Styles of Grief

There is no right way or wrong way to grieve. Many of us have heard this, yet still, when faced with the death of a loved one, we may wonder whether our experiences are ‘normal’. There is a cultural idea of grief that most of us can conjure up if we try: crying, venting feelings, and seeking support from other people. But perhaps you know someone who seems restless after a loss, or throws himself or herself into action, perhaps working tirelessly at a meaningful cause.

In the mid-90s, Dr. Kenneth Doka and Dr. Terry Martin created a conceptual framework for understanding styles of grief. In this framework, there are two poles on either end of the grieving spectrum: intuitive grief and instrumental grief. People can fall anywhere along the spectrum and experience normal, healthy grief.

Intuitive grief is often thought of as affective, or feelings-based. A person with a more intuitive style will cope by finding ways to express and work through their emotions. This can mean that they experience what we culturally tend to think of as grief – sadness, and strong emotions that can hit in waves. Intuitive grievers will often need to express their feelings to get back to a sense of equilibrium again.

Instrumental grief, on the other hand, is more cognitive or behavioral in nature. People who grieve in this way may not feel the need to cry, but their grief might express itself as restlessness or a need to do something. This style of grief can also be characterized by fact-finding, problem-solving, and thinking about the loved one.  Finally, some people have a blended grieving style, and pull from both categories as they cope. For example, you might need to cry sometimes, and find great solace in creating a detailed memorial for your beloved pet.

You may be wondering: if both styles are healthy and valid, why is it that intuitive grief seems to be more expected by those around us? Doka and Martin believe that this is a form of bias present in Western culture. Feelings are more highly valued, partly due to earlier grief theories that suggested that expressing emotions is a necessary part of moving through loss. Instrumental grief can appear more ambiguous to others, and people who are unfamiliar with your needs as an individual may question whether you are moving on too quickly or stifling your feelings.

However, having one style and forcing yourself to adopt another, perhaps because it is more culturally acceptable, is a recipe for disaster. For example, in a 2010 interview, Dr. Doka describes an example that may be familiar to many of us: men may be expected to grieve instrumentally, due to gender biases, but some will naturally be more intuitively oriented. The clash between cultural expectations and inward needs can result in the suppression of grief in order to maintain a strong persona.

While we receive many messages about what grief reactions may be expected of us, know this: as long as you are doing what you need to do to move through your grief, you are doing it right.

Sources (used as a general reference throughout)
Taking It Like a Man: Understanding Grieving Styles | Psychology Today
Grief and Gender (

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Supporting Older Adults – Part 2

Strategies for Supporting Older Adults Experiencing Loss

In this two-part blog post, we began by exploring what factors can influence how seniors experience pet loss relative to other groups of people. This week, we end by outlining ways to support them in light of these differences. Click here to read the first post in this series.

Given the elements that can set them apart, how can we support the older adults in our lives when they are experiencing a loss? This can feel like an overwhelming question. However, the key is to take the steps you can, no matter how small. Here are some suggestions for where to start:

Check in with them via regularly. A phone conversation (or, during COVID-19, a masked and socially distanced outdoor visit) can be a bright spot in someone else’s day even if it lasts just 10-15 minutes. You can talk about whatever you like – how your day has gone, TV shows you’ve been catching up on, books that you’re reading … the sky is the limit. They may want to talk about their pet or their grief, but even if they aren’t ready to, a casual conversation about other light-hearted events may be a welcome distraction.

It can be especially nice to consult with an older friend about an area where they have some wisdom and expertise. For example, perhaps your neighbor has made her own bread for years and you are trying to figure out where to begin with your sourdough starter!

Know that check-ins do not need to even be as involved as a phone call or visit, if something shorter fits better. Perhaps you agree to knock on your friend’s living room window each morning when you take your dog out to use the bathroom, and they’ll wave at you if they are doing OK.

Offer support where they would like it.

Emotional support. Loss can be incredibly isolating, especially in older age, when people are more likely to experience multiple losses in a shorter period of time. Feel free to ask the person how they are doing and to invite them to talk about their grief with you. It can be healing for people to talk about the memories they have of those they have lost.

