Reaching Out is What Matters Most
It’s natural to be unsure what to say when we first hear that someone is grieving a beloved pet. Despite any hesitation or worry about stumbling, it’s best to express sympathy promptly, when our hearts are full — we’re more inclined to keep it simple and sincere. This approach helps all involved because the true nature of grief is quite complicated and unique for each individual. So, just follow your heart.
Rest assured, there’s no need to be clever or inspirational. It’s far more important to spare the bereaved the secondary loss that comes when our unease or apprehension take over and we turn away. In order to maintain authentic connection while choosing your words, you may prefer to prepare a message instead of calling. In fact, many people draft it before writing it in the card.
Sending a sympathy note can be a wonderful source of support and comfort to the bereaved, not just when it’s initially received, but such physical condolences are often saved and cherished for long after.
The 4 Basic Elements of a Typical Sympathy Note (with “examples”)
- Acknowledge the loss - “I am so sorry to hear of (loved one’s name)’s death.” “You loved (loved one’s name) so much.” “Losing such a close companion (gentle soul, incredible friend) like (loved one’s name) is so hard.”
- Express your sympathy - “I’m sending my heartfelt sympathy and hope your lasting love with (loved one’s name) can bring you comfort and peace.” “I share your sadness for (loved one’s name).” “I know you’re hurting.”
- Note special qualities and a favorite memory - “I feel fortunate to have known (loved one’s name) and will always remember ( specific trait or experience).” “(Loved one’s name) was so special and will be greatly missed.” “You shared such an amazing bond with (loved one’s name).”
- Close with a caring phrase - “Thinking of you (and your family) with love and affection.” “My heart is with you in your sorrow for (loved one’s name).” “With many warm blessings today and always.” "Sending you a big hug."
Be careful to avoid diminishing the loss or rushing their reconciliation with it. The following expressions sometimes are not welcome despite the best intentions:
“Everything will be OK.”
“They lived a long life.”
“Well, at least they are no longer suffering.”
“You’re so strong.”
“I know exactly how you feel.”
“You have so much to be thankful for.”
And definitely don’t say, “It was only a dog/cat," or “You can get another one.”
A Couple Other Options
- You might include a memorable quotation or spiritual passage in the note if you’re sure it will be appreciated. Even religious people can be offended when told, “It’s part of God’s plan,” or “They're in a better place now.” Only if you’re certain they believe in the Rainbow Bridge, should you acknowledge them meeting again there.
- You might include a photo of the deceased with the bereaved from a time you shared together.
- Because the grieving process continues after the initial acute impact — perhaps indefinitely since the loss of an especially close companion changes us forever — if you have the bandwidth, sending a series of notes throughout the first year, even as brief texts, can bring tremendous support.
- If there is a child in your home who has a deep affection for the deceased pet and wants to participate, you can invite them to write or draw a message on a separate small piece of paper which you can then attach to the card.
On Offering Hands-on Help
Depending on the situation, and if you know you will follow through (since we always want to avoid making empty promises), you might offer assistance with a specific task that will help them. Using the following expressions along with the offer can bring solace: “You are not alone.” “I’m here for you.”
- Feed, walk or provide care for other pets in the home
- Cook dinner or take them to lunch
- Pick up groceries or prescriptions
- Fill up the car with gas or get it washed
- Drop off or pick up children from school
- Play with children or help them with homework
- Clean a room or tidy a closet in their home
- Offer use of a country house or city apartment as a retreat
- Do the dishes or laundry
- Mow the lawn, weed the garden, or stack firewood
- Take care of or accompany them on a couple errands
- Create a special drink (alcoholic or not) to toast the pet’s memory together
If the bereaved has a close relationship with your pets, and you believe they might find it healing to be in their company, you can invite them to spend time together. Sometimes the bereaved will take this social opportunity to give leftover food, toys, or belongings to the surviving furry friends; this sharing can be sweet way of strengthening community connections.
Finally, if there is a scheduled euthanasia and you’re comfortable being present for it, you can offer to be with them. They may prefer that you remain outside the room for all or part of the process, but you can still offer to take them there and drive them home (for their safety on the road at the very least). You could also go with them to pick up the cremains, help prepare the remains for burial, dig the grave, plan a memorial or ritual, or create a tribute space in their home.
Please note that RemembeRing content is for informational purposes only and not intended to replace professional care. Be sure to reach out to your providers for their expertise as needed.