“It was just a dog.” Or cat. Or bird, rabbit, rat, lizard, snake, hamster, hedgehog or any other animal that was near and dear to your heart. How can five small words cause so much pain?
First of all, let’s assume that the person who uttered those words had the best intentions (there are exceptions, I know). They saw you hurting and were trying to help, soften the blow, ease the pain. What they didn’t realize is that phrase is like a punch in the gut when you’re already down and out.
Here’s the Truth
The truth is those five words minimize your loss. That statement can make you feel:
• Judged, embarrassed, ashamed and awkward
• That your emotions aren’t normal
• That you don’t have a right to grieve because your loss wasn’t “significant” enough
At the heart of it these words are dismissive. Somehow it sounds like they are diminishing the life of your pet and the value you placed on the relationship.
And this is where you get into trouble. Instead of allowing your feelings to flow naturally so that you can heal, you start to stuff them down and avoid them. You put on a brave face even though your heart is broken and the pain still lingers.
I remember when I was grieving the loss of my first pet. With each careless comment, I started to question my feelings. Was I over-reacting? Was I taking to long to “get over” it? I became convinced I was doing this grief thing all wrong.
Here’s what I know now. The depth of my grief was in direct relation to the depth of my love for my cats. My feelings were normal. And so are yours.
This Is Your Pet Loss Journey
Do not let others take away your right to grieve. Do not let others tell you how to feel. Think about that. What if you didn’t worry about being judged? What happens when you can just feel the way you feel? You’re able to work through your loss in a normal and healthy way, that’s what happens.
Now when I hear someone say “it was just a _____”, it motivates me to examine more closely how we can all better support people through pet loss. Ok, I’ll be honest, it also makes me hope that the ghost of one of my cat’s will pay that individual a visit and pee in their shoe while they’re sleeping. But that’s not going to elevate the conversation we have about pet loss at a societal level. It starts with understanding and empathy.
If someone says something hurtful to you don’t bother arguing with them about whether your grief is appropriate. You need to focus on yourself and your needs. Instead you can:
- Acknowledge how their words made you feel and reflect on why you felt that way. You can think about it or journal about it. For example:
“Wow, it really hurt when Beth said that it was just a dog. I noticed a tightness in my chest and I had to catch my breath. It hurt because I loved Luna so much and she was a part of my family. It also hurt because I consider Beth a friend and I feel let down that she didn’t understand.”
- Seek out people that do understand, like other pet parents. You may even want to look beyond your close circle of family and friends, as sometimes the support you need may come from outside of that group.
Express Your Emotions
The only way out of your emotions is through them. Want to sit at home tonight and look at photos of your pet and bawl your eyes out while eating a pint of ice cream? Go for it. Feeling angry and upset that your pet is no longer with you and need a physical release? Go to the gym and let it all out on that punching bag. Don’t feel like crying? That’s fine too.
We express our grief in different ways and that may change from one moment to the next. Don’t let others prevent you from grieving or expressing your emotions in a way that feels right to you. This is your unique journey.
I’m curious… What did someone say that you found helpful? Drop a note in the comments below.
Copyright © 2018 Jen Burton