was people sharing their sadness - one friend said he was sorry not to have been able to say goodbye to our cat and another said she missed him too. Little comments like that meant a lot. And generally people have demonstrated great care for our feelings - even family members who don't like cats have been respectful of our feelings, so I would let your friends guide you on that.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 4:34 PM on December 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Things that helped:

- "I'm so sorry, I know she meant a lot to you."
- "That really sucks, man." (similar, but welcome from guys who aren't wired for the first quote.)
- A donation has been given in your dog's name to a local shelter or advocacy organization (yes, even a donation from our awesome vet.)

Things that did NOT help:

- "Well, how OLD was she?"
- "You already have other dogs, right?"

Just recognize the significance of the life and its loss.
posted by jmcmurry at 4:48 PM on December 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

AFAIK shelters/rescues/etc are well set up to send along little "A donation has been made in memory of [pet's name]" cards.
posted by kmennie at 4:51 PM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, as someone looking down the barrel of a pet loss (cancer, 3rd time around, probably not very treatable this time) I already need what your friends are asking for - space - and I also need people to take it seriously.

You will know if they are the kind of people who are going to organize something to do with a pet charity after this, or whether they would appreciate you donating to some other charity in the pet's name, but it's a very nice idea.

After my friend's pet was euthanized at our vet's, they sent a note a couple weeks later (written by a volunteer, I think) - probably a couple weeks is as soon as anyone would want to hear anything. You're very sweet to be this thoughtful. Many people will not be, possibly even people who should know better. Your kindness and thoughtfulness will be remembered and appreciated.
posted by Medieval Maven at 5:02 PM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

One of my cats died about six months ago (at a very young age, unexpectedly), and I was taken by surprise by how sad/upset I got when it happened.

Mainly, I appreciated it when people said they were sorry about what happened. Not saying much was also fine. I don't think I would have wanted anyone to buy me anything (flowers etc); that would have been rather beside the point.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 5:34 PM on December 1, 2013

I personally would have appreciated being dragged out of the house to some kind of social things (lunch, dinner, museum) a few months afterward. Just ask.
posted by amtho at 6:48 PM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

What made me feel better was hearing confirmation that my cat had had the best life possible - he was with me from 10 weeks of age to 19 years, was never abused, always had enough to eat, always had medical care, always knew he was safe and loved to the very end, even when he was peeing on the carpet. (I could always get new carpet, I would only have this cat once)

I had to call a pet grief line to get this reassurance, but it was all I wanted to hear; I knew I couldn't have him forever. I wanted someone to tell me I had done the best I could to give him a good life while he lived. I knew I had but I needed to hear it anyway.

Just tell them that they gave kitty a wonderful life, and kitty knew s/he was loved. Kitty was among the luckiest of cats to have had such a happy life, all thanks to your friends.

Also: The Halting Problem and other cat eulogies by the same author.
posted by caryatid at 7:08 PM on December 1, 2013 [7 favorites]

Did you know the cat and/or like it? You could send a card saying how sorry you are for the friend's loss, and how sweet the cat was and what a great life he had, and maybe a little anecdote.

I agree with above about also acknowledging how painful it is to lose a pet.
posted by radioamy at 7:47 PM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

When my eldest dog died this summer, I sent a mass text to family and friends who had known her.

What helped me were the anecdotes and memories of her that several of my friends texted back to me. I also got a very touching sympathy card a few weeks later from her vet. I also would have welcomed mailed, handwritten notes of condolence, which is what I would send in your shoes, but I'd wait awhile given their request not to call or text for a few days.

What upset me was when a (now-ex) friend texted me back a one word response: "Sorry." It seemed cold and insufficient, particularly given that my dog had inspired her to get her dog of the same breed. New rule: no one-word sympathy texts.
posted by hush at 7:59 PM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Big ass hugs.
posted by oceanjesse at 10:15 PM on December 1, 2013

Hugs and comforting words about how the other person gave kitty a good life
posted by angrycat at 2:35 AM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

When our cat died back in the early part of this year, I was absolutely devastated. I cried reading this. I appreciated people taking it seriously and not mentioning it unless I brought it up. I had a card from relatives and one from a god-daughter and these actually made me really sad and I had to put them in an obscure place I couldn't see them. Be there for your friend, make sure they know you care, but maybe don't mention it. I would have been upset by gifts but touched by donations. Mind you, I'm quite sentimental and get overly moved by stuff.

In summary - follow your friend's lead, take them seriously, and whenever they talk about finding or not finding a new friend, accept - not "It's too soon" or "you should think about it" etc.
posted by LyzzyBee at 2:48 AM on December 2, 2013

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