Help me do something nice for my coworker, whose beloved pet is dying
June 17, 2014 3:34 PM   Subscribe

One of my favorite colleagues has a cat, and it is dying. She is just waiting on tests to come back from the vet so they can decide if palliative care is an option or not. I'd like to do something nice to let her know that I'm thinking of her, but need ideas that won't memorialize me as "That girl who did that crazy thing in a misguided attempt to nice." Also looking for a sanity check - if this is a bad idea, please say so (and why).

I've been here for a year, she's been here much longer. I'm 23 and she's 15ish years older than me. Not my boss, but senior to me and I help her out voluntarily whenever I have time, mostly because I really like her and her boss. She's sort of a mentor to me - great about answering questions about the organization (esp. when I was new), teaching me new skills and giving me new projects (even when it would probably be faster for her to do it herself), gives good career advice, is great when you need an ear for a few minutes, etc. We talk about non-work stuff somewhat often (maybe 2-3 times/week), but aren't extremely close. Because of the difference in our ages and seniority levels, we don't get together outside of work but I do consider her a "work friend."

She mentioned the cat issue to me last week when this was all just unfolding and seemed really upset but obviously holding it together at work. On Friday she sent me a couple of emails to let me know that the vet visit wasn't going well. Yesterday she said she was waiting on labs but it didn't look great. And today I asked if she'd heard anything, and she said he was dying.

So, here we are. I want to do something to let her know I'm thinking of her, but given our age and seniority differences, don't want to come off as too weird. Any ideas?
posted by schroedingersgirl to Work & Money (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
A card, maybe some wildflowers, on her desk? Yes, it's very thoughtful and kind.
posted by theora55 at 3:38 PM on June 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yes, a card or flowers would not be overdoing it at all.
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:46 PM on June 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Maybe it's just me, but when I went through the loss of a beloved pet recently, work was the one place where I could be and try to not think about it. I appreciated the sentiment from one colleague who knew about it, but I didn't like having it brought up at work because I was trying to keep it together and stay professional. If you are doing something, maybe save it for the end of the day or lunch hour when your colleague doesn't have to run off to a meeting?
posted by Gortuk at 3:48 PM on June 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

A nice card and a small donation to the Humane Society in memory of her cat, and otherwise not bringing it up unless she mentions it, as per Gortuk above.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 3:49 PM on June 17, 2014 [11 favorites]

When my boyfriends cat had to be put down, I donated money in loving memory of the cat to a local animal rescue as a gift. He loved it.

Remember, pets are family members...not just pets. It's a huge deal and I'm sure your coworker will appreciate your sympathies. Sometimes our level of mourning directly reflects the respect we have for our pets.
posted by floweredfish at 3:49 PM on June 17, 2014

Are you close enough that making her a lasagna or something easy she can take home for dinner would be appropriate? That's more of a response-to-people-dying thing, but losing a pet can be just as horrible and I think a lot of people would appreciate not having to think about cooking.
posted by nakedmolerats at 3:53 PM on June 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

A work colleague of many years had to have her 18-year old cat put down. I have pets, so I attempted to commiserate appropriately.

Her response: "I can't talk about it without crying yet, so thank you, but let's change the subject."

Now, she has a new rescue puppy taking up her attentions, but it was a good lesson. Venture sympathy, but take your cues from the bereaved.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 4:00 PM on June 17, 2014

Do you have her home address? Flowers or a card there is appropriate. In your case I think a card.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:05 PM on June 17, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great advice so far, especially the reminder to talk about it only if she brings it up. Still trying to decide if I want to do anything, and what I'd like to do if so, so please keep the ideas coming.

I do want to clarify, though, that I am in no way seeking recognition, hal_c_on. I'd be happy to do something anonymously if people thought it appropriate, or to do nothing if that is the consensus. I'm simply trying to be a kind person, not an attention whore.

Going away - no more threadsitting from me! :)
posted by schroedingersgirl at 4:06 PM on June 17, 2014

When this happened to me, I would not have wanted flowers at work - then you just have everyone asking you what the occasion is. A card would have been fone. Personally I'd have preferred just a simple "I'm sorry" and then getting back to letting me keep my shit together at work, but I certainly wouldn't have minded a card.
posted by Stacey at 4:10 PM on June 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would give her a nice card on a Friday afternoon, and inside is a piece of paper showing you donated X amount to [local animal shelter/charity/humane society] in [her cat's name] (if you know it).
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:18 PM on June 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

And today I asked if she'd heard anything, and she said he was dying.

