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Sorry that the volume isn’t very loud, but you can get an idea of some of my pet loss presentation. Stick with if for a while, the sound gets a teensy bit better.—Sid
I think most of us know how deeply and emotionally linked certain songs can be for us, whether because the lyrics are particularly descriptive of what we were feeling at a certain time or because the song was simply playing at a profound moment in our lives. Last night, my husband and I went dancing to our favorite band, the Rockin’ Hollywoods, as a distraction from an otherwise emotionally heavy day (the first full day without our beloved Giles with us—see previous post).
For me, dancing provides both a physical and emotional release, so it seemed a healthy diversion for a few hours. However, midway through the band’s first set, I found myself choking back sobs right there on the dance floor, so hard was I hit by the Tokens’ “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”
In my mind’s eye, I kept seeing Giles’ handsome, lion-esque profile, so regal until his end. His having just been “put to sleep” gave a whole new meaning to that song for me. I doubt I’ll ever be able to hear it again without thinking of my darling, departed cat.
Giles would have been happy to have a famous song associated with him, I’m sure—he was not without a healthy ego, gorgeous boy that he was—but I can expect my future rumbas done to that song to be emotionally challenging for some time to come. (I squelched the flood during the show, luckily, and saved my breakdown for the car ride home.)
My lion sleeps forevermore.
Check out this new publication by my colleague in the pet loss world, Coleen Ellis.—Sid
Coleen Ellis, who opened the first standalone pet funeral home in the United States, helps pet parents, veterinarians, and others honor the lives of pets. She owns Two Hearts Pet Loss Center and is the co-chair of the Pet loss Professionals Alliance. She lives in Chicago, Ill., and Greenwood, Ind., with her husband and their furry children. To learn more about her, visit www.twoheartspetlosscenter.com.
A Journey Through Unconditional Love and Grief
By Coleen Ellis
- Also available as:
- Published: July, 2011
- Format: Perfect Bound Softcover(B/W)
- Pages: 148
- ISBN: 9781462035489
Coleen Ellis lost her “baby girl” in 2003, and she was devastated. No one understood how she could be so upset over losing “just a dog,” and she could never really say goodbye to her terrier-schnauzer mix, Mico. To help pet parents everywhere, she opened the first standalone pet funeral home in the United States in Indianapolis. In this guidebook, she helps pet parents, veterinarians, death-care professionals and others celebrate the special bonds we share with our animal companions. Drawing upon her experiences directing hundreds of pet funerals, Ellis provides: • ideas to help celebrate the special bonds people share with their pets; • checklists to choose the right cremation provider or funeral home; • heartwarming stories that show how pets can be honored in life and in death; • information on how death-care professionals, veterinarians and others are taking steps to serve pet parents; • additional resources to help people remember their pets the way they want. People everywhere want to honor the lives of their pets, and even if you aren’t a pet owner, you need to understand why this is important. Help yourself and those you care about with Pet Parents: A Journey Through Unconditional Love and Grief.
I was surprised to have been quoted (quite accurately I might add) in this online article from the London Free Press. Cool beans—Sid
Society slowly acknowledging pet loss as grief
By LARRY CORNIE, Special to QMI Agency
Last Updated: June 11, 2011 12:03am
KITCHENER – On Monday evening, in a small chapel nestled within the manicured grounds and natural wetlands of Williamsburg Cemetery in southwest Kitchener, nine people gathered, in the company of a funeral director and city staff, to mourn.
It was an emotional meeting. There were tears and disquieting silences. There was ritual. And each person, by their attendance, acknowledged the need for better resources for dealing with the profound loss – of a pet.
In Kitchener, like most other municipalities across the country, a city-sponsored workshop on the subject of pet loss would have been either unthinkable, perhaps even laughable, just two generations ago.
Dogs and cats were mostly kept for utilitarian purposes, usually security and pest control. When they doubled as family pets, they were usually kept outside with access to the shelter of outbuildings.
They were fed once a day with whatever food was handy, including table scraps. Veterinary care, if they got it at all, was limited to emergencies. And when they had the luxury of an assisted death, it came, not at the tip of a euthanizing needle in an animal hospital, but at the barrel of a shotgun behind the barn.
Gradually over the past half-century, we’ve turned a half-circle.
