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Helping Vulnerable People with Grief

Many people will know the pain of losing a furry family member. Many will also have been blessed with having a support base around them in the form of family or friends, and/or be in a position to use modern technology to seek out help, advice and support online.

Imagine living alone, having few or no friends or family to speak to, and not having access to or be in a position to use the internet to help guide you through your grief and find the outlets available to support you. For some of the people who are disconnected from the outlets many of us take for granted, a pet might could be that persons only friend and companion.

Many pet owners will be well aware of the joy animals being in our lives brings us, but did you know that animal companionship can also benefit our health and wellbeing? As people age and lead a more solitary life, the loss of an only companion can severely impact mental and physical health. Research has shown that 85% of both pet owners and non-pet owners agree that interaction can help reduce loneliness. Find out more here.

This blog was inspired by our friends at Mo's Legacy Laws For Paws who's linked lost and found group helped reunite an 80 year old man with his missing deceased feline companion.


For vulnerable people, grief can significantly increase feelings of anxiety, stress and loneliness, yet sometimes popping in for a coffee and chat makes all the difference. Don't shy away from bringing up their lost companion, encourage talking about happy memories, and allow them to express how they feel. Listening with a sympathetic ear and understanding will validate that it is OK for them to mourn their loss. We can't fix things or make them better, but we can help make the process much more bearable. People grieve in different ways so allow them to space if they feel they need it, but let them know they don't have to hide their feelings and you are there if they need you. Your regular visits will provide something to look forward to and will help prevent the feeling of isolation, and bringing a little treat for them, such as their favourite baked treats or something they enjoy, can help cheer them up a little.

Physically Help

Grief can make existing health conditions much worse in some people. Previous studies have shown that the elderly are more likely to suffer from severe health problems after the death of a loved one due to increased stress levels. Bereavement for them can also lead to intense bouts of forgetfulness and disorientation, and loss of appetite. Check in on them, and offer to cook or do the shopping for them. Eating healthily can be vital for keeping an older person’s strength up during grief. Offer to take them to any doctors appointments they might have coming up, or invite them out for the day.

Never offer to get a new pet for them as this appears dismissive of peoples grief and implies an animal can easily be replaced. However, in time, some people may feel ready to open their hearts and homes to another companion. Some may feel they are not at a time in their life to offer a home to an animal, but they needn't feel this way. The Cat Protection Cat Guardian Service is a completely free service that simply ensures that, in the event of your sickness or passing, they will take your cat into their care before finding them a loving new home, providing no family member opts to take on the guardianship of the cat.


When we have children who are also grieving, it can be hard to stay strong or know the right things to say or do when we are grieving ourselves. Death, especially that of a loving companion, can be traumatic and confusing for a child as they try and make sense of where their little mate is. This can place extra strain on our own grief as we try to explain that their little friend won't be coming home, something we will too be trying to come to terms with.

The stages of grief are typically denial, sadness, depression, guilt, anger, and closure. However, the effects on children vary widely depending on their age and maturity level, with their reaction generally being determined by their ability to understand death. Children under 4 years old do not tend to have an understanding of death, and consider it to be a form of sleep. Children up to age 7 do have some understanding of death, but tend to see it as a temporary measure. Children between 7 and 10 are most sensitive to loss and can behave in concerning ways, such as the development of school problems, learning problems, antisocial behaviour, hypochondria, aggression, withdrawal, over attentiveness, and/or clingy behaviour. Children over 10 generally understand death, and can grieve in ways similar to adults. Some adolescents can also exhibit various forms of denial. Although they may not display emotions in an outward way, they may still be experiencing severe grief which does not publically manifest itself. Find out more on our blog 'Helping Children Grieve the Loss of a Cat' here.

Although children tend to grieve for shorter periods, their grief is no less intense than what we experience as adults. Children also tend to come back to the subject repeatedly out of confusion or looking for reassurance, so extreme patience is required when dealing with a grieving child.

Vulnerable Adults

Many people feel they must protect elderly people, children and persons with disabilities from the difficulties of grief, attempting to shield them from upset and disappointment, deeming them too vulnerable to comprehend such a loss. Some caregivers may deem adults with a cognitive disability too vulnerable to comprehend such a loss, and feel unable to be completely honest and tending to use terms such as 'gone to sleep', rather than upsetting words such as 'death', but it is important to include and involve them so as not to cause confusion.

Speaking and writing about our feelings can be helpful for many of us. Some of us can sometimes struggle to find the right words to express our grief, but some vulnerable adults with significant communication barriers might find expressing their feelings much harder, or even impossible. Some may not understand death or their emotions, leaving their grief unrecognisable to others, so it is important to allow them to express their feelings how they are able to and feel comfortable with with patience and without judgement.

For those who can't find solace in the written or spoken words, picture books may be helpful in explaining what has happened and help be an outlet for their feelings. Some may wish to avoid possessions and photos in the earlier stages of grief, but these may come to be treasured in time so they should be helped to choose some mementoes, even offered again at a later date when some of their emotional pain has subsided.

For more detailed information about helping vulnerable adults through this process, see the NHS guide here.


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