Task support. While some people may take you up on your offer to discuss their loss, others may not be as comfortable discussing their feelings or their grieving process. As a result, it can be helpful to also offer a concrete, specific way that you can help. For example, perhaps you can make an extra dinner portion every Friday night and drop it off for your neighbor. Maybe you can make sure their walkways are shoveled when it snows. Or perhaps you can make sure their mail and newspaper are tucked safely into their doorway each morning.

Know who in their personal life to reach out to if they may need help. Does your older family member or neighbor have an aide who visits every day, or an adult daughter who comes over to help out a few times a week? If your friend is comfortable, ask if they can share that person’s contact information with you so that you can be a part of their safety net.

Have information for local support agencies on hand if your friend would like to explore ways that they can get more assistance at home.

  1. The Senior Linkage Line 800-333-2433 can help you gather info on local services supporting older adults in your area (for example, questions about Medicare coverage, homemaking and caregiving services, and meal delivery).
  2. Help Older Adults MN ( has a searchable online listing of services during COVID, such as grocery delivery, medicine delivery, tax assistance, and wellness check-ins.
  3. Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly is running a phone companion program where adults ages 65+ can start and build a relationship with a volunteer that will reach out and call them regularly. You can visit to register online; email [email protected] to register by email, or call 612-746-0737 to register by phone

Remember that every small gesture helps. Acts that may feel insignificant to you can make a considerable difference in another person’s life.

“Grief releases love and it also instills a profound sense of connection.” – Jacqueline Novogratz

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Supporting Older Adults – Part 1

Loss is experienced differently by everyone. However, we know that some factors tend to impact certain groups of people in specific ways. Older adults, or those who are age 65 and up, make up a group that shows some common patterns. You may be a child, friend, or neighbor of an older person who has lost their animal companion and you are looking for ideas to support them in their grief. Or, you may be an older adult yourself and hoping to better understand your grief and your emotions and how to cope with them. In this two-part blog post, we will explore the unique experiences of older grievers and outline ways we can support them in light of these differences.

Part 1: What Sets Older Clients Apart?

Differences in social support

One of the ways that elders can be different is that they may be at a higher risk for isolation, with one-quarter of adults aged 65 and older considered by the Center for Disease Control to be socially isolated. There are many reasons for this. For example, older adults are more likely to live alone, to have lost friends or family, and to experience chronic illnesses or disabilities such as hearing loss that can limit their social engagement (CDC).

In addition, during the era of COVID-19, social connection is often limited even further due to the increased risks for this age group. Older adults are less likely to have access to the virtual supports that many of us have come to rely on, such as social media, Zoom calls, and virtual support groups.

Unique bonds with pets

Second, due in part to this first point, older adults may have a stronger, more interdependent bond with their pet than others do. A pet may serve as a senior’s primary companion, especially if they do not live with anyone else. Depending on the person’s needs, a pet may even provide support for physical well-being, such as reminding them to be physically active or to eat regularly throughout the day. Adding to this, pets can help owners stay alert to changes in their surroundings that they might otherwise miss – think of your dog who makes sure that you know when someone comes to the front door!

This stronger bond can mean that others in the pet owner’s life do not understand the intensity of their relationship with a beloved pet, nor the depth of their grief. This can intensify feelings of isolation.

Deeper connection to the end-of-life experience

Third, elders may connect to the end-of-life experience in a different way. Being in their twilight years themselves, they may relate strongly to a pet’s health struggles and end of life experience. Older pet owners may be living with similar diagnoses or making similar decisions for themselves, or other family members.

In addition, for many seniors, this may be their last pet, which can bring a heartbreaking sense of finality to the loss. This can make the loss of a pet feel even more profound, as it can be symbolic of a larger ending for them.

In our next post, we’ll share some ideas for supporting the older adults in your life through the loss of their pet. No matter how you’re able to support a griever in your life, know that your presence and compassion are valuable and truly matter.

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Until we meet again

I thought it was “goodbye” when you took your last, soft breath. You’d fought a long, good fight, and it was time to rest.