Today the vast majority of Canada’s pets – it’s estimated there are at least 3.5 million dogs and 4.5 million cats – are cared for with a different set of sensibilities.
Most pets are sheltered in homes. Many get regular veterinary care. Some owners will spend thousands of dollars to rescue a family pet from a life-threatening illness or pay out $150 to a vet to save a $10 hamster. Some doggies get day care.
Pet care has become a multibillion-dollar business, including high-end stores complete with bakeshops. And some owners pay as much to cremate a pet as they would a parent or child.
The trend merits more than just passing notice or a roll of the eyeballs. Decades ago, our longing for companionship was met by children, parents or friends who were weekly, if not daily, in our lives. We shared communities, if not parcels of the same tract of land. Today, hundreds of kilometres often separate parents, friends and children. In urban and suburban environments, neighbours are acquaintances, but seldom regular kitchen-table visitors. And the human need for love, loyalty and companionship seeks new avenues.
Lorelei Eckel-Braun, manager of Kitchener Cemeteries (the city owns seven, including a crematorium), says the impetus for creating a workshop on pet loss came from a combination of factors, including the more significant place pets occupy in the average home and “the tremendous amount of suffering that people go through” with the death of a pet. She recruited Dianne Bauer, a funeral director who had done research on pet loss, to conduct Monday’s session.
Those who attended, Bauer said, “wanted practical advice on how they might express their feelings.”
from page E1 Her suggestions included a number of options, from collecting memorabilia for a bookshelf, to photo albums, gardening and making donations to the humane society as a way of honouring their pet.
“As a society, we tend to diminish pet loss,” Bauer said. People will experience comments like, ‘It’s only a pet; for goodness sake, go out and get another one.’ Unfortunately, I’ve heard people say the same about loss of a baby. In both cases it’s dreadful; it shows terrible insensitivity, but it happens all the time.” Those responses, Bauer says, further inhibit expressions of heartfelt emotion.
This week in an interview on an Internet radio show, Minneapolis-based chaplain Sid Korpi, author of Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss, sounded a similar note about social acceptance of grief following the passing of a pet.
“Our society does not sanction it. They don’t give you support, on the whole, for grieving an animal. They’re there for you if you lose a parent, child, spouse or friend or whatever – and that’s wonderful – but they seem to have a kind of compassion fatigue kick in (when it comes to pets). . . . You can just see ‘the look.’ ” “It’s an area that needs to be explored – there are all kinds of possibilities,” said Eckel-Braun, adding this week’s workshop was only an experimental first step. A second event is planned for Sept. 15.
The times, Bob Dylan said, are a-changin’. And it’s time many of us – myself included – begin to realize that this type of pain and loss is as real as any other.
How many of you saw “Toy Story 3″? Among you, how many of you cried at the end? If you said yes to both of my questions, you have my permission to keep reading. If you didn’t, you may want to continue surfing the Web because I’m going to be talking about my grieving process over giving up a stuffed Kodiak-like bear named Basil.—Sid
Basil is a BIG bear, well over three feet tall when sitting and four feet wide. I can’t fully get my arms around him even at his narrowest point below the shoulders. He has been a member of my family and moved with me six times over the past nearly quarter century. I bought him in 1988 as a birthday present for my first husband who collected bears. (When we split in 2001, he kept the Robert Bateman limited edition print of a grizzly, and I kept Basil.)
Several years after I “adopted” him from The Wooden Bird Factory store (specialists in wildlife art and collectibles) for about $300, my “nephew” Schatze the schnauzer chewed a hole in Basil’s foot. It wasn’t repairable, hence, you see an Ace bandage wrapped around it.
On Halloween and Christmas, Basil wore costumes (once, he wore a fedora and slung a raincoat over his shoulder and bore an astonishing resemblance to Gene Kelly in “Singin’ in the Rain”) and oversaw parties and celebrations from his corner perch. He and his entourage of other stuffed toys such as the stuffed dog I’d given my mother while she lay in hospice, dying of lung cancer, finally wound up in our bedroom corner after my current/second/final husband’s and my last move. I saw him every day of my life for almost 25 years, frequently pausing to pet him.
I really, REALLY love that bear.
