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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

Sid Korpi’s Pet Loss: the Lesson of the Squirrels

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The author of this StarTribune opinion piece, Dudley Clendinen, expresses beautifully what it means to approach one’s death with intention, defining what quality of life means and knowing when to accept death as our next phase of existence. I wish him godspeed.—Sid

How to die with grace

  • Article by: DUDLEY CLENDINEN
  • Updated: July 30, 2011 – 8:10 PM


Photo: Dean Rohrer, NewsArt

 

I have wonderful friends. In this past year, one took me to Istanbul. One gave me a box of hand-crafted chocolates.

Fifteen of them held two rousing, pre-posthumous wakes for me. Several wrote large checks. Two sent me a boxed set of all the Bach sacred cantatas.

And one, from Texas, put a hand on my thinning shoulder, and appeared to study the ground where we were standing. He had flown in to see me.

“We need to go buy you a pistol, don’t we?” he asked quietly (he meant to shoot myself with).

“Yes, Sweet Thing,” I said, with a smile. “We do.”

I loved him for that.

I love them all. I am acutely lucky in my family and friends, and in my daughter, my work and my life.

But I have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, more kindly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, for the great Yankee hitter and first baseman who was told he had it in 1939, accepted the verdict with such famous grace, and died less than two years later. He was almost 38.

I sometimes call it Lou, in his honor, and because the familiar feels less threatening. But it is not a kind disease. The nerves and muscles pulse and twitch, and progressively, they die.

From the outside, it looks like the ripple of piano keys in the muscles under my skin. From the inside, it feels like anxious butterflies trying to get out. It starts in the hands and feet and works its way up and in, or it begins in the muscles of the mouth and throat and chest and abdomen, and works its way down and out.

The second way is called bulbar, and that’s the way it is with me. We don’t live as long, because it affects our ability to breathe early on, and it just gets worse.

At the moment, for 66, I look pretty good. I’ve lost 20 pounds. My face is thinner.

But it’s hard to smile, and chew. I’m short of breath. I choke a lot. I sound like a wheezy, lisping drunk. For a recovering alcoholic, it’s really annoying.

There is no meaningful treatment. No cure. There is one medication, Rilutek, which might make a few months’ difference. It retails for about $14,000 a year. That doesn’t seem worthwhile to me.

If I let this run the whole course, with all the human, medical, technological and loving support I will start to need just months from now, it will leave me, in five or eight or 12 or more years, a conscious but motionless, mute, withered, incontinent mummy of my former self. Maintained by feeding and waste tubes, breathing and suctioning machines.

No, thank you. I hate being a drag. I don’t think I’ll stick around for the back half of Lou.

I think it’s important to say that. We obsess in this country about how to eat and dress and drink, about finding a job and a mate. About having sex and children. About how to live.

But we don’t talk about how to die.

We act as if facing death weren’t one of life’s greatest, most absorbing thrills and challenges. Believe me, it is. This is not dull.

But we have to be able to see doctors and machines, medical and insurance systems, family and friends and religions as informative — not governing — in order to be free.

And that’s the point. This is not about one particular disease or even about Death. It’s about Life, when you know there’s not much left. That is the weird blessing of Lou. There is no escape, and nothing much to do. It’s liberating.

I began to slur and mumble in May 2010. When the neurologist gave me the diagnosis that November, he shook my hand with a cracked smile and released me to the chill, empty gray parking lot below.

It was twilight. He had confirmed what I had suspected through six months of tests by other specialists looking for other explanations. But suspicion and certainty are two different things.

Standing there, it suddenly hit me that I was going to die.

“I’m not prepared for this,” I thought. “I don’t know whether to stand here, get in the car, sit in it, or drive. To where? Why?”

The pall lasted about five minutes, and then I remembered that I did have a plan. I had a dinner scheduled in Washington that night with an old friend, a scholar and author who was feeling depressed. We’d been talking about him a lot. Fair enough. Tonight, I’d up the ante. We’d talk about Lou.

