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I have a sad situation with my girlfriend; however, I think a bit of context is needed to know for better understanding.

We have been together for 3 months now and I am actually her first real serious relationship (she's 20 and I'm 21).

By “serious” I mean that we both want something real and for the future. That we love each other
(I know I know... Please don't bother commenting how that is too soon for the word *love*. Just trust me on this one).

Because this is her first time (only had one relation before and he cheated on her) it took her some time to get used to that intimacy in public and she was also a little bit scared to let me close in the beginning (emotionally and before we were in the relationship) but that is past now. I think this is important to know for what follows now.

Her beloved dog is getting put to sleep today...The dog had a real happy life and was such a sweetheart. Even I really fell for him really fast.

I know that everybody deals with these things differently and reacts differently... I just want to help her to get through this time. I can tell how hard this is for her. I was at her place yesterday and she really held back crying and tried to hide that fact to me. I don't mind that though. That's her decision and right, I don't wanna pressure myself onto her and so I decided to leave and let her have the last day on her own with the family and the dog.

I told her that I am always there for her and no matter what time she calls me, even in the middle of the night, I will directly drive to her if needed and skip work or arrange with my boss to be at work later. I also said that I would be there to just listen, or talk, or just hold her if that is what she needs and she really just needs to say it, otherwise I decided to give her some space and message her less the next few days (didn't tell her that though). To let her decide if she feels like talking/messaging and let her take all her time she needs to say goodbye and to process it.

However, we originally planned to do something cute/nice on Thursday and Friday. I wrapped my whole head around what I could plan for these days to maybe distract her and make those days just for her. I know what she likes generally and would directly know what to plan if not in these circumstances but right now I don't know what to do. To cancel the days, or plan something and if what to plan because of the events...

How can I help her deal with losing her pet? I never had to deal with such a situation since I was alone for the most time in my life (relationship-wise) and only had to deal with the loss of loved ones myself but never had to help someone close to me with such a situation. What can I do if I want to distract her on Thursday/Friday?

  • "I want to help her deal with the situation" --> the situation being the loss of a pet? this might help a little. – Tinkeringbell Oct 9 '17 at 7:01
  • @Tinkeringbell yes and thank you. I appreciate your help – Nico Oct 9 '17 at 7:04
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Pet owners often have a very close emotional relationship with their pet. There might be people for whom it's "just a dog". But there are also people on which the loss of a beloved pet has almost as much emotional impact as the loss of a human family member. So it should be treated in a similar way.

Here is some advise from Caitlin Doughty, who comforts griefing people for a living. Ask a Mortician: Grief Talk. The video focuses on a far more serious situation (losing a baby), but can be applied to any grief situation. Her advise in a nutshell:

Bad things you should not say:

  • Just say nothing at all and try to distract them. They are constantly thinking about it anyway. It doesn't work.
  • Sympathize with them by bringing up an own loss you experienced to prove that you can relate to their situation. No, you can't relate. Everybody experiences grief in their own way. Also, you are now making this about yourself.
  • Tell them to cheer up and look at the bright side of life. It just puts them under pressure to get over their grief quickly. They will feel like they need to suppress their emotions and put on a fake smile in order to fit into society. Now they don't just feel bad about their loss, you also made them feel bad for feeling bad.
  • Try to give them any other advise about how to cope with their grief. Your advise is not useful, because everyone needs to find their own way to grief.

What you should say instead:

Ask the person how they are holding up. It gives the other person the opportunity to share what they are comfortable sharing, but doesn't pressure them. They can just answer "I am holding up fine" or they can use the opportunity to tell you everything. It shows the griefing person that you are available to them, but gives them the power to control when, what and how much of their feelings they want to share with you.

However, we originally planned to do something cute/nice on Thursday and Friday. I wrapped my whole head around what I could plan for these days to maybe distract her and make those days just for her.

Don't! Ask her what she wants to do. Maybe she wants to be distracted by doing something entertaining, but maybe she just wants to sit on the couch and mope. Maybe she wants you to be with her, maybe she wants to be alone or maybe she needs to be with some other person who is closer to her than you are (I know that it hurts you when anyone is emotionally closer to the person you love than you are, but if you are genuinely interested in her benefit over your own, you need to accept that and take a step back. This is not the time for jealousy). You might know what she likes to do generally, but this isn't a general situation. Only she knows what she wants to do right now. If you pressure her into doing something that doesn't feel right for her, she won't enjoy it and that means you won't enjoy it either. So if you guess wrong about what she needs right now, you will have a bad time.