But my hubby bought a much-needed art deco armoire (Victorian houses such as ours are notorious for having too little closet space) that could only fit in Basil’s corner of our bedroom, where he’d been sitting atop our Westie Ambrose’s crate. I couldn’t place him on the ground or risk our latest adopted Westie Oliver’s chewing on or marking him. That left me with two choices: leave him forever stuck on top of a plant stand in my husband’s office or give him to a new home.
After much deliberation and MANY tears, I decided to bring Basil over to my “Attack of the Moon Zombies” director Christopher R. Mihm’s house. He has four young children, and I recalled how my great-nephew Grayson had loved to climb on Basil when he was a toddler. I asked Chris’s wife Stephanie to guarantee me two things: 1) someone in the house would call him Basil; and 2) if he got destroyed in the kids’ playing with him, they wouldn’t let me know. I went into this realizing it was a good possibility Basil would be “loved to death” in his new home, but I just couldn’t bear, pardon the pun, to watch that. Either way, he’d probably prefer, like the Velveteen Rabbit, to be loved to pieces rather than molder on a plant stand or, worse, wrapped in a plastic bag and stored in the rafters of my garage. Images of him “suffocating” made me wail with despair.
Heck, I’m still crying as I write this. How pathetic am I? I know Basil is an inanimate object and the only “feelings” he has are ones I project onto him through my anthropomorphic tendencies. But I feel just like the college-bound kid in “Toy Story 3″ as I say goodbye to my dear, stuffed pal.
Add to this the fact that there were likely lingering tidbits of wistful feelings from when my first marriage was truly happy attached to Basil, too, which require still other layers of letting go. And, at this same time, I also had to donate 16 grocery bags full of my clothes that had become too big for me, including many all-time favorite outfits I couldn’t hang onto for fear that to do so would mean subconsciously planning on gaining back the weight I’d worked so hard to lose just so I could wear them again. This was a major week for feng shui-ing my life. I know it was necessary on many levels, but I can’t say I only feel good about it all.
Getting back to Basil, I know for a fact that this is probably exactly what millions of people have had to face recently in having to relinquish their pets to new homes because of the economic downturn, foreclosures, etc. You can know you’re doing what’s in that pet’s/stuffed bear’s best interests, but it is still the loss of a loved one, the death of a relationship. It hurts like hell. You wonder if you’re doing the right thing. There’s a ton of guilt. (In the case of my grieving a stuffed bear, there’s a fair amount of embarrassment, too. You think pet loss is a disenfranchised form of grief? Try getting sympathy for stuffed-kodiak-bear loss!) There’s a kind of missing them that can’t be mitigated by, say, an afterlife visitation that assures you they’re still around you and doing fine. There’s worry that the new owner will not love and value them as much as you did. What if, for instance, that whole household of kids totally ignores Basil because he’s not a video game and they think stuffed bears are passe? (I don’t pretend to understand what’s appealing to this new generation of kids.)
It’s been several days since I made the decision to give away Basil and delivered him to his new home. I’m clearly not past the grief yet. I know that with any new experience of grief come remnants of all other past grief feelings that bubble up along with the new ones. You never say goodbye to just that one person/place/pet/thing. You say goodbye again to everyone and everything you’ve lost. Goodbye, Basil. Goodbye again, first husband (the version of you I loved with my whole heart). Goodbye again, youth and innocence (and all the beloved toys I’d sold at a garage sale to buy a new bike when I was 17). Goodbye again, Mom…Dad…everyone I’ve lost. Goodbye again, previous beloved homes and parties and holidays therein. Goodbye again, Schatze, the sweet, chewing schnauzer…and my Westies Tuppence and Ludwig who knew you…
And so on…
Gee, I guess I had the right to feel kind of low about all this. Who knew one stuffed bear was connected to so many heart-strings?
Dearest Basil, I hope you know I gave you up with love and the hope that you’d now bask in the attention of a household of playful kids and not feel neglected. Forgive me if that’s not what eventually happens. It’s no longer in my control. I thank you for being my steadfast friend and housemate for nearly half my life. I will miss you and remember you always.
You were the best bear EVER!
Update, Christopher Mihm just let me know that Basil is, indeed, in good hands. His 3-year-old daughter, Alice, just threw her arms around Basil’s neck and said, “I love you, bear.” Sigh.
