How to Be Supportive of Unusual Grief

Whenever someone suffers a loss, it's proper to be there for them ... even when you can't relate to or understand why they're grieving. 

Richie Frieman
6-minute read
Episode #398

Let me first say that any loss is a loss. A pet, a friend, or a family member, regardless of a person’s connection to the deceased, if you have a friend who’s grieving, it’s only proper to be there for them … even if you can’t quite wrap your brain around why they are in mourning.

I mean what happens if their loss doesn’t fall in the “standard norm” of mourning? Like a goldfish? A distant celebrity they idolized? You know, people or animals to whom you aren't really used to paying your respects. Here are three ways to grieve, and how to be supportive of that grief, for a couple unusual forms of loss:

Tip #1: The Loss of a Minor Pet

I’m sure my colleague, The Dog Trainer, would tell me there is no such thing as a “minor pet” but I hope you'll both see where I’m going with this tip. When I was in college, I shared a cramped apartment with three other guys. As if we didn’t have an easy enough time making the apartment a complete dump ourselves, we decided to turn up the funk-factor by getting a Guinea Pig. I can’t honestly remember who was the major advocate for our new pet but it was a bad idea from the start.  So, being the responsible young men we were, we “donated” him to our friend Scott, who thought he would be a better Guinea Pig Parent to Testudo. About two months after that, we found out that Testudo had gone to the great Guinea Pig farm in the sky, where he could run around care-free in the afterlife. When the news was delivered to us, we weren’t exactly heartbroken. Sure you never want to lose a pet, but needless to say, it did not hinder our plans for the remainder of the day. But man oh man, did it upset Scott. I kid you not, for five days Scott was inconsolable over the loss of Testudo. In fact, he even called out sick to his internship because he was so distraught.  

Mannerly Nation, please don’t think I’m being insensitive because trust me, I’m a huge pet lover. In fact, my dog Camden is like my third child. However, losing a Guinea Pig you’ve had for only two months isn’t grounds for telling your boss you’re in mourning. Again, I’m not trying to be harsh here, and this article is about how to sympathetic to those that have suffered any sort of loss. With that, had this been a situation that I/you faced today,  it’s proper (regardless of the pet) to be completely sympathetic and give your friend time—even if you don’t get it, which I didn’t with Scott. Sure, you may not be empathetic towards them but you can’t dismiss someone’s loss as trivial simply because you are not as invested. Whether it’s Testudo the Guinea Pig or Goldie the goldfish, you should never laugh or mock someone because it’s not a “major pet." But with that, I do think it’s your job as a friend to get them out of that funk as fast as possible. Don’t say, “It’s just a Guinea Pig, get over it!” because pets are never “just a pet.” However, if the loss of a minor or major pet is affecting their work, or their personal life, do your best to take their mind away from it with everything non-pet related. Take them out to lunch or invite them over. The more they can escape from their pain, the faster they’ll get over it. Just try not to laugh at them grieving over their deceased gecko.

Tip #2: The Loss of a Celebrity

One of my all time favorite actors is Robin Williams, who we sadly lost only two years ago. I’ve seen all of his movies and whenever I come across one while channel surfing, I can’t help but stop. As well, his death was not only tragic but took a tremendous toll on his family. I remember reading about this daughter and how she got a tattoo of a bird on her hand to always remind her of Robin. So, when I found out he died, I thought I’d pay homage him the best way I could: by having a good binge session of some of my favorite movies with him.  The next day, I woke up and got on with my day. Sure, I saw news coverage about him—you couldn’t escape it—and yes, it made me sad, however, I didn’t let my sorrow get in the way of my week ahead. This doesn’t make me inconsiderate, it simply makes me someone who had no connection to a celebrity, other than seeing their movies. We weren’t friends (but man that would be awesome!) and I did not attend his funeral, yet some people have a hard time separating the fantasy of a celebrity with the reality of their association with that person.