What to Say in a Sympathy Card After a Pet Dies

“… what we have enjoyed, we can never lose … all that we love deeply becomes a part of us.” ~Helen Keller

Jaworksi and Virginia around 2008

Jaworski and Virginia, ca. 2008

The last month has been a little bit rough for me because my cat Virginia has been having some health problems. She will be 18 in August, so it’s not that it’s surprising that she’s in failing health, but she’s experiencing pretty much the same symptoms (and same condition) that my other elderly cat, Jaworski, succumbed to last year. As Yogi Berra would say, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

So I pretty much know what the eventual outcome of all this will be. The only question is when. I don’t mean to be morbid here, just realistic. I’d rather write this now, while I still have her company to enjoy – and she still is the sweetest little cat I know. OK, I must confess, when she jumps on my head at 3 a.m. and starts chewing on my hair because she wants breakfast, I do have other feelings towards her. But aside from that, I am so thankful that, when I naïvely went to a rescue group on a New Year’s Day so long ago, not really knowing what to look for in a cat, that they handed me Virginia and Jaworski and said, “here, they’re ready to be adopted.”

Virginia, June 2014

Virginia, June 2014

So what do you do when someone you know loses a pet? I know some people, particularly those who have never owned pets, may not really “get” how very important these companions can be in the lives of their pet parents. They may think or say things like, “they’re just animals, it’s not like they’re humans.” (I know, I’ve had someone say this to me.) And maybe that’s true for some owners. Maybe for them, the pet / person bond isn’t as strong as that between people. I think that may be true particularly in busy households where the pet, unfortunately, almost becomes an afterthought.

But for me, and most other pet owners I know, the connection is very strong. Call them what you will, fur babies, four-footed children, or simply faithful companions, but there is no denying that their passing always leaves a big hole in their owners’ hearts. Sending a card to let your family member or friend know you sympathize with their loss will acknowledge their grief – a grief some in our society will scoff at – and help them with the healing process.

Ah, now the tough part……what to say……. Here are some ideas:

  1. Just let them know they are in your thoughts at this time and that you understand their need to grieve: “Keeping you close to my heart at this difficult time”, “I know how much you’ll miss having [Fluffy] as part of your life”
  2. Being a pet parent is a big responsibility – and in many ways thankless. Particularly if the pet was an adopted rescue or stray, remind them what a difference they made in the life of their friend: “[Spot] couldn’t have asked for a better forever home.”
  3. If you knew the pet personally, make reference to a good memory about them: “I smile every time I think of how loudly [Patches] snored. He was such a content kitty.”
  4. If you’re totally at a loss for words, you can add a quote to the card (like the one I used at the start of this post) or a Bible passage, such as Psalms 22:24 (For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help).   And, while your pet parent friend has probably already heard it, the Rainbow Bridge poem may be appropriate to share with them as well.

If you are reading this post in anticipation of sending a sympathy card to someone who has just lost a pet, I’m hoping this paragraph is unnecessary, but I’ll add it just in case.  As for what not to say, just use some common sense.  For example, don’t suggest that getting a replacement will help them heal.  You certainly wouldn’t say that to someone who had just lost their spouse!  Besides, there is no “replacement” for a pet.  There may be other pets, but one can never take the place of another.

OK, enough on this sad subject.  I promise, next post will be cheery!

 

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  1. Update: Sweet Virginia passed away on Monday, July 21st. It was time. Her personality was still there, but her body had simply given out on her. She was the last of my “original” cats from when I lived in Albany, NY. I still have two cats, but they are my “Westchester” cats. Guess I’ll have to update my “about me” page and change the number that I live with. Two is a good number, it gets expensive to have a lot of cats, between vet bills, cat food and cat litter (I often wonder how many pounds I scoop a month….) But I do miss my little girl.