Editor's Note: We posted on Facebook asking for suggestions or questions for Enid's blog.
Q: Enid! Thank you for being willing to talk about grief and compassion fatigue. If we don't talk about it, it's bad news all around. There have been some discussions recently on VSPN about whether losing your own pets opens you up or shuts you down. What's your take?
The death of a personal pet is crushing and unleashes a torrent of emotions, this is normal. A life changing event like this is also an opportunity to learn and grow in ways you never thought possible, personally and professionally. It is important to take good care of yourself so that you can honor your pets memory by grieving them fully. You may find that they continue to teach and inspire you, even after their death.
Q: Asking questions about their pet to let owners share. What to ask and how to ask?
A great question is "Can you tell me how puppy came into your life?" This is the beginning of their "story" and will often lead to wonderful tidbits of information. People also really appreciate you wanting to know!
Q: Sharing our own experiences of putting our pets to sleep. Is it helpful to owners or does that infringe on their grief?
Timing is everything. If you are sharing anecdoteally before the procedure to provide information about when to know it is the right time, that can be okay. If you are trying to let them know you understand how they feel by sharing your story, no, it is their moment.
Q: Displaced grief. When the loss of a pet stirs up the loss of a family member or loved one that the person has not dealt with because they have focused on taking care of the pet after the loss of the loved one. We see this a lot in our older clients after the loss of a spouse. We have seen it when parent who has lost a child and gets the pet as a result and this loss brings everything back with some times horribly sad outcomes.
The death of a pet who provided comfort or was a link to a human loved one who died previously causes deep emotional pain. It is known by bereavement professionals that a new loss always "opens the door" to previous losses. At first this can be overwhelming, it can also be an opportunity to go back and grieve fully for the present and previous losses. There is no prescribed time line or order for resolving grief. I have seen time and again that the ability of the human spirit to cope and heal from loss is immense. Sad, grieving people don't need to be "fixed". Support and understanding, validating their emotions and believing they can survive their sadness gives them the confidence to work through their grief.
Q: What are your thoughts on the timing of sympathy cards. We send ours out the next day but I was talking to a peer who send out another card 4-6 weeks later telling the owner the hospital still misses "fluffy" and the owners are still in their thoughts. Sounds like it could be incredibly healing and validating or a hurtful reminder.
Sending out the sympathy card within the first couple days of the loss is ideal. Clients feel cared for and validated when they know their veterinary professionals understand how important their pet was to them. The idea of a second card a month or so later may be better as the exception rather than the rule. Cases where you are still in contact with the owner and sense they would find comfort from an additional card is thoughtful.