Pet Loss | Pet Grief | Pet Loss Support

Pet Loss Is a Life Bomb

Bonnie Kreitler
ILLUMINATION-Curated
6 min readNov 3, 2023

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A life bomb is an event that blows your life’s status quo to bits. Here are some suggestions for comforting a friend grieving the loss of their pet.

Author photo of crystal sun catcher from Pet Perennials

A life bomb is an event that disrupts some part of the support system someone depends on to navigate life.

They get fired. A hurricane destroys their home. Their spouse or child becomes seriously ill.

Their dog dies.

Pets are a big part of the personal “life support” system of most animal lovers.

When they lose a pet, they get a little lost, too.

We pat ourselves on the back for being a good person when we rescue an animal. The reality is that they are often rescuing us. We need them as much as they need us.

We lean on our pets for companionship, for acceptance of who we are, of the way we are, and for their unconditional love.

They also get us outside for fresh air, exercise, and socialization, which adds to our lives, too.

Losing that kind of life support blows a big hole in our lives.

When a friend loses their pet support, how do you reach out to them in some meaningful way?

Here are some suggestions:

Witness Their Pain

Allowing someone to tell their story without interruption is a great gift.

Say, “I heard (the pet’s name) died. I’m so sorry.” Then allow space in the conversation for them to respond. Or not, if they so choose.

If they want to talk about what happened, listen actively.

Ask questions to encourage them to tell you about what happened. Avoid offering your own stories or giving advice.

Call them on the phone. Go to visit them. Take them out for lunch. Or a beer. Allow them to process their grief in whatever way works for them.

Time and attention are great gifts.

Give a Physical Gift

A gift doesn’t have to be fancy. It could be something as simple as taking some cookies. Or sending flowers. Or inviting them for coffee or a glass of wine.

Have a great photo of their pet on your phone? Present them with a print of it in a simple frame.

As a writer, I love to give books as gifts. Mary Oliver’s Dog Songs is a favorite to give adults when a pet dies. I send my book, When Winnie Went Away, a fictional journey through pet grief, to family and friends with children and teens when they lose a canine family member.

The internet offers endless possibilities for printing a picture on a mug or T-shirt or pillow or other mementos.

I’ve received several beautifully presented pet loss gifts (like the suncatcher in the picture) from the pet grief website Pet Perennials. Etsy’s website offers hundreds of possibilities, some with customization options. Plug “pet loss gifts” into a search bar, and a slew of possibilities shows up.

A gift says you care about them and empathize with their pain.

Share Memories

Create an opportunity for your friend to share their memories, even if that brings tears. Tears can be cathartic.

Consider a long, listening phone call, lunch, a walk, or just sitting together somewhere.

Share your memories of their pet, especially ones that encourage laughter.

Are you and your friend part of a group that meets together regularly? Gather the group for a lovefest about the pet where everyone shares stories.

Recalling the good parts of a pet’s life can balance the trials that often come with end-of-life events.

A gift of a journal to capture memories ticks both the gifts and memories boxes. You can find many options on websites like Amazon and Etsy. Photo gift sites like Shutterfly let you create a custom journal with a pet’s picture on the cover.

If you’re too far away to console your friend in person, try a long, listening phone call. If you have a story about your friend’s pet that you could share, write it down and send it in a letter (more personal than an email and a thoughtful gesture that can continue to soothe when reread).

Recalling memories, especially good times and goofy antics, is good medicine.

Hold a ceremony

Any gathering of friends to share memories is a simple ceremony of sorts.

Make it more purposeful by declaring its purpose. Ask each person to come to the gathering with a photo, a story, or a meaningful memento (like a tennis ball or a stuffed animal as a reminder of how a particular pet enjoyed chasing or deconstruction) for the bereaved pet person.

I read about a woman who created a tribute event for her passed pet by inviting friends to meet around her firepit, asking each person to write a short message to her pet on paper and then toss the paper into the fire while she and her friends tossed down wine.

You might toss a favorite toy into the fire. For example, you might toss some catnip or a feather toy into the fire at a cat ceremony.

For a horse, toss in a program for a show the horse competed in, some hay, a lead rope, or a tuft of tail hair. Serve molasses cookies along with carrot and apple slices at that gathering.

The purpose is serious, but the presentation can be a playful way to cheer your friend and encourage those cathartic conversations.

Organize a group walk with your friend and others in a location the dog particularly enjoyed. In town. Out in nature. At a dog park. Whatever the pet’s favorite place.

Ask yourself how your friend might enjoy honoring their pet’s memory in the company of friends.

Create a memorial

A memorial is a lasting physical remembrance of a pet.

We planted a dogwood tree when a heart dog named Tory died. Her ashes went into the hole we dug first, then the tree. Since then, two other dogs have joined her there. A heart-shaped rock that fell out of our stone wall leans against the tree today as a reminder of their presence.

But not everyone has room for a tree.

Offer your friend a perennial indoor or outdoor plant to plant in their pet’s memory. Add a stone with the pet’s name painted on it. Etsy and other gift sites offer pet memorial possibilities from budget to budget-busting.

Help a friend create a small indoor shrine for their pet by giving them a small framed photo and a candle to set beside it on a table. I cherish a lovely guardian angel a friend gave me from the Willow Tree collection which also includes pet-centric gifts. Or, again, just add that simple painted rock.

Create and print out a photo collage using one of the free templates available on the internet. Or check your phone album and go all out with a hardcover, bound photo memory book printed by online services like Shutterfly or Vistaprint.

Memorials are lasting gifts.

It’s the thought that counts

Think about what your friend might find comforting now that they’ve lost their pet’s companionship.

Some people like to get out, do things, and keep busy. That’s what helps them deal with grief’s pokey edges.

Others might like a little private space to process how the end went down. To accept the finality of the loss.

Don’t be afraid to ask them what they need.

Be available. Check in.

Support from friends is one of the best gifts someone moving through grief toward hope can receive.

What was the most memorable way a friend supported you when you lost an animal companion? Share it in the comments for others to consider.

© Bonnie Kreitler 2023. All rights reserved.

Writer Bonnie Kreitler creates content to help fellow animal addicts build rewarding relationships with the critters in their lives. Her newest book, When Winnie Went Away, is a fictional journey through pet grief.

Links in my articles may be affiliate links that earn Rambling Dog a tiny bit of commission kibble at no cost to you.

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Bonnie Kreitler
ILLUMINATION-Curated

Author, journalist, animal addict, observer, and explorer creating connections between our critter relationships and life lessons at ramblingdog.com