Compassionate Goodbyes is a program of Gundersen Medical Foundation, home of Resolve Through Sharing (RTS), the world-renowned bereavement training program for healthcare professionals.
Compassionate Goodbyes began as an idea in 2015 when RTS leadership identified a lack of support for people bereaved by pet loss and a need to validate their grief. As is often the case for healthcare professionals, veterinary professionals receive little or no training in developing competencies around providing relationship-based bereavement care to their clients or managing their own grief responses and supporting their colleagues with the same. The RTS model, with its transferrable concepts and properties, provided a logical framework for creating Compassionate Goodbyes.
People suffering the death of their pets can experience grief just as profound or complicated as those losing important human relationships. Evidence supports the significant roles animals play in our lives. The impact of the death of an animal companion on the daily functioning of their human counterpart can be severe. Because bereavement involving the loss of animal companions is not recognized on the same level as losing family members or friends, pet owners can often be disenfranchised in their grief. Interacting with unskilled veterinary professionals can add to the trauma of these experiences.
At the same time, the most difficult work that veterinary professionals perform on a routine basis— seeing clients through the death of a beloved pet while managing the traumatic impact they experience as the care provider—is not regarded sufficiently as something that requires preparation and training. The pressures of quick turnaround scheduling, the vast array of care situations they attend to daily, and the regularity with which they are required to end life contribute to a rollercoaster work environment. There are not sufficient opportunities to attend to their emotional needs. Compassion fatigue, burnout, depression, and moral injury are common in these professionals’ lives. Support and education help build resilience and provide permission to grieve.
In the summer of 2017, RTS convened an advisory panel of local veterinarians, animal therapists, and Humane Society personnel to develop a bereavement education program modeled after the RTS training approach. Panel experts included Tom Thompson, BS, DVM; Jean Thompson, BS, DVM; Mark Mattison, BS, DVM; Rana Limbo, PhD, RN, CPLC, FAAN; and Marie Walter, MS, RN, C-EFM, CPLC. The program has been crafted to comply with AAHA end-of-life guidelines.
Recognizing the critical role veterinary professionals play in the human/animal connection, Compassionate Goodbyes thanks all who have served and supported bereaved pet owners on their journey. Their dedication, tender care, and expert insights cannot be measured.