How to companion grieving clients.
Being present for another person’s pain can be overwhelming and difficult. As a veterinary professional you do this every day therefore, below are some suggestions on how to “companion” a grieving client. And remember, you are not responsible for but rather to you’re the client. You cannot take away their pain, but rather your role is to speak to their heart and comfort them as they mourn.
1. Avoid clichés such as “you are doing the right thing” or “time will heal”. Clichés are overused simplistic ways phrases that often have no meaning behind them. Using them tends to imply that the pet parent should suppress, rather than express, their feelings of grief.
Instead, companion the pet parent by allowing them to express their feelings. Your role has nothing to do with making the grieving person better. Just be there. Listen. Honor their story.
2. Avoid comparing one pet parents’ loss to another. Comparisons tend to minimize the impact of the loss and imply that the loss could have been worse. Neither a traumatic passing nor a planned one is “better”.
Instead, show that you understand that no matter what the circumstance. This is their loss and their loss alone so there is no comparison.
3. Avoid suggesting pet parents stay busy and to not think about their grief.
Instead, explain that grief can be a slow experience. They need to experience their grief at their own pace. Grief has no time table. No two people grieve the same.
4. Avoid encouraging pet parents to make major changes in their lives. After a significant loss, a person’s judgment can be clouded.
Instead, encourage them to take some time to think about how changes may affect them once they’ve healed through their grief. Decisions made too soon may be regretted later.
5. Avoid encouraging a pet parent to dismiss their feelings. Encouraging them to go on vacation, go shopping or medicate their pain only suggests they avoid reality.
Instead, encourage pet parents to simply embrace their feelings. Explain that it’s normal and they have permission to talk about how they feel. Suggest support systems in their lives.
6. Avoid suggesting pet parents replace the one they’ve lost. Pet parents can unrealistically think by adopting a new pet, their grief will disappear.
Instead, suggest they take some time to grieve before adopting a new pet. They can never replace the relationship they had with the pet they lost with a new one. By trying to replace, there is an unfair expectation on the new pet that he or she will be like the one they lost.
Resources: “Connecting with Grieving Clients” by: Laurel Lagoni and Dana Durrance; AAHA Press; Second edition (October 3, 2011)
Bereaved — “To be deprived of something valuable. To be torn apart.”
Grief — “Intense sorrow”- as if by death; our internal feelings.
Mourning — “The showing of sadness at somebody’s death; the external actions of expressing grief.”
Empathy — “Understanding what others are feeling because you have experienced it yourself or can put yourself in their shoes.”
Sympathy — “Acknowledging another person’s emotional hardships and providing comfort and assurance.”
When a pet dies, pet parents have a severing of a relationship that will cause them feelings of intense sorrow. By physically showing their grief, they actively mourn the death of the beloved pet. This active mourning will move their bereaved heart on a journey through grief to healing.
Principles of Effective Grief Support
— You cannot control how pet parents will respond to loss or how they grieve; you can only control how you respond to the pet parent.
— Emotional support is useful only when it is accepted. Do not press the issue if your assistance is not wanted.
— Pet parents have the right to feel whatever they feel, no matter what others think. You cannot take away someone’s painful feelings. Simply acknowledge their feelings and make mourning permittable.
— Know your personal and professional limits. There’s no need to attempt to surpass the boundaries of your “support” role. Seek guidance or support from professionals you trust when you are unsure of how to handle a difficult situation.
Take care of yourself. Remember that when providing support, you only need to companion the client. Facilitate the grieving journey by offering your clients empathy, understanding, and basic information on what to expect during the grief journey.
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