How To Cope with Uncaring Friends after Pet Loss
by Gary Kurz
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For people who love and keep pets, one of the most traumatic moments they will ever experience is bidding farewell to their furry of feathered best friend. Most pet people imagine that they could not feel any worse than they do during this terrible experience. Unfortunately, often we can, and for the most ironic of reasons.
At a time when we are at our lowest and sorely in need of comforting from a friend or relative, instead, too frequently we find callousness or indifference. Sometimes those we love come up short in the compassion department and unwittingly say cruel and hurtful things. Commonly, we hear things like “get over it already, it was just a cat”, or “what is your problem, just go buy another dog”. Friends don't mean to be cruel. Some simply do not understand the depth of our pain or cannot relate to how we are feeling.
I want to caution you not to over-react to their lack of understanding. Don't buy into the philosophy that when you are down and out, you will learn who your true friends are by the way they act toward you. This may be true when you lose your job or when you become divorced, because friendships are often based on social considerations. If the make-up of your family changes, for instance (i.e. your wife leaves with the children, etc.), your neighbors may not find you as socially attractive as before. If you lose your job, and coincidentally your income, you may not be able to afford membership at the local golf club and shallow friends may shun you because you have become a potential burden to them.
Losing a pet does not usually change your social status, however. It does not make you an unattractive neighbor or economically-challenged golf partner. Consequently, if your friends are not there for you when you need their support, there probably are other factors at play that have nothing to do with your friendship.
Friends undoubtedly feel your pain very, very deeply. They perceive that you are very low and they want to help, but sometimes even your closest friends do not know what to do for you. They are not sure how to react to your grief. They do not know how to approach the topic or are afraid of saying the wrong thing.
Their first response is usually an attempt to try to cheer you up, not realizing that this is the last thing you need or want. That failing, they feel inadequate and unable to help. Perhaps they are ashamed that they initially came across as flippant when they did not mean to. Now, certain that they have offended you, they try to avoid you, or at least avoid the topic. The effect is that they appear to be indifferent and unfeeling in your hour of need.
This makes them no less your friend than they were before your loss. They still love you and care about you. They simply are not equipped emotionally to help. We perceive this as a failure on their part, and indeed, it is; but it is a failure to know how to help, not a failure as a friend.
If you value your friendship, your reaction to this perceived failure should be one of grace. The relationship may hang on your ability to be understanding. Undoubtedly, it is unfair to you in your hour of need to be required to exercise wisdom and compassion for someone who you think is letting you down. But if you value that relationship, it is worth the effort. Don't react harshly. Don't react impulsively. Put your emotions on hold until such time that you can make a measured response.
I have found that by saying something like: "I know that what I am going through is difficult for you to understand. I know you want to help me, but there is really nothing you can do right now. I need to go through the pain and I need to grieve. If you would just give me some time and be patient, eventually my pain will be manageable and I will start being my old self again"; friends will give you space and understand.
Then, the ball is in your court. Don't let what you told them be words only. You need to follow through on your promise. Grieve as long as you must, but start to focus on returning to normal. Time will assist you in that goal, but real healing comes from within.
Most of us play the "what if" game and wind up blaming ourselves for one thing or another regarding the passing of our pets. Don't do that. No matter what the circumstances, don't blame yourself for what happened. Focus on the love and devotion you had for your best friend and concentrate on the good times. Eventually, you will wake up one morning and realize your life is returning to normal.
When you do, you will see that friends and family are still there for you. Forgive their inability to relate to what you were going through. It doesn’t mean they didn't care. It doesn’t mean they didn't love you. In fact, in most cases you will find that it was because they cared, because they loved you, that they kept their distance in respect for your grief.
Grieving is one of the few times in our lives when we are allowed to be selfish and to over-indulge. You take whatever time you need in this very private matter. No one should tell you how long to mourn. Set those who care about you at ease and let them know you need time to grieve and be alone. But when you are finished, return to normal for them. The pain will still be there, but you will have framed it in context with the rest of your life and other relationships will have remained intact.
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Well written and helpful. I read it not from the perspective of losing a pet, but from the perspective of losing an important person in my life. Lots of good help there, too. Thanks for writing.