The next morning, I realized I did have a way of life. For 22 years, I have been going to therapists and 12-step meetings. They helped me deal with being alcoholic and gay. They taught me how to be sober and sane.

They taught me that I could be myself, but that life wasn’t just about me. They taught me how to be a father. And perhaps most important, they taught me that I can do anything, one day at a time.

Including this.

I am, in fact, prepared. This is not as hard for me as it is for others. I have eperience.

I was legally responsible for two aunts and for my mother, all of whom would have died of natural causes years earlier if not for medical technology, well-meaning systems and loving, caring hands.

I spent hundreds of days at Mother’s side, holding her hand, trying to tell her funny stories. She was being bathed and diapered and dressed and fed, and for the last several years, she looked at me, her only son, as she might have at a passing cloud.

I don’t want that experience for anyone who loves me. Lingering would be a colossal waste of love and money.

If I choose to have the tracheotomy that I will need in the next several months to avoid choking and perhaps dying of aspiration pneumonia, the respirator and the staff and support system necessary to maintain me will easily cost half a million dollars a year. Whose half a million, I don’t know.

I’d rather die. I respect the wishes of people who want to live as long as they can. But I would like the same respect for those of us who decide — rationally — not to. I’ve done my homework. I have found the way. Not a gun. A way that’s quiet and calm.

Knowing that comforts me. I don’t worry about fatty foods anymore. I don’t worry about having enough money to grow old. I’m not going to grow old.

I’m having a wonderful time.

I have a beautiful, talented daughter who lives close by, the gift of my life. I don’t know if she approves. But she understands. Leaving her is the one thing I hate. But all I can do is to give her a daddy who was vital to the end, and knew when to leave. What else is there?

Last month, an old friend brought me a recording of the greatest concert he’d ever heard, Leonard Cohen, in London, three years ago. It’s powerful, haunting music, by a poet, composer and singer whose life has been as tough and sinewy and loving as an old tree.

The song that transfixed me, words and music, was “Dance Me to the End of Love.”

That’s the way I feel about this time. I’m dancing, spinning around, happy in the last rhythms of the life I love. When the music stops — when I can’t tie my bow tie, tell a funny story, walk my dog, talk with my daughter, or tap out lines like this — I’ll know that Life is over.

It’s time to be gone.

Dudley Clendinen is a former national correspondent and editorial writer for the New York Times, and author of “A Place Called Canterbury.” He wrote this article for the Times.

Dr.  Rebecca McComas of Minnesota Pets, who so compassionately aided our cat Giles in his passage to the Other Side a few days ago, sent me such a beautiful condolence card, I had to share her heartfelt message with you here.—Sid

Dear Sid and Anthony,

I just wanted you to know that you and Giles are in my thoughts and will be for some time. His was a beautiful, rich soul, and our world lost something wonderful yesterday. In my work, I am blessed to see pets in loving households, and in that way your situation is not different.  What was different was the way his story and his being touched me. Even though he was gravely ill, he was ever the gentleman—greeting a newcomer, helping me feel at home. I’m blessed to have met him. You were lucky to be with him for so long. Thank you for trusting me to help.

Rebecca

Dr. Rebecca McComas and friend

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

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.

Book Cover

Pet Parents

A Journey Through Unconditional Love and Grief

By Coleen Ellis

  • Also available as:
  • Published: July, 2011
  • Format: Perfect Bound Softcover(B/W)
  • Pages: 148
  • Size: 7.5×9.25
  • ISBN: 9781462035489
  • Imprint Logo

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.

Order at <http://www.iuniverse.com/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-000476586>

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.

cornies@gmail.com

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

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!

Love,

Sid

********

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.

