What if… we help others going through tough times

A hand-drawn condolence card of 2 guinea pigs

This month I’m pleased to share with you a new guest blogger, Nicolette Evans. In this moving blog, she talks about her family’s grief at losing a much-loved pet and the kindness that helped them at a difficult time.

Recently one of our guinea pigs had to be put down. It was a heart-breaking decision and understandably, losing a favourite pet had a big impact on my young family.

When we received a condolence card through the post from our vets, it got me thinking how acts of kindness can really help support people in their time of need.

What helped us

The loss of a pet is difficult at any age. What helped us was being able to say ‘goodbye’ and bury our pet at home. We talked about the facts honestly with our children and they wrote a letter to say what she meant to them, which got buried with her. Obviously, there were lots of tears and we still remember her from time to time as we process our loss.

I also contacted my daughter’s school to let them know the situation. We’d had a similar bereavement a year back (two days before the start of the school year) and I knew she’d be subdued and emotional at school.

When the time is right, I’m sure my daughter will create her own way of remembering her pet. A few months after her first guinea-pig died, she created a slideshow of her favourite photographs. A lovely reminder of the good times she spent with her.

There is also PDSA’s National Collection of Pet Memories (https://www.pdsa.org.uk/donate/donate-in-memory/remembering-pets), where you can put up a photograph and message for a small donation.

It’s hard for vets too

I wanted to show some compassion to vets too. While researching this blog, I’ve read that many vets suffer from mental health problems as they fear the repercussions of making the wrong decision. It was shocking to discover that suicide rates for vets are four times the national average (2019 statistic).

Having to break very difficult news to owners while remaining composed (I would be in tears every time) and put animals to sleep must be so upsetting for them too.

How can you help?

I wanted to share some small ways to #bekind to friends, family and strangers when they are going through difficult times.

Put it in words
It can be hard to know what to say to someone when they’ve had a bereavement or received upsetting news.

Be kind to yourself too. A small gesture can be sending a card or text, to simply let people know you’re thinking of them. You could use a sympathy card with some pre-printed words of comfort or write your own message. Both will be warmly received.

It can be difficult to know what to write, especially if you are reaching out to someone with a serious or terminal illness. The website From Me to You is a great resource for finding the right words. It was created by Brian, who was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2010, and his friend Alison who wrote regular letters to cheer him up. They suggest ‘writing from the heart – no matter how clumsy the words. If it’s heartfelt, you can’t go wrong’.

Ask twice

Often we cover up how we feel when we’re struggling, so mental health charity, Time for Change suggests asking people ‘How are you?’ twice. When you get a ‘I’m fine’ reply and you know that might not be the case, asking ‘How are you?’ a second time gives people the opportunity to say what’s really going on for them. www.time-to-change.org.uk/asktwice

Also bear in mind, it’s perfectly normal to not want to talk about things. Sitting in silence can be difficult too, so suggest a change of scene, such as a walk outside with no expectation to talk.

Supporting your friend or relative to keep some sort of routine can also help, and you could encourage them to taking part in positive activities as a distraction. Reading about other people’s experiences and different ways to cope can be useful too.

Don’t be a stranger

Did you know listening skills make up 45% of our communication skills? Mental Health First Aiders use an attitude of ‘non-judgemental listening’ to help the listener to hear and understand exactly what is being said, enabling people to talk freely and comfortably about their problems.

Being empathetic isn’t saying ‘the right things’, instead it’s offering emotional support and being genuinely caring. Accept people as they are. It’s about respecting their feelings, experiences and values without criticising them, even if their attitudes and beliefs are different from yours.

Other tips to try are:

  • Asking people ‘What do you need from me?’ or ‘How can I help?’
  • Keeping your body language ‘open’ (avoid having arms crossed, keep eye contact comfortable (don’t stare or avoid eye contact)
  • Sitting down, even if the person is standing, and preferably not directly opposite them
  • Try to put yourself in their shoes and get on their wavelength.

Know your limits

Lastly set boundaries for yourself too. You can’t do it all, so if you feel more help is needed, gently suggest to the person you’re supporting that they get in touch with their doctor or charities such as Mind or Cruse Bereavement Care.

I hope these acts of kindness will help bring some comfort to those in need and relief that there is always some small way we can offer support in difficult times.

Nicolette Evans runs Nature Works Wonders to help people fall back in love with nature and enjoy life again. She offers essential oil classes, mindful photography sessions and occasional nature connection walks around Reading, Berkshire. Find out more on her LinkedIn profile.

This story of kindness from a vet was also featured in the stories section of this website.

Further resources:

  • PDSA has leaflets on saying goodbye and how to cope with the loss of a pet, as well as Pet Bereavement Support Service (PBSS Freephone – 0800 096 6606 Email – pbssmail@bluecross.org.uk)
  • Blue Cross’ free and confidential pet bereavement service can be accessed by phone, email or webchat: 0800 096 6606
  • Cat Protection – Paws to Listen for cat owners: 0800 024 94 94
  • Samaritans 116 123
  • SHOUT (a 24/7 text service) : 85258

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