I knew I needed to give you peace, even if it meant relinquishing mine. I knew I needed to help you find comfort, even though it left me inconsolable.

I thought it was goodbye as I held your paw in my palm. I felt your warm, soft fur. I kissed your head, and buried my face in your side, feeling the last, gentle swells of your breathing, until you breathed no more.

I thought I would never be whole again. It felt like a piece of my soul departed with you.

I thought it was “goodbye” that day.

But one spring morning, you came back to me. I ran my hand through the dew-dropped grass and felt your fur, sprinkled with rain after a happy jaunt through a springtime shower.

You returned on a warm summer evening when a soft, distant rumble of thunder echoed across the night. I closed my eyes, and there you were: the slow, rhythmic rumble of you sleeping next to me.

I took a walk one clear autumn day, and you found me again. The sun warmed the October breeze as it caressed my face, and I felt the gentle brush of your sun-warmed fur. You greeted me again in the crunch of the leaves beneath my feet, your happy paws unseen, but dancing next to me.

And when I stepped out on a frigid, winter’s night to gaze into the silence of the falling snow, your cold, wet nose found my unsuspecting hand once more, snowflakes melting into my skin like memories. I shut my eyes tight, and left my hand in the frigid air just a little bit longer, savoring, cherishing.

I know now that it never was “goodbye.” It was only “until we meet again.”

Now, when I look into the waning glow of twilight and see your gentle eyes, I close my own, take a slow deep breath, and smile, for you are there with me. And when the moment passes, and you go on your way once more, I whisper into the wind “until we meet again.”


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Making Meaning Out of Loss

The death of a beloved pet changes your life forever. As grief scholars Nancy Hooyman and Betty Kramer write in Living Through Loss, losing a loved one – whether animal or human – can challenge some of our deepest-held beliefs, including that we are safe from harm, that the world around us is predictable, and that bad things will not happen to us.  To integrate the loss into our lives and move forward through our sadness, we must find meaning in the experience.

What is meaning making? It is the way that we come to understand a life event, but it is also more than that. Meaning making is living in a way that encompasses both the pain and joy of our experiences. It’s about moving forward with our lives in a way that lets us continue to grow while we honor the life that has been lost.

Meaning can be made in ways that are as individual as each of us. Hooyman and Kramer give some examples:

  • Activism. Some people make meaning out of terrible events by working toward a shared cause. For example, many people choose to join the movement to ban breed-specific legislation to honor their cherished pup. Another common form of activism is in fundraising, volunteering, or fostering for a local animal rescue organization.
  • Adjusting the lens from which you view the world. Maybe your dog Buddy taught you that there is great strength in approaching people you don’t know with love and acceptance. This can be incorporated into your life to honor his memory.
  • Reconsidering your values and adjusting your life accordingly. After a loss, many people will choose to spend more time with family or work closer to home. Others might donate to local shelters or rescues who take in animals like our beloved friend.
  • Reinterpreting the event to see the positives that have resulted from it. This “rose-colored glasses” approach is not meant to negate or ignore the event, but rather, to allow us to see its ripple effect on our lives, and in decisions we have made down the line.
  • Cultivating a sense of appreciation for the world around us. Sometimes a profound loss can help us to see the beauty of seemingly insignificant things in our lives. We might appreciate the rich green of our cat’s eyes a little bit more, or recognize the way that a funny text or a hug from a friend lifts our mood and helps us feel loved.
  • Creating a narrative or story. Telling the story of our pet’s life, whether verbally or in writing, can help us to process feelings after a loss. In addition, stories are created to be told! Sharing your pet’s story with trusted others can be an important part of healing.

Why is meaning-making important? Today, many grief and loss professionals believe that the process of creating meaning out of a loss helps us to move forward with our lives in a positive way. It helps us adapt to a new normal and embrace a forward-thinking view. Some argue that those of us who can incorporate a sense of meaning into our losses are healthier in the long run, both physically and mentally, than those of us who do not.

