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Issue: 59 - Nov 15, 2013
Not Getting Through? Try The Secret Passageway
By: Dana L Durrance, MA
Dana Durrance, M.A.

Have you ever been talking with a client and know you’re just not getting through? I’m sure you’ve been there... they’re sitting there right next to you; you’re being as sincere as you know how, and yet nobody seems to be home but you. When I’m caught in these quandaries, I use the board game Clue© as my inspiration. You all remember Clue© right…Colonel Mustard with the candlestick in the library and all that? What I found most helpful when playing with my older brother was the “secret passageways;” (if my ever-deteriorating memory serves, there were passageways between the kitchen and study; as well as the lounge and conservatory.)

It you feel stuck and are simply not getting through to a client, I suggest you try one of the secret passageways. As a grief counselor I have worked with hundreds of clients, all struggling with the illness or death of their pets. Most of the time, my training and experience allow me to get through and help these good folks. But I remember those few where despite all my training and skills, I simply could not get through. I remember one gentleman in particular, where I felt completely frustrated and helpless. With ego and pride aside, this was really bugging me because I really wanted to help this man.

This client had a nine-year-old cat named Bandit. Bandit was in the advanced stages of renal disease and from a medical perspective, the proverbial writing was on the wall. All of the heroic measures to keep Bandit alive had been exhausted but now it was the end of the line. Bandit was in complete renal failure and was suffering.

My client (although he’d never admit it) was extremely bonded to Bandit. He had been on disability for several years and without any children at home, Bandit was his constant companion. The man’s wife cared about Bandit too, but her bond with the cat seemed completely different. In fact, she had already left after signing the euthanasia consent so she could go back to work. That left my client as the one to follow up.

There was one slight snag however; he simply could not do it. He sat there for an hour before the clinician came and asked for my help. Then I worked with him for another hour trying all the things I normally do. I discussed quality of life issues, offered choices about the euthanasia, and gave him privacy to think… you know the drill. Despite my best efforts, we were stuck and going nowhere.

As a grief counselor I have learned over the years how to read fairly deep emotions in people and I knew this man was suffering. He wouldn’t acknowledge even my simplest attempts and I couldn’t get in the door. In desperation, I decided to try a radically different approach. “How is your wife dealing with all of this?” I asked. Suddenly, it was like standing beside Niagara Falls. I received a dissertation on all the emotions “she” felt about Bandit’s impending death and “her” guilt about euthanizing him. As long as we kept referring to his wife, it seemed that we could talk about almost anything.

I learned that his “wife” felt that Bandit was the only one who understood her. Bandit was the one, constant presence in her life no matter what the adversity and now felt that “she” was letting Bandit down. Finally, with something to sink my therapeutic teeth into, we were able to move forward in the euthanasia process and walk down that emotional road.

My client decided to euthanize Bandit outside because that is where his “wife” felt Bandit was the happiest. I asked my client if there was anything his “wife” might want to say to Bandit. He simply whispered “I love you” to Bandit while stroking his head. I could see faint tears welling up in his eyes. Having better insight into his psyche at this point, I stayed very low key and simply stroked Bandit’s soft fur while gently holding on to my client’s hand. It was a moving experience and a very loving, peaceful good-bye to a treasured friend.

My client said very little after that. I told him that his “wife” could rest assured that Bandit was no longer suffering and that “she” could contact me for any future support. He took my hand, whispered “thank you,” and left.

What I remember most about this man was how forthcoming he was as long as we kept up the pretense that we were only referring to his wife’s emotions. It was a good reminder that a little creativity can make all the difference.  If you are running into a locked door, try taking the secret passageway…it may prove to be the only effective way in solving your dilemma.