You say, 'I'm so sorry this is happening to you.' and that's the sweet thing. My boss called me when my dog died. He left a voicemail saying 'I'm sorry. I've been there.' Someone who works with me emailed me and said 'I'm so sorry you're going through this'.

I didn't respond to my boss and said I appreciated it to my other colleague. Other than that, I left it alone at work, even though my five day absence couldn't have gone unnoticed, and I know that other people I'm close to at work knew, and I knew they specifically weren't bringing it up, and I knew it wasn't because they didn't care. It was because they were sparing me and them the embarrassment of me bawling all over the place.

I appreciated it not being brought up. I wanted that island that wasn't Sadness Land. That waited for me at home. I thought it was sweet that my boss called and left that message, though I've never talked about it with him. It is in my mental file of 'that guy is a decent human being', which is actually a good-sized file.

Losing a pet is a small and very private horror and there's no real cultural infrastructure for it. No one really brings casseroles, even though your best friend died. And in a way, you sort of wouldn't want them to, because the grief is so alien because it's not a person--you know most people don't get it, and that fact is inescapable.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:29 PM on June 17, 2014 [12 favorites]

I think leaving a card on her desk at the end of the day would be thoughtful in a couple of ways: The card itself offers your sympathies for a painful life event, and by leaving it for her to find at the end of the day, she can take it with her and read it later, away from work. Just don't get some big flowery bereavement card. A sweet, simple "Thinking of you" would do just fine.

I wouldn't send her something at home, because that can come off a little too personal, and since your only connection is through work, you should keep it that way.

A donation to a humane society or the like would be nice too, I guess, but just the thought of you caring enough to get her a card would also be plenty.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 4:33 PM on June 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm with nakedmolerats - I have a cat who has been really sick for a month and my entire life has ground to a halt, including simple things like cooking a nice dinner. I would have been so touched if someone had made me a casserole or even just bought me a gift certificate for pizza delivery. Anything to make day to day life easier.
posted by something something at 5:01 PM on June 17, 2014

You know, when my beloved cat died, the nicest thing people did for me was bring him up and allow me to be sad without being scared or anxious about my tears. I also really loved it when the vet made a donation to the UC Davis small animal veterinary school in my cat's name.

There's a book that I often recommend, which really helped me in the grieving process, which looks stupid and goofy but is actually really good. It takes you on your journey with your animal from how you chose him/her or how he/she chose you, to all the milestones in your animal's life. That's also the kind of thing we were always prepared to do with hospice patients, because grief often includes a kind of summing up or making a story out of or making a through line in the midst of a messy experience.

The big thing, though, is to acknowledge her grief as being something that of course you would feel on the death of a beloved companion. Many people feel guilty -- "it was only an animal" -- but we have relationships with animals that are not complex or paradoxical. We love them and they love us. Period.

Here is also a link in case it comes up to a site for memorial jewelry etc for animals, and also one that isn't specifically for animals, but where I got a wonderful pendant with my cat's picture on it, really beautiful work.
posted by janey47 at 5:12 PM on June 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I think a blank card that just says "you're in my thoughts during this difficult time" or something simple and vague like that is about right. It's low-key, but it gets the message across, so she has the agency to come to you with more or downplay it.

When my cat was dying I didn't want to make a huge deal out of it at work, but I did pick one work colleague out and used her as my "I need to vent for a second or I'm gonna lose it" designated sounding board while things were still unfolding. Actually, I think the fact that she was contacting you over the course of things to let you know "I'm still at the vet"/"It's not looking good"/"it's bad" or whatever is a sign she trusts you, which is good.

And that's all that she really needs to hear, is that someone knows she hurts and that they agree the situation is sucky. She'll come to you after that if she needs more.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:44 PM on June 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, and don't necessarily give her a copy of the Rainbow Bridge thing which everyone shares during pet death; it's comforting for some, but personally I got sent so many copies I started hating the fucking thing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:46 PM on June 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

I absolutely agree with EmpressCallipygos -- I'm an atheist and that Rainbow Bridge thing just made me feel horrible.
posted by janey47 at 6:00 PM on June 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

I always send people a condolence card when their pets die, usually just a blank card with a pretty picture on the front and I write something like, "I heard about Buttons, so sorry for your loss" -- just a line or two. Everyone I have ever sent one to has effusively thanked me the next time I saw them, because people grieve their pets hard, but there's very little social recognition of the loss. It means a lot to people to have other people recognize that loss and offer sympathy in the traditional way.

I usually mail them to people's homes, but if that would be weird and you'd normally hand things to her at work, I would give it to her at the end of the day so she doesn't open it at work.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:12 PM on June 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

You are a really good person to be considering this, and clearly your colleague trusts you.

