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The Nurse Card

Why Grief Can Be Divisive

Published October 23, 2015 11:12 AM by Diane Goodman

We lost one of our 4paw doggies this week. Kiki became critically ill without warning, and in spite of aggressive therapy, we lost her. You're never ready for one of these things, especially since we lost another dog last year. Maybe we thought we should be done for a while. We've lost parents, friends, colleagues...it's been quite a string of losses, as I'm sure a few readers have experienced. You get to that point in life, with the passage of a few birthdays.

One of the hardest lessons I've learned as a nurse and a human being is that grief doesn't necessarily become the glue to hold people together. Grief can cause friction, heartache, and divisive behavior. Like snowflakes, no two people grieve alike. Grief is highly individual as well as painful, and conflict can occur. As nurses, we learn a few skills to make grief and loss less difficult, even when it's our own inner circle. People who need to be alone to grieve can be driven nuts by those who want to talk through their emotions. The "talker" may need to find a close friend who can help during intensely lonely times, even if it's a brief text or two.

Learning what to say is as important as what not to say. Anyone who owns and loves an animal knows it's important not to say "well, she was just a dog", as dog-lovers feel that they have lost a member of their family. Saying that the loved one is in a "better place" is making religious assumptions that should probably be left unsaid, unless you know the griever quite well. Same with the phrase "God must have wanted to take her", although being reminded by a family member that the Pope said "all dogs go to Heaven" did bring a smile.

What you can do for the grieving person is to offer a simple "I'm sorry", and let them know you will be there. If they seem to be having difficulty with small tasks, grab their daily espresso and drop it off for a day or two, or pick up their mail. If you know one of the family members needs to have alone time, offer to take the others for a quiet meal at the mall, or dessert. Take them OUT for a chat, so they can discuss what they miss most or how they're feeling without guilt or infringing on someone else's quiet time. Do not package up dog toys or bowls or belongings without express permission, as people can get very touchy about these items.

People have fought for years over the fact one family member threw out the last paper cup a spouse drank out of without asking anyone's permission. Remember, handling grief is like snowflakes. No two people are alike. Be available. Be helpful with small tasks. Be genuinely sorry.

And don't touch anything.

posted by Diane Goodman

1 comments

Great Read regarding loss of our four legged family members.  It is so true that each person deals with this type of loss in a variety of ways. Often the "lost pet" is closer to the patient than his/her own family is. The grieving can be extensive.  In my opinion I feel women handle these losses greater than most men.  Women associate pets as being dependent on them, just as their children are. I, too, have several pets that are 14-18 years of age.  We have to look at them each day, knowing that when the time comes, we will have lost a part of ourselves.  Our local veterinarian has a great handout describing the loss of a pet and how all pets go to heaven and wait on "the bridge" for their master to arrive. As we put our "flock" down to sleep each night, not knowing if they will be able to be awakened in the morning, we tell them that it is okay "to leave" and we "will meet them on the bridge". This allows one to release the spirit and give credence to knowing that the lost pet is just a few steps away, even in death.  ALL pets go to heaven, I'm not sure if I can say that of ALL people.  There are truly evil people out in the world today, as a Critical Care RN, one often sees the damage that other people can inflict on their loved ones, including our beloved pets. I don't know that God would allow such a "person" to be a part of our immortality. Allow your patients to grieve at their own rate, do not be afraid to talk about the lost pet, sometimes allowing the patient to tell you a story about their deceased pet will cheer them up. Acknowledge the loss, for the bond is many times closer than a child who has grownup and moved away, or who remains distant.  Encourage the grieving patient to seek another pet, when he/she is ready, not as a replacement pet, but as a gift of  love for their lost "family member".  I have recently " replaceda' my miniature dachshund, who passed at age 14, with another mini doxie. While the bond is not as tight as the friend I lost, "Sadie" is a new soul, willing and able to make me laugh, remember my past friend with sweet memories, and the knowledge that  my old pet is "waiting for me on the bridge."

Lisa Ryan, ICU - RN November 5, 2015 2:53 PM
Ocala FL

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About this Blog


    Diane M. Goodman, APRN, BC, CCRN, CNRN
    Occupation: Clinical Educator
    Setting: Advocate Condell Medical Center, Libertyville, Ill

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