Don’t confuse good intentions with expertise – there is a difference!
Grief can make people do irrational things. If fact, some people who are grieving may not even realize that they are out of control. They may be trying so hard to remain in check, that everyone else can clearly see they are not. I’d like to share with you a true story my colleague and I recently endured. This encounter was one of the most absurd situations I have experienced. Reflecting back, I feel sad for this person because they were so clouded with emotion, that they were incapable of seeing the forest for the trees. It was clear they were still grieving.
Here’s how it began. My colleague caught wind of an upstart pet grief group that was being held at a local restaurant. For the record, we felt this could be positive for our community. (The past two years, I have been in partnership with hospice and host pet grief support in two counties.) Not knowing anything about the individual who was forming this or their credentials, we reached out via email to create a dialog. The sole intent was to understand the group’s objective and get to know the person chairing it. Why? There are times when people don’t need counseling, or have moved beyond our group, therefore a social group would be a better fit for their needs.
Our goal was to merely be informed. Initially our thoughts were to create a network. We had no response back from our email, therefore on the evening of the group, we stopped by to say hello. We arrived fifteen minutes early to the restaurant, with the intention to say hello and schedule a time to have a future conversation. When the hostess greeted us, we said we were here for the pet loss group. This was the first time the manager along with the entire restaurant staff had heard of this. Being early, we sat in the waiting area for the chairperson to arrive. A few short minutes later, a person came in and asked the hostess for a booth in a back corner. My intuition told me, this was the founder of this group. At that moment, I reached out, asked if they were here to chair the group, the answered yes. I stood up extending my hand for an introduction. Before I could finish my name, this person went out of control. They began yelling, would not shake hands, said they knew who we were and told us we were not welcome in this establishment. Everyone in the lobby became a party to this very loud rant. They shouted “I got your email! Why would you come here? Your motives are about money and business, get out of here! You are a bully! There was a reason I didn’t answer your email. It was unprofessional and intimidating! I have a dream! Why are you interfering with my dream?” I immediately expressed that its clear we’re not on the same page. I said let’s try this again. I apologized for the way the email was received. I shared that it’s intent was of a positive nature. I went on to say, I have found sometimes texts, voice mails, letters and emails can take on a life of their own, and not be of processed by the receiver in the spirit it was sent in. I shared that we were here because we felt there was no one size fits all grief group. I wanted to understand the group’s intent. I went on to say that there could be an opportunity to network. My remarks fell on deaf ears. This person shouted out, “What’s in for you? I replied that it was the right thing to do. My past experience has taught me, when people or groups work together, check their egos at the door, and work towards the greater of the good – everyone achieves more.
This entire exchange went on for about ten minutes. The individual stormed off to their booth. We stayed for a cup of tea. Upon leaving, we felt bad for this entire situation, therefore as a random act of kindness I paid for their bill. I asked general manager to not tell this person who paid it, when asked, please simply share that it paid.
Color me surprised the next morning when I came into the office. Our answering service shared an outraged person called multiple times through the night demanding to be patched through to me. Our service has a protocol to follow. This was not a death call, nor an emergency therefore they asked for a contact information so I could return the call during normal working hours. This was not provided. Calls again started coming in, early the next day. When I arrived to the office, I took the call. Without a hello, I heard a very upset individual who shouted, “What do you mean by more? What does more mean?” I responded, that I felt I had made myself very clear yesterday. I went on to restate our intent. After ten minutes of literally the same accusations, now combined with personal threats, I ended the conversation and went on with my day. In the late afternoon, the local police called me. They wanted to know what my relationship was with this person. I was asked to share my view of what took place. The police told me this person alleged they were being bullied both via email and in person. I offered to share the email with them, they had already read it. The police also felt it was professional, well intended and clear. They thought I did nothing wrong. This person wanted to press charges. Of course there were no charges to be placed. The police asked in order to satisfy this person and end this report, could they have my word that I would not email them or attend their support group. Of course I agreed.
What’s the point of this story? Check out the credentials of the person or professional group you seek out for counseling, or for that fact anything! Your doctor, your lawyer, eldercare helper, pet sitter – the list goes on. In closing, after doing some due diligence, this person had no professional grief credentials. Personal loss was their only qualification. Let me be clear – I don’t want to minimize this person’s pain or their good intentions of wanting to create social group where people can share stories. That is not a bad thing. As a potential group participant, know what you are attending. After all, a famous grief pioneer Rabbi Grollman quoted “Grief shared is grief diminished”.
In closing, Grief is grief – it doesn’t matter if a person is mourning the loss of their spouse, pet, job, etc… It’s a loss. Only that person knows how they feel. Sometimes people just need a social group. Conversely, others need professional help. Understand the difference. If you don’t know where to seek out trained experts start with hospice, your local funeral home or your local pet loss professional. Emotions are real, grief is a process – align yourself with the people who have the tools to help you heal. It’s about you growing through the process, not taking on someone else’s heart ache.