I would agree with so many people above. A simple card at the end of work day (+\- small donation to Humane Society) would mean so much. The death of a pet is so hard; it's grief, but not treated socially as death of a friend or family member would be. I so appreciated it when my vet's office (several years ago: so I still remember it) sent me a card after my cat and then my dog died...just a generic card, but signed by all of the staff. I appreciated that it was being acknowledged as a real loss.
posted by maryrussell at 6:48 PM on June 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I want to offer a slightly differing opinion on the donation end of things. I think a card is lovely, but a donation feels a little odd in a superior-employee relationship (I say this as someone who has been in both positions). I'd do a small bouquet, or a nice bar of chocolate or some homemade cookies.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 6:50 PM on June 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Another thing about donations is they can get the person on a mailing list for donation solicitations. Or, almost worse, newsletters. We get one that I call the Hey, Just A Reminder That Your Cat Is Dead newsletter because it started due to a well meant donation, and now I can't get the damn shelter to take me off their list. So four times a year I get it and it makes me sad, despite the good intentions that led to it.
posted by Stacey at 7:03 PM on June 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

When my dog died, my boss brought me a really cheerful bouquet of flowers the day after at work. It was really thoughtful. My fiance's cousin sent a really nice card in the mail too. I think either would be appropriate.
posted by radioamy at 7:19 PM on June 17, 2014

Agree with the card and donation in the animal's name (or her name.) You might mention in the card that if there's anything you can do, to please let you know. Take your cues from her response.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:46 PM on June 17, 2014

Best answer: A card would be lovely. As people say, a simple thinking of you card quietly left on her desk towards the end of the day.

A donation is strange when the person is your superior/mentor. For anyone else - a coworker, church friend, acquaintance, someone junior to you, a neighbour - a donation would be a lovely gesture. But money things are weird in offices: people almost always gift sideways or downwards. This is especially true when the gift is cash or cash equivalent.

The exception would be something homemade and/or very simple, such as a small plate of homemade cookies, a small chocolate treat from a local store, a small loaf of banana bread, or some other small token that you know she'd appreciate.

I think it's really sweet of you to want to do something for her and let her know you're thinking of her.
posted by mosessis at 8:35 PM on June 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I agree with those who say that a card with a short message (e.g., "Thinking of you at this difficult time; please let me know if I can do anything or if you'd like to talk") would be a kind gesture. You seem to be concerned that reaching out might be perceived as ass kissing/ recognition seeking given that this is a work relationship. I honesty don't think this is something you need to worry about since it was your coworker who told you about her cat and emailed you updates on her condition. I know that a card with a "thinking of you" message may seem cliched, but I think this is probably what most people would want to hear.

If you do reach out with a card or something else, and your coworker doesn't immediately acknowledge it, please don't take this as a signal that you've done anything wrong or crossed some line. My much beloved pet died two months ago, and I still haven't acknowledged some messages that were sent at that time, not because I wasn't grateful, but simply because I was overwhelmed and terribly sad. I am, in fact, very thankful for the notes and cards, and I will let people know once I feel a bit more steady on my feet.
posted by girl flaneur at 8:57 PM on June 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

A card is definitely the way to go. It's not too much, it's not creepy. It's a small but very thoughtful thing.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:08 AM on June 18, 2014

Best answer: Yes to the card. No to the flowers; a bouquet is bulky, and she's got to either put it in a vase on her desk, or carry it home, and either way people will ask about it (what's the occasion?) or just look at her as she carries them to the bus stop or whatever (oh, cool, a lady with flowers, that's so nice that people are nice to people), and the feeling of being conspicuous isn't pleasant when it's not a showing-off kind of emotion.
If you want to do something more than flowers, I'd look for a small easily transportable bakery item, either homemade or purchased. 6 cookies stacked in a cellophane bag, or a little box of cookies, or a cupcake in a carry case, or a gladware stacked with brownies; something that travels well, will fit in her purse, etc. Alternately, a gift card to the coffeeshop in/near your office building. Or invite her to go for coffee with you, treat her to a pastry and a coffee, give her the card, and have whatever conversation you normally would, with only as much mention of the cat as "Hey, you're having a rough week, I'm so sorry to hear about Bubbles; I got this [card] for you."
posted by aimedwander at 6:45 AM on June 18, 2014

Response by poster: Thank you all so much for your feedback. I favorited the answers that gave me an opinion and walked me through it, because those where especially helpful, but every answer was useful. I am thinking that a card on her desk at the end of the day is the best way to go, possibly with a small treat (I know she loves chocolate). Thanks again!
posted by schroedingersgirl at 7:15 AM on June 18, 2014

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