From a letter I received from a reader:
I read most of your book [the same night I got it]—couldn’t put it down, and I’ve already lent it to a friend. I should definitely get more in the future. It’s a great resource. It even helped with some more grieving I needed to do for my parents.
— Cristina O.
This letter exemplifies a key, yet perhaps unanticipated point about pet loss: When you undergo the grieving process for a beloved animal companion, you also can expect to have the pain of old losses resurface. Grief is never really “done.” There are always new layers to experience, and these often link themselves to times when you’re experiencing similar emotions. This probably has to do with the particular neuro-pathways utilized for those kinds of feelings—can’t be sure, though; I left my copy of “Brain Surgery for Dummies” in my other suit—or maybe it’s a case of internal “misery loves company”-ism that brings those old emotions along for the current ride.
But revisiting old sorrows isn’t always a bad thing. Every time we do, we get rid of more toxins through our tears, we understand a bit more about our selves and how that person/pet fit into our lives then and now, we learn to value and appreciate what we have in the present, and so forth. A pet loss today can also open the heart to grief we avoided altogether in the past.
I was recently talking to a counselor friend of mine who told me the story of a rescued ragdoll cat, Teddy, she’d had for only a few short months before he died suddenly of feline leukemia. She said she sobbed uncontrollably for several days, only to realize that this cat’s purpose in her life was to remind her of an earlier loss she’d never fully grieved.
The cat she had for 21 years as she was growing up, the faithful friend who’d slept beside her head on her pillow for every day of their lives together, had been put to sleep by her father just after she’d moved out of her parents’ home and had just had her first child. Because of her emotional and energetic focus on her baby, she tucked away her really deep feelings for this cat and never shed a tear for his passing. It wasn’t until this recent rescue of a cat that resembled her childhood pet and his hasty demise that those four-decade-old feelings of grief got uncorked.
Once she’d put the clues together for herself, acknowledging Teddy’s selfless purpose for entering her life, she noticed that a stray cat she’d never seen before would be sitting atop his grave in her yard every day as she walked to her mailbox. This went on for two full weeks, and then, as abruptly as it had appeared, that messenger cat was suddenly never seen before.
Because our animal friends have shorter life spans than we do, part of their jobs, as it were, in this lifetime is to help us humans become accustomed to and more accepting of death as a part of the natural order of things. They heal us and make us stronger as we mourn the passing of each of these dear companions. It’s just one more thing to thank them for.
I noticed a small spike in viewership of this blog took place on Christmas Day, and I can only guess that’s because the holidays can be both joyful and sorrowful times and some of you needed a bit of support. Perhaps this is your first Christmas without a beloved pet, or maybe you’re aware it will be your last with him or her. Either way, emotions can be magnified during holidays and/or anniversaries. If you are one of those hurting individuals, please accept my sincere condolences and my wish for you—and everyone else—that you’re able to notice signs that your loved ones who’ve passed on are still around you and that their spirit and their love for you never dies. If anyone has had such a holiday experience, please email me at <firstname.lastname@example.org> and I’ll post it here.
In the meanwhile, here’s a wonderful holiday spirit (literally) story for you to enjoy and take to heart:
A month after losing his 17-year-old dog, Lyndsey, a man in Arizona was putting up Christmas lights outside his house, and a beautiful gray pigeon landed on his shoulder, startling him mightily. The bird stayed nearby or on his arm all day. It flew with him to his barn and even pecked on his front door until the man came back outside.
That first night, the bird could be seen watching him from the skylight overhead. It never left the man’s sight for eight days. It even slept on the departed dog’s blanket on porch every subsequent night until Christmas Eve.
Christmas morning, after opening their gifts, he and his family planted 300 bulbs around Lindsey’s resting place. The pigeon was doing her part alongside them, scratching in the dirt. After last bulb was planted, the bird fluffed her wings and flew off, never to be seen there again. Two days later, though, the man’s father called him from his home in Glendale, Ariz., saying, “You’re not going to believe what just flew down our chimney. A gray pigeon!”
The man summed up his extraordinary experience, saying, “It’s nice to think that my old dog Lyndsey…has found a little way to hang around for the holidays and to let everyone know that she is well and looking after us.”
I wish everyone who needs it an angelic visitation this holiday season!—Sid