  • Very interesting points I never have thought about. This is good material to know generally. I appreciate your post. And I really really thank you for the edit! That's I meant and were concerned about. I want her to heal and be happy so I don't mind if that's with my help/presence or not. I don't mind if she needs space and sees somebody else to feel better. Her benefit is most important to me. I will still let her have this day, didn't message her at all today, to let her have her private space but I will definetly take your advice to heart and ask her what she wants to do. – Nico Oct 9 '17 at 12:53
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    @Nico Does she need her private space right now? Or does she maybe need someone to talk to? I would give her a call and ask. – Philipp Oct 9 '17 at 13:12
  • I don't know. I just thought to not bother her but she messaged me , like 5 minutes ago, so I guess it's ok and that she wants to talk. I know that my charasteristics is to put myself behind and in the background too much ( generally) but I didn't want her to feel like I pressure myself onto her and decided to wait until the evening/tomorrow to message her if she doesn't. Just to be very safe she has all the private space she needs. We are not together long enough for me to know how she handles such things. I just wanted to be careful. – Nico Oct 9 '17 at 13:18
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    People can react more to losing pets than humans. A relative of mine's wife died (after 60+ years being married) when he was aged 95, and it had no obvious effect on him at all - he took to living on his own like a duck to water. On the other hand, when his pet dog died a few years after, he just lost the will to live - and indeed died (of natural causes) within a few months. – alephzero Oct 9 '17 at 17:21
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    This. This answer matches my experiences on both sides of loss. Don't ignore, don't trivialize, don't make it about yourself, and do ask her what she wants from you. Expect it to take some time. – Monica Cellio Oct 9 '17 at 20:51
17

I've been through this myself, with my own dogs (twice) and my former sister-in-law (SIL)'s dogs. I was the one who accompanied her and offered support. It's tough for both.

Give her time and love: be there, support her, say nothing if she remains silent, talk if she wants to.

Beside that, if she's willing to be nice and caring and loving to another dog in the future, you can offer her to adopt another dog. Many shelters, in many countries, let you adopt a pet.

At this time, it might be too early, as the pain and sorrow are awfully overwhelming. Only you know, and if not, she'll let you know later if she's ready or not.

But you can always tell her how great her dog was, and that she'll be able to give and receive a lot of love from another one when the time for it has come...

I did this for myself, and rescued the oldest and much shier dog from the shelter, as I always do. And so did my SIL after a couple of weeks. You never forget your old pal, but making another poor one happy is a relief for both of you, the dog and the human being.

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    I really like this idea and that I can see how somebody in the same situation handled it. I will keep that in mind and I will suggest her to adopt a new dog when we move in together ( whenever that will be ). I always wanted a dog myself but never was able to get one. We already talked about getting a dog when we move together one day ( before we knew that her dog has to be put to sleep ) so I think this is a really good solution. – Nico Oct 9 '17 at 10:05
  • @Nico : What I do (only my feelings, because every person is different, when it comes to handle such a sad situation), is to repeat to myself that I'll enough time and love for another dog, and that my old pal just gave me this opportunity. Its time had come, and he's allowed me to share time and love with another one. All the strength to you, and may the 3 (or more :)) of you be happy. – OldPadawan Oct 9 '17 at 10:14
5

There is only a real answer for your girlfriend's loss: time. After you lose someone you love it's really hard to get through and your job here is to help her, since you want to be a real boyfriend and possibly something more in the future.

The best answer I can give you is do your best: provide her a good time, let her know that she can count on you for the better and for the worse.

You should not cancel those fun days. She needs distractions. How would you feel doing nothing at home when you lost someone you loved? Take her out. Have some fun.

My condolences and best of luck to you.

  • Thank you for the suggestion to not cancel the plans. I would love to give you both(OldPadawan, you) the accepted answer, since both answered different aspects off my question. – Nico Oct 9 '17 at 10:08
  • You are very welcome :) When i was younger I lost my pet cat, was really hard for the whole family, he was so young it was so unexpected... What helped me back then was drift my mind away from the peril that was surrounding me so I hope this will help you and mostly your GF :) – OneEyedBandit Oct 9 '17 at 10:19
4

I hesitate to provide this as an answer, but it's worked well for me on two occasions.

When people die we tend to have funerals and memorials, but pets usually go without such formalities.

A nice memorial can be a great gift for someone who has had such a loss. It acts as a keepsake and a item of remembrance, and its more "official" than a simple photograph. I found mine on Etsy, but there are other companies that make laser engraved pet (or person) memorial stones. They are typically a black granite tile that has a photo of the pet and a name, date, phrase whatever laser etched/engraved on the stone. The etching is permanent and is suitable for indoors or out.

The people that I gave them to both really loved the stones, and they keep them prominently displayed.

Note that I think this is particularly meaningful for cultures that would typically have a burial with a gravestone, so adjust this advice as culturally necessary.

  • +1 good point too, here. I'm more of a they only disappear in physical image, but in hearts, their memories are enshrined, but I know for sure it helped people to have memorials like these. – OldPadawan Oct 9 '17 at 16:26
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    It doesn't even need to be something this involved. When my children were young, we lost quite a few pets in a relatively short time. We used a cardboard box, photographs, stickers and glitter and made a cardboard shrine with pictures of the animals that we lost. 12 years on, all three of us still look at the little shrine periodically and talk about how much we miss our animals. – magerber Oct 9 '17 at 16:41
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It's a lot easier than you think. Your girlfriend is sad about the loss of her dog. What she needs and wants is someone who she can talk to, who listens when she says how sad she is about the less, who understands how she feels, who is just there for her.

That's it.

What she doesn't want from you is any solution to her problem, any help to get over it. She doesn't want a new dog (at least not right now), she just wants you to be there for her when she needs someone.

  • Having lost the dog that I had for 16 years 6 months ago, I'd say this answer sums it up perfectly. I still have sadness when I am reminded of her. There is no magic solution, no replacement. Just being there for her and listening is what's needed. – DaveG May 24 '18 at 13:26

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