Top Tips for Supporting Grieving Clients

On 4 March, 2013 in Customer Service by Rosie Overfield

Grief is a normal, natural process by which we adjust to living with any significant loss. It is a total response to the crisis of losing anything precious. Too often we associate grief only with death, when we have lost a loved one, however client grief can occur for many reasons. These include:

  • Receiving the news that a pet may die
  • Receiving the news that a pet has a poor prognosis
  • Realising their pet may never be able to do all the things they used to do (loss of the pet’s ‘old life’ or shared  experiences with the pet)
  • Realising they cannot do anything to help (loss of control in caring for their pet)
  • Leaving their pet in hospital (loss of companionship, primary carer)
  • Giving (reliving) bad news to family members and friends

Grief is normal but not well understood. Unfortunately too many clients in the midst of their grief worry about ‘being normal’. Whilst supporting grieving clients can be an emotionally uncomfortable exercise, veterinary professionals play a vital role in helping clients feel normal. After all, if we can't make clients feel normal grieving for a lost pet, who can?!

In the days after loss ...

  • Open the door to communication. If you aren’t sure what to say, ask “How are you feeling today?” or “I’ve been thinking about you. How is it going?”
  • Listen 80% of the time, and talk 20% of the time. Very few people take the time to listen to someone’s deepest concerns. Be one of the few. Both you and the griever are likely to learn as a result.
  • Offer specific help. Take the initiative to call a griever. If you also respect the client’s privacy, your concrete assistance with the demands of daily living will be appreciated.
  • Expect future ‘rough spots’. As they make active attempts at coping with difficult feelings and decisions for months following the loss.
  • Be there for the griever. There are few rules for helping aside from openness and caring. Be with, be alongside.
  • Talk about your own losses when invited. Talk about how you adapted to them. Although the griever’s coping style may be different from your own, your self-disclosure may help. Make it brief to allow them to question for further information or not if they are not ready to hear.
  • Use appropriate physical contact. Like an arm around the shoulder, a hug (with permission, “May I hug you? Would it be alright for me to hug you?”) – When words fail. Learn to be comfortable with shared silence, rather than chattering away in an attempt to cheer the person up.
  • Be patient with the griever’s story. Allow him or her to share memories of the deceased pet. This fosters healthy continuity as the person orients to a changed future.
  • Share resources which may be useful to the client such as books, support websites or counsellor contact details

Things to avoid ...

Don’t:

  • Force the griever into a role by saying, “You’re doing so well.” Allow the griever to have troubling feelings without the sense of letting you down or having to make you feel comfortable.
  • Tell the griever what he or she ‘should’ do. At best, this reinforces the griever’s sense of incompetence, and at worst, your advice can be ‘off target’ completely.
  • Say, “call me if you need anything’. Vague offers are meant to be declined, and the griever will pick up the cue that you implicitly hope he or she won’t contact you.
  • Delegate helping to others. Your personal presence and concern will make a difference if you are comfortable with grief.
  • Say, “I know how you feel”. Each griever’s experience of grief is unique, so invite the griever to share his or her feelings, rather than presuming that you know what the issues are for that person. Just as they don’t know what your issues are for you
  • Use hackneyed consolation by saying, “There are other fish in the sea,” or “God works in mysterious ways.” Or “You can always get another pet.” This only convinces the griever that you do not care enough to understand and be with.
  • Try to hurry the person through grief by urging that he or she get busy, throws out the deceased’s possessions (pet’s special toys, clothes etc).

Grief work takes time and patience and cannot be done on a fixed schedule. However, supporting grieving clients is an opportunity to delivery excellent customer service and bond clients to your practice.




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