[Editor’s note: do you know someone who is grieving the loss of a pet? In this excerpt from our book The Compassionate Congregation, we meet Loretta, whose sister offered caring words, even though she didn’t fully understand Loretta’s grief.]
Lucky was a very special cat from the moment we found him in the parking lot of our local Wal-Mart. Julie, my daughter, and I were strolling to our car when she said, “Mother, I hear a baby kitten.” I had heard the same sound, but was trying desperately to ignore it. Julie began searching, and it wasn’t long before she found the tiny ball of fur. We knew he would be killed if we left him behind, so we headed home with this tiny bundle of joy.
Lucky was a gift that appeared at just the right time. He grew into an extraordinarily beautiful cat, and it soon became evident that he was my cat.
My husband worked the night shift, so Lucky would welcome me home from work. He loved me, “warts and all.” I loved him and he loved me unconditionally for about six years.
My sister and I were returning home from a retreat when my husband called to say he had just come home from work and found Lucky in distress; he was going to take him to the vet. To make a long story short, Lucky died; he had been poisoned!
My sister, who is not an animal lover, was not prepared for my reaction to Lucky’s death. I wept. I felt I had lost a part of me. But she quickly put her arms around me and said truthfully, “I don’t know exactly how you are feeling, but I do know that Lucky was very special to you, and I am so sorry you have lost him.” She encouraged me to recount memories of the things Lucky and I had experienced.
Lucky was my faithful friend and he filled many lonely nights. My loss and grief were real.
If you know someone who is grieving the loss of a pet, here are ideas for how to care well:
- Recognize that the loss of a beloved pet is a real loss.
- A hug acknowledges that you care.
- Handle the loss of a pet much as you would other losses.
- When you ask about and talk about the pet, use the pet’s name.
- Let the person talk-listen with your heart.
- Invite the person to show you pictures of the pet.
- Offer to help the owner create a collage of pictures of their pet.
- Send a memorial gift to a veterinary school in your area.
- Send a note or flowers to say you care.
- Leave the question “Will my pet go to heaven?” up to God.