Losing her daughter, Anne, was hard. So when Mackey's daughter's Shih Tzu, Jasmine, fell ill hundreds of miles from home just months after Anne's death, Mackey panicked. She didn't know a veterinarian. It was Sunday night, and most clinics were closed. Jasmine was her living link to Anne. Losing Jasmine while she was still grieving for her daughter was more than Mackey thought she could bear. After a desperate search, she reached an emergency clinic, where Jasmine was treated.
Mackey, a bereavement support group leader, told me her story the next morning during a 10-minute bus ride to the Center for Loss in Fort Collins, Colo., where we were both attending a class on complicated grief. I'd never met Mackey before, but I learned a lot simply by listening and asking a few questions.
A few weeks later, Mackey called me from her home in Texas in a panic. Jasmine had undergone surgery that day and the practice had released Jasmine to her care. Jasmine was screaming in pain and Mackey didn't know what to do. Mackey's veterinary clinic was closed and no one was returning her calls. We talked briefly, and Mackey took Jasmine to an emergency clinic for treatment. I doubt these healthcare teams had any idea about Mackey's special relationship with her daughter's dog.
Both teams treated the pet, but they didn't take care of the client. Mackey confided to me that although the teams at each of the practices she visited were efficient, they didn't show her any compassion.
You can't read clients' minds, but you can provide a warm, compassionate environment that encourages clients to share their thoughts and feelings about their pets. Are you ready to take the next step to learn how to reach out to grieving clients?
Help them handle the hurt
You work with grieving clients every week, and probably every day. Sometimes you know they're grieving. Sometimes you don't. Sometimes they're grieving for a pet. Sometimes they're grieving for a person. Sometimes they're grieving for another type of loss, such as divorce or a child leaving home. Sometimes they're feeling anticipatory grief because a beloved pet or person suffers from a terminal illness.
Give others a boost
You can't take away clients' hurt. You can't heal their grief. But you can offer friendship and understanding. Acknowledging the hurt and showing compassion will bond a client to your practice more strongly than anything else you can do. So offer your clients the same compassion you feel for their pets. After all, your patients don't request care or make appointments; your clients do. Clients are an important link in the pet's chain of healthcare.