College of Veterinary Medicine
Pet Memorial Program

Dos and Don’ts when Talking with a Friend in Grief

What TO do

  • Listen in a non-judgmental manner
  • Let them ‘tell their story’ as many times as they need to
  • Ask them how they are doing
  • Offer to help—repeat this offer
  • Let your friend know you are there for them
  • Share with them your wonderful memories of the companion animal who has died
  • Share that there are NO right or wrong behavior for grieving—everyone is different.
  • Reflect on the feelings they are expressing and help them explore them and the reality of the death
  • Know that they may have emotional set backs
  • Be there for them in the days as well as weeks, months, and years following the death
  • Allow periods of silence
  • Know that your friend will always grieve the loss but will learn to live with it
  • Help them celebrate the life of the one they have lost
  • Help those who are in the process of grieving develop the rituals they need to get through those early difficult times
  • If the person who is in grief is suicidal it is your moral and ethical responsibility to refer them to a mental health professional
  • Offer suggestions to help them through their grief such as Memorializing a Pet

What NOT to do

  • Do NOT impose a timeline for feeling better—there is no timeline for grief
  • Do NOT tell them you know exactly how they feel—no one can ever experience pain, grief, and loss in exactly the same way
  • Do NOT tell them time heals all or that the person or animal they loved is in a better place.
  • Do NOT try to ‘fix them’ or make it all better—no one can ever do that
  • Do NOT use euphemisms that tend to deny the extent of the loss
  • Do NOT get a new pet for your friend!!
  • Do NOT tell them they can ‘get another dog/cat etc’
  • Do NOT compare one griever’s loss or experience to another’s. Comparisons are attempts to minimize the loss or to force the griever to behave the right way
  • Do NOT encourage them to make major changes in their life
  • Do NOT suggest they medicate their pain with alcohol or tranquilizing drugs. Avoiding the immediate symptoms of grief can ultimately lead to complicated and unresolved grief
  • Do NOT scold, give advice, lecture or pep talks to them when they are feeling down—let the grief process take its course.