Finally, remember that grief operates on a different timetable for everyone, and is not a process that can be rushed. Grief is like a tide that approaches and recedes, and although the strength and timing of its waves will lessen over time, losses change us permanently. While it is important to create a sense of meaning around your loss over time, it is equally important to allow yourself to heal at your own pace.

“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.”

~ Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler

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The Gift of Planning Ahead

There is no doubt that the hardest part of loving a pet is the inevitable goodbye at the end of their beautiful, but far-too-short lives. When faced with the death of a pet, the options and decisions can feel overwhelming for pet families.

While it is painful to imagine losing your pet, pre-planning can reduce the anxiety that comes with the “what ifs”. It allows you to consider what is most important to your family and decreases the chance that you’ll be faced with stressful, unfamiliar, and last-minute decisions.

Benefits of pre-planning:

  • Lessens the number of difficult decisions that need to be made later at an emotional and overwhelming time
  • Provides an opportunity for family discussion so that everyone’s wishes can be heard, which can decrease later conflict.
  • Reduces the opportunity for regret or guilt about what you wish you would have done.
  • Creates time for important logistics such as budgeting and financial planning, communicating with loved ones or professionals, and coordinating family schedules.
  • Allows you the time to slow down and reflect on what is most important to you and your pet and gives you the space to make decisions that honor their life and the bond that you share.

There are many ways to approach pre-planning, but we encourage families to think about and discuss their options before they are imminent and necessary – whether that is at the time of a difficult diagnosis, the first signs of a changing quality of life, or even as a pet simply ages. Include all members of the pet’s family if possible and have an honest conversation about your hopes for your pet’s end-of-life.

Preplanning topics to discuss:

  • Your pet’s quality of life and what matters most to them and you. You may consider creating a bucket list for your pet or documenting their favorite things in photos or journals. This will be important for memorializing but is also helpful to be aware of as you monitor changes in their quality of life and daily routine.
  • Medical decisions around treatments, palliative/hospice care, and euthanasia, and the resources and information you may need now, such as costs and scheduling options.
  • Emergency plans in case your pet’s condition worsens quickly and treatment or in-home euthanasia is no longer available. Consider where you would take your pet if it’s short-notice or after-hours and whether you would need help from a friend or family member.
  • Aftercare and cremation choices, such as burial, communal cremation or private cremation
  • Memorializing your pet. This may include writing an obituary, conducting a remembrance ceremony or funeral, and creating memorial items such as clay paw prints or fur clippings.
  • How you plan to take care of yourself as you grieve. After the loss of your pet, consider what your family can do to make space for and honor your grief. This may include identifying resources ahead of time, planning for a day away from work, or letting your friends and family know how they can help.
  • If you have kids, you can also plan how you will talk with them and support their grief during and after the loss. For example, finding books to help explain what’s happening, letting their teachers know in advance, or planning memorialization activities that include them.

Every pet and family are unique and planning ahead offers a meaningful opportunity to honor the beautiful bond you share. While it’s not easy to imagine saying goodbye, considering these arrangements in advance is a brave and selfless gift you can give your pet, your family, and yourself.

We encourage you to use the resources available on our website and to reach out to us if you need support at any step in the process.

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The Year of Loss

2020 has been difficult enough. From the covid-19 pandemic, to the historic fires here and on the other side of the world, to extreme social and political unrest, to economic instability, this year feels like it has been filled with more strife than any other. It seems we could rename 2020 as “The Year of Loss.” Though collectively we span the spectrum of hardships, we all have experienced loss of some sort- loss of recreation, loss of income, loss of life, loss of hope. Whether a layoff, or a newly empty seat at our table, we’re each feeling the pain of the past year.

And there are some who find themselves with a uniquely complex, yet just as painful, sort of grief- we who have lost a pet. To us, they are family. They might not have a seat at the table, but their spot is empty nonetheless. They might not be counted amongst the losses on the news, but they are on the front page of our every day.

Yet we feel hesitant to compare our loss to the losses that so many others have endured. Covid has ravaged so many families. We might feel that we shouldn’t admit our heartbreak when there are people around us who have lost human loved ones.

