When a member of our hospital experiences the death of a personal pet, we all understand the pain they are going through. We know how hard it is to come to work and focus while feeling sad. And while we do an awesome job supporting our clients when they have a loss, we can struggle when it comes to supporting our own colleagues when they experience the death of a personal pet.
Some folks avoid their bereaved colleague and stay silent because they don’t know what to say or in an effort to give them space. Others hug, express their condolences and ask questions but worry that it made their co-worker cry and feel worse. Everyone handles grief differently so it's difficult to know how best to acknowlege the loss and show we care. We don’t want our colleagues who are grieving for their pet to experience feeling overwhelmed by too much support or isolation and lack of support.
At DoveLewis we resolved this dilemma by creating a ritual which acknowledges the loss of staff pets in a caring and non-intrusive manner. When a staff member’s pet has died I am notified. I in turn reach out to the bereaved staff member, express my condolences by email and inquire if they would allow me to create a memorial table in their pets honor. I explain that the memorial table is an opportunity for their co-workers to share their condolences by writing in the blank journal provided, and that this is a way for their co-workers to learn about the special bond they shared and look at photos.
If they agree to the a memorial table I ask them to write a few paragraphs about the special bond they shared. I also ask them to provide an assortment of favorite photos. Sharing their story, expressing their feelings through writing and gathering photos facilitates a healthy grieving process.
Each memorial table I create is a unique reflection of the pet being honored. In addition to their story and photos (which I display in pretty frames), I decorate a blank journal where each staff member can write a personal message. I invite the bereaved staff member and all co-workers to place additional meaningful items on the table. Sometimes there are flowers, a candle, collar, paw print or a favorite toy. Creating a special table in the workplace that acknowledges and honors the pet’s life brings validation and comfort — a place where everyone can go and pay tribute allowing our bereaved staff member to feel the support of the their coworkers.
The photo is a memorial table in honor of Midnight, our intern Sarah’s sweet kitty.