Which of the following things should you not say to someone whose beloved cat has died?
A) He’s not suffering anymore.
B) At least you got to have him for as long as you did.
C) You gave him a good life.
D) Give it some time.
E) Better not to say any of the above.
F) All of the above are good, comforting things to say.
The correct answer is E. None of the sentiments listed here is right to convey to someone in the throes of grief (for a person as well as a cat, by the way). It isn’t because these things can’t be true. It’s that they all are uttered with the intention of trying to make the person feel better and in some cases, to imply how they should feel — grateful, or less sad, perhaps. For instance, saying a cat lived a long life suggests that fact should blunt the loss. But a cat living to a ripe old age does not equate with less grief; it’s never a good time to lose a loved one, no matter how long they lived.
The best thing you can do for someone aching at the loss of a pet is acknowledge their emotional pain rather than try to help them get past it or subtly suggest that they could or should feel better about it than they do. Death is sad, and there is no getting around how awful it feels. That is, there’s no “bright side,” and it’s better to acknowledge that in your expressions of sympathy, even if only in a nuanced fashion. To that end, what kinds of things are appropriate to say?
You cannot go wrong with variations on any of the following.
- I am so sorry for your loss.
- I wish there were words that could help.
- I miss him, too. I love how he used to (insert “jump in my lap”; “steal cookies”; make noises at birds”; etc.)
- If you need anything, I am here.
- I can’t imagine what this feels like, but I am here if you want to talk.
- I know how much you loved him.
- Don’t talk. Just hug, or just sit with the person.
Finally, you don’t have to wait to be asked to help out. Bring over a meal, or drop something off. Gestures often take on more meaning than words.