My sister shared this article in Dr. Michael Fox’s column. (Dr. Fox wrote a wonderful endorsement for my book Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss.) This touching story reinforces the point of my own tale of a dog’s need to say goodbye (scroll down to read this). Please apply this to the passing of another pet, too. Animal’s need to understand what has happened when their playmate suddenly is gone. Letting them visit the body or sniff a blanket the deceased pet was wrapped in can help them process what’s going on.—Sid


My story:

Recently, I had the true pleasure of reacquainting myself with a dear friend I had not seen since high school, nearly 30 years ago! Don Rinderknecht and I had been in choir and plays together. Most notably, he was Nathan Detroit to my Adelaide in “Guys and Dolls” in 1980. He remains one of my all-time favorite costars.

As we sat and blabbed the night away, the topic of our shared love of animals came up. He and his wife, Penney, own five acres in Oklahoma, on which they have five horses (three of them minis), a dog and a cat named Mr. Data (from “Star Trek”). This is a household after my own heart!

We started discussing the publication of my book and he said, “I have the topic for your next book already—how other animals grieve when one of them dies.” He shared how his cat was after affected by his fellow feline housemate’s passing.

Of their one remaining cat, Mr. Data, he said, “His mood, dare I say even personality, changed when Mr Spock died. He even took to licking my hair which Spocky did, but Data never did until Spock left us! He also seemed to be a bit more aggressive about things like he tended to bite (not terribly hard) when we were petting him… he still does this stuff today.”

That led to my sharing some stories from the book itself and, in particular, this one about my mother’s passing and Mr. Moto, her precious pug’s, response to losing her.

When my mother was dying of lung cancer in 1998, we somehow all failed to recognize that we needed to help Mr. Moto through the process as well. When she left home to go to hospice, Mr. Moto had no idea where she’d gone and became utterly despondent. I was pet-sitting him one day for my sister, Diane, who would be inheriting him, when I noticed him sitting, slumped down in the middle of my backyard. He wouldn’t come when I called. He couldn’t seem to respond in any way because he was so depressed over being separated from his human mama.

I’ll never forget the other dogs’ response to his anguish: They urinated on him as if he were a tree stump.! We knew we had to do something fast for this poor little boy or he’d lose all will to live.

Fortunately, North Memorial Hospital in Minneapolis, Minnesota, had the good sense to allow pets into their hospice unit. We brought along Mr. Moto to see his mama one more time, and he was over the moon with happiness and relief!
Please note, he had always licked people in greeting…everyone except my mom. For some reason, he never would give her face a kiss in the eight or so years she’d had him. So, you can imagine the heart-wrenching scene we witnessed as Mr. Moto jumped onto her hospital bed and incessantly, frantically licked her face for at least five full minutes! I was afraid he might wear a hole in her!

It was quite difficult to see her impassive, almost mechanical response to his love-drenching, but I understood she was having to detach from life on this side of the veil in order to cross over soon, so she couldn’t allow herself to respond as she normally would have, i.e., with tears and laughter. She looked tired and numb, merely passively accepting Moto’s kisses and devotion. My heart broke doubly at the sight and the cross purposes of these two beings who had loved each other so very much.

After that visit, though, Mr. Moto was a changed dog. He was happy and light-hearted again because he’d communicated to us dense-as-lead

humans in the only way he knew how that he simply had to be allowed to say goodbye to his dearest mama and send her off with all his love, via wet tracks on her sunken, dehydrated cheeks. His relief was palpable. I still thank those hospital administrators who had the compassion and forethought to allow companion animals to be present for both their terminally ill patients’ and their pets’ comfort and so-very-necessary closure.


Back to the present—who thought I’d be seeing someone I hadn’t seen in more than half my life and connecting over such a profound memory? We were at that moment closer than we’d probably ever been while in high school. I’m grateful to have made that connection again with a true friend. I stifled the urge to lick his face, however.

Recognizing a dog lover, Blanche planted herself at Don's feet.Recognizing a dog lover, Blanche planted herself at Don’s feet.

From a letter I received from a reader:

Sid,

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.

Again, thanks,

— 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.

A ragdoll cat (Kodi Photo Credit: © Barbara Pierce )

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 <goodgriefpetloss@gmail.com> 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

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