And yet, we still grieve. Our pet was our constant companion each day. Our routines were intertwined. Our days belonged to each other. They shared each and every emotion with us- every joy, every disappointment, every laugh, and every tear.

They were there in the quiet moments, those moments of indescribable peace, in which the only sound was the slow and steady breathing of our loyal companion.

They were our fiercest friend, through the calamity, and the stillness, of life.

But for many of us, this is a silent grief. Because we wouldn’t dare compare our dog or cat to someone else’s father or daughter, we grieve alone. We are already feeling the weight of isolation, and without our constant companion, and with no one lean on in our grief, our isolation has become heavier, colder, and quieter.

But we must remember that every grief is valid. You are the sole arbiter of determining the intimacy, depth, and value of your relationship, and only you know the grief felt at the loss of that relationship. Our loved ones come in all shapes, sizes, and species, and every loss is a wound.

To those who have lost a human loved one this year- we grieve with you. Our hearts ache with yours.

To those who have lost a job- we’re heartsick right along with you. We’re pulling for you, and send our encouragement and support.

To those who have lost a pet this year- we see you, and we cry with you. Your grief matters, too. Your loved one mattered, too. Your heart aches because your pet was important.

To those who lost a pet long ago, but whose home is feeling even more empty during this time- we feel the emptiness with you. This year would have been the perfect time to spend so many quality moments with our pets. It feels so unfair that many now get to spend all day cuddling their furry family members, but we will never get to enjoy this time with ours.

To those feeling afraid of what the future holds- we are apprehensive too. This year has taught us that we can never know what tomorrow will bring. But we CAN choose to be there for each other. To have each other’s backs no matter what. To take each and every opportunity to offer a kind word (even if behind a mask and from 6 feet away). To reach out to each other as often as possible and shatter that isolation felt by so many.

Most importantly, each of us can be someone to lean on during this exceptionally difficult time. May we validate and honor each other’s feelings, whether we understand one another’s grief or not. May we use words of healing and hope as we help each other to move forward.

There has been so much loss this year. But there can and will be healing, too. May each of us be an instrument of healing in the year to come.

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MN Pets Service Area

 MN Pets Service Area

MN Pets’ service area includes most of the outlying suburbs and the extended parts of the seven county Twin Cities communities. Our doctors also travel to much of western WI.

Additionally, we have availability in the Twin Ports and north shore areas, as well as some availability in northern Wisconsin.

These maps are an overview of our service regions and will give you an idea if we visit your neighborhood.  Each color represents a different travel price.  If your community is outside this region, contact us to discuss your options. To access an interactive map, please click here.

Please give us a call if you have any questions about service in your area.  Our support staff can be reached at 612-354-8500 Mon-Fri 7:00 AM to 9:00 PM and on Saturday and Sunday 7:00 AM to 6:00 PM.

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Local Resources

We recognize that companion animals play an important role in all of our lives, and that they are an especially important source of support when we are experiencing other life challenges. The loss of a pet can bring up complex feelings and losing such a supportive friend in our lives can be difficult to cope with. Below is a list of local resource that we share in hope that no matter what you are experiencing, you know that there are options for asking for help either for yourself or someone you care about.

Community Outreach for Psychiatric Emergencies (COPE)/Local crisis response: mobile crisis team and phone consultation
Hennepin County: Call 612-596-1223 (adults 18+), 612-348-2233 (17 and younger)
Ramsey County: 651-266-7900
Anoka County: 763-755-3801
Carver/Scott Counties: 952-442-7601
Dakota County: 952-891-7171
Washington County: 651-275-7400

Crisis Text Line
24/7, free help across MN, connects to volunteer crisis counselor
Text HOME or START to 741 741

Minnesota Warmline
(Mon-Sat 5-10PM) confidential peer support from people living with mental health conditions
Call 651-288-0400, text Support to 85511

Walk-In Counseling Center
Free anonymous professional counseling, includes phone counseling

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Call 1-800-273-8255, live chat line on website

Trans Lifeline
Peer run, connecting trans people for counseling
Call 877-565-8860

