Being someone's partner means supporting them through the best of times and the worst of times, and a pet passing on definitely falls into the latter category. Losing a pet can be extremely painful, and if you're dating someone grieving the loss of their pet, it can feel difficult to know what's best to say. The truth is, you don't have to automatically know how to best support your partner when their pet dies, but instead, be willing and ready to support them in the way that they need most.
"The loss of a pet can be as tragic and in some cases more tragic than the loss of a family member. Yes— more tragic," says Dr. Joshua Klapow, clinical psychologist and co-host of The Kurre and Klapow Show. "People can become incredibly attached to their pets. It varies from individual to individual, but a beloved pet can be seen as everything from 'just a pet' to a guardian, protector, and best friend." Dr. Klapow specifies that when a pet dies, how a pet dies, and the circumstances surrounding the death drives the emotional impact of the death. The intensity of the emotions one feels after losing a pet are not always congruent with how close this pet was to them, because grief is a fickle process. He stresses that communication is ultimately the most important part of supporting someone that is grieving because it is the best way to gauge what you can do to help them feel better.
So, how do you figure out exactly what they need? Great question, because that's exactly what you should do: Ask them how you can help. Dr. Klapow recommends that you special pay attention to how their feeling, what they're saying, and to ask them what they need in a calm, supportive manner. "Let them know that you are there for them. Let them know (no matter how you feel about the animal) that you care about them and that you will do what they need in this tough time," he says. If you've never had a pet or grieved the loss of one, it could feel hard to understand exactly what your partner is going through. However, you don't have to know exactly what someone is feeling to be able to support, reassure, and care for them.
It is extremely important not to judge how your partner “should” act when they lose a pet. They may be devastated beyond your comprehension. They may have a reaction that is far less emotional than you would anticipate. The best thing you can do is to let them react in any way they see fit, and support that reaction.
"Do not suggest things like 'We can get a new puppy or kitten.' Let them drive the next steps — your partner may want to bury or cremate the pet, and you can offer to be involved in any way that you're comfortable participating," says Dr. Klapow. He also adds that your partner may have the opposite reaction and want nothing to do with commemorating the animal that they've lost — and that's OK too.
Overall, it's important to meet a grieving person where they are and not try to push them towards any sort of healing destination. If their family pet passed, you can encourage them to talk to other people who loved the animal as much as they did. If this was a pet that you were familiar with, you can consider writing them a card or letter about how sorry you are for their loss, emphasizing specific memories with the animal that has passed on.
During the grieving process, it can be really wonderful to have someone there to support you. Saying goodbye to pets is unfortunately common, but a chance to appreciate how much they meant to you. When your partner is ready you could consider doing something like going on a ceramics date and making a small plaque commemorating their pet or planting some flowers in their memory. The point is to show you care about your partner and those that they love — whether they have two legs or four, scales or fur.