When you lose a beloved pet, it can be a vulnerable and raw time. Yet some people seem not to know that. I prefer to think that these people aren’t being intentionally mean and really have no clue about responses that may be appropriate. Maybe I’m an optimist, but I recognize that we are all different.
That being said, here are some of the things I’ve heard (or imagined) that could be perceived as insensitive. And here are some suggested ways to respond.
This one drives me nuts. Obviously, our cats are more than “just” anything. They are valued members of the family for many of us, and losing them is akin — or worse, in some cases — than losing a person.
How to respond? Staying calm is a good idea — you don’t need to escalate and create more emotional weight in this kind of a conversation. You could calmly tell the person that your cat was more than just a cat — that the animal was indeed a valued and loved family member, and that the loss is significant.
However, if you know that this person just wouldn’t get it, there may be some value in letting this silly and insensitive statement just go. Breathe and tell yourself that they’re likely to never understand. (This to me feels similar to the people in my life who honestly don’t get why my cats don’t go outside. These people don’t get it, and they never will!) Practice non-attachment, even though it can be difficult.
Sometimes I think people say this because they think it’s some kind of a comforting statement. Or they’ve heard it mouthed before and they think it might be appropriate. But we all know that grief moves differently for each of us and that you can never really replace your cat who passed, whether you are ready to adopt right away or not.
How to respond? Depending upon who you are dealing with, you might explain that different people grieve differently. You might explain that it will take a while before you’re ready again. You might explain that you need time to say goodbye to your friend. Or, you might again just let the statement go. If the person is not going to get it — why put yourself through the pain and aggravation?
This is insensitive, and I actually experienced it once. I’d lost my first cat and grieved for quite a while. I believe the family member meant well and was worried about me. I also know that this particular person is uncomfortable with feeling their own emotions. With that context, I was able to simply not respond to this statement. Sometimes, knowing something about the person uttering these things helps a great deal.
I’ve never had anyone say this, but I think this would be very inappropriate. It would, in my mind, be akin to asking a veteran about specific and horrible war experiences. You don’t do that.
Of course, the exception here would be if you were helping a friend prepare for euthanasia of a pet and the friend had never experienced the procedure. Then, you could be of help.
How to respond? I’d probably say something like, “I’m really not wanting to talk about this right now.” The exception would be if the asker was a trusted friend and if I actually needed to process the experience out loud — this has happened for me.
Oh, talk about a major hot-button type of statement for me! Those of us who’ve been told that “we’re too sensitive” from the beginning of time will know what I mean. Fortunately, I’ve never heard this in reference to my grieving a pet, though I have heard it otherwise. What helps me in this situation is to continually realize that someone who says this obviously has no idea what it’s like to be wired “sensitive” (for lack of a better word). They can’t possibly know how it is to be me, just as I have a hard time imagining telling someone that they’re sensitive, as if it’s a liability. So, again, I let it go.
Here are some alternatives, good things you can say.
Be open ended with someone who has lost a pet. See how that person feels about anything. Rather than making judgmental comments, leave it up to the person as to how they want to proceed.
This give the bereaved person an option to say yes or no. They may want to talk and process. They may, on the other hand, be feeling very private or vulnerable and not willing to talk. That is okay.
This is an honest, heartfelt offer, that the person can take or not take. Listening is a huge gift. When it’s needed, it is certainly appreciated. We could all be better about listening.
Again, there’s no judgment here, and you might be surprised with the help that someone could ask for. They might want to talk. They might want you to drive them to pick up the pet’s ashes (maybe they are too distraught). They might simply be comforted by the fact that you are there and willing to help.
What have you heard when you or someone you know has lost a cat? Tell us in the comments!
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About Catherine Holm: Cat Holm loves writing about, working for, and living with cats. She is the author of The Great Purr, the cat-themed memoir Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time, the creator of Ann Catanzaro cat fantasy story gift books, and the author of two short story collections. She loves to dance, be outside whenever possible, read, play with cats, make music, do and teach yoga, and write.