Family violence safety planning, 24 hour crisis/resource line
Call 612-825-0000

Sexual Violence Center
24-hour crisis line
Call 612-871-5111 or 952-448-5425

The Bridge for Youth
Assists prevention and resolution of family conflict, provides shelter to unsheltered youth, LGBTQ friendly
Call 612-377-8800 or txt 612-400-SAFE

Red Door
Substance use, addiction, and other health resources
Call 612-543-5555

Southside Harm Reduction,
Another source for substance use, addiction, and harm-reduction supplies
Call/text 612-615-9725

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Clay Paw Print Alternatives

During the current COVID-19 crisis, MN Pets will continue to take significant precautions during home visits to reduce the potential risk of transmission and exposure. These precautions are crucial in keeping the doctor and her family, you and your family, and our other clients safe. Our doctors help several families throughout the week, and many of our clients are elderly or in a high-risk group.

One of the fundamental ways that we can help flatten the curve is to reduce the opportunities to expose ourselves and others to the virus. We have carefully identified how we can change our practices to eliminate those exposures as much as possible.

The main safety focuses are on maintaining social distance and eliminating things that could be objects for transmission. This includes authorization forms, pens, booklets, and payments.

We realize that the clay paw prints are one of the most cherished memorial objects, and we are currently able to offer them after a temporary pause. These paw prints are optional, and you may wish to decline the paw print due to the inherent risk of handling an object touched by someone else.

It is important to memorialize your pet in a way that feels right to you, and to support you in doing that, we want to provide ideas and options for creating your own memorial items before or after your visit that are safe, personalized, and meaningful for you:

  • Create your own clay paw print – MN Pets uses Crayola Model Magic, which can be found at most retailers and online. It can come in white, like we use, or multiple colors. It is easy to manipulate, air dries, and is safe for children to use, too.
  • Create homemade clay-dough – mix a cup of flour with a cup of salt and add water until you can knead the dough into a ball. Using wax paper, press the flattened dough onto your pet’s paw. Then bake at about 200 degrees for 2-3 hours, checking regularly. You can read more here. Because of the high salt content of homemade clay-dough, it can be toxic to pets who eat it, so be sure to keep it away from your other pets. 
  • Create an ink print – you can use a regular ink pad for stamps, or you can purchase a special ink pad kit made for paw prints. Both types of ink pads are available at most craft stores and on Amazon.
  • Create a paw print painting – you can paint the pad of your pet’s paw with non-toxic paint and press it onto paper. You can use a blend of different colors, and the result looks like a painting.
  • Keep a fur clipping – you can take a small cutting of your pet’s fur and place this in a shadow box, inside a locket or jewelry, or in a scrapbook.
  • Put their favorite items in a shadow box – save your pet’s favorite toy, food dish, a corner of their favorite blanket, their collar and leash – anything that is unique to them and preserve it in a shadow box. Many families include their favorite photos, a quote, or a handwritten note.
  • Take photos of your pet – most of us have many photos of our pets on our phones or on social media. Consider printing your favorite photos and creating a photo album, scrapbook, customized photo book, or frame them or have them printed on canvas.
  • Don’t forget the close-ups – Most of our photos are action and candid shots of our pet, but try to take close-up photos of your pet, too. You can capture the golden glints in their eyes, their rough paw-pads, the speckles on their belly. These are characteristics that make our pets who they are, and it can be helpful to capture that to help keep those memories alive long into the future. 

The possibilities for creating sacred memorial items in honor of your pet are endless. Searching online or on Pinterest brings thousands of results and we encourage you to do what speaks to your bond in the most meaningful way. It is also important to remember that material items are just one important part of honoring your pet’s memory. Writing down your favorite stories, holding your own memorial service, posting a tribute online, donating in honor of your pet – these are all meaningful ways to honor your pet’s memory and acknowledge your profound loss.

On our website, we have several articles about memorializing a pet. You can read about incorporating cremated remains in your garden, 9 ways to memorialize your pet, taking a memorial walk, among other ideas.

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