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Kevin McNamara lost his child to SIDS when she was just 5 months old. Since then, he has created a series of four free videos to help mothers who have lost children move through their grief. Please give them a look if you or anyone you know has experienced this kind of devastation.

Moving Through Grief

Or visit his website at: http://www.facebook.com/l/lAQHuEV4lAQGl4g5y-wxrodLt05VnCVFo7LSfU-2_k_TSMA/www.motherswhohavelostachild.com

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Pets are more than just animals — they’re family. And anyone who’s ever lost a pet knows it’s terribly heartbreaking. Whether it’s your first time to lose a pet or your third, it never really gets easier, only more familiar. Thankfully, there are many ways to ease the sorrow and help you recover from such a devastating loss. If you or someone you know is suffering from the loss of a pet, then take a minute to read these seven tips to help you cope and return to a more peaceful state of mind.

  1. Allow yourself to grieve:

    One of the most important things you have to remind yourself of following the loss of a pet is that it’s important and perfectly OK to grieve. Everyone grieves in different ways and for different periods of time. It may last a few days or a few years. Either way, it’s a completely personal experience that may require taking off work or spending some time alone to bounce back.

  2. Express your grief openly:

    A big part of the healing process is expressing your grief openly. Don’t be afraid to talk about your feelings and memories. Holding it in will only make the grieving process more difficult and painful. This is especially important to remember when talking to your children about the loss of a pet. When explaining the situation, be sure to express your own grief and reassure your kids that it’s OK to be sad and that you also feel the same way.

  3. Spend time with your surviving pet:

    Spending time with your surviving pet can help you cope with grief and ease the pain of losing an animal. Surviving pets may need a lot of TLC at this time because they are also affected by the loss. Even if they weren’t close, your surviving pet may whimper and act lethargic because they are distressed by the sudden changes. Comfort your surviving pet and try to create a positive emotional state within the home.

  4. Do something in your pet’s memory:

    Whether it’s spending time at the park where you used to walk your dog, volunteering at an animal shelter, or making a donation in your pet’s memory, these special moments can help you turn a painful situation into a positive one. If you like to write, paint, or make music, you can dedicate it to your beloved pet.

  5. Keep a journal:

    Keeping a journal is one of the best things you can do to record your feelings, thoughts, and memories about your pet and keep track of your grieving process. Doing so will help you work through the grief and make sense of the things happening around you.

  6. Memorialize your pet:

    Memorializing your pet can help you overcome your loss and remember the good times you had together. You can have a memorial for your pet in private or with the company of friends and family. Some people write a letter to their pet or create a photo album and leave it by an urn or their pet’s burial spot. You can memorialize your pet on his or her birthday or anytime you feel like reminiscing.

  7. Seek support:

    Many people have been in your exact shoes and know what it’s like to lose a beloved pet. Seeking support is a healthy and encouraged way to cope with the death of a pet. There are many forms of support available to grieving pet owners, including pet-loss support hotlines, pet bereavement counseling services, and online support groups with chat rooms and message boards where people can tell their story and share comforting words. Support can also come from friends and family who knew your pet and can help you hold on to the good memories.

Join me with Blog Talk Radio Show Host Jerry Hamza of the Cat Fanciers Association for a discussion on pet loss
Date: Thurs., Aug. 18
Time: 9:00 p.m. Eastern/8 p.m. Central

Call-in Number: (917) 889-3011. Listen for the prompt and press 1 to talk to Jerry.

Listen in: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/catcalls

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.

I remember the lyrics to a song played in the movie “Valley of the Dolls” that went “Gotta get off, gonna get / Have to get off from this ride…” That was certainly an apt sentiment for all of us regarding my dear cat, Giles’, final weeks on this Earth. If you’ve followed this blog recently, you may have read of my preparation for his passing and the subsequent stalls due to his surprising, repeated rallying. (See my book, “Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss,” for the story “Tuppence and the Arby’s Effect” for a description of this phenomenon.)

Giles would go from lying inert for days and staring through us as though we were no longer seen by him to being completely present, talking incessantly to us, and even playing with the string of a light fixture. He’d also go from not eating or drinking for days on end to climbing, despite his obvious frailty, 13 basement steps to yowl at me to feed him—up to three times a day! The obvious joy he experienced in devouring his “junk” cat food told me I was right to honor his wishes to remain with us just a while longer. Believe me, it would have been easier on me to help him cross at the first sign that he could not get well, and I would have if he appeared to be hurting. I kept a very close eye on him for signs of pain or distress and never saw any, just a rapid winding down.

Despite all these rallying attempts of his, I never kidded myself that he was actually recovering from whatever ailed him (and it was truly moot for us to put him through umpteen tests just to try to find out whether that was cancer, kidney failure, etc.). In a month’s time, he’d lost about one-third of his body weight and no amount of eating put it back on. His body was definitely finished with him before his spirit was finished with this physical world.

Finally, on July 28, he stopped eating again, though he was walking around and sassing. After having tentatively scheduled and then canceled two previous appointments with Dr. Rebecca McComas of Minnesota Pets—Gentle in-home euthanasia, we finally agreed she would come at 2 p.m. that day to help Giles with his final passage.

Dr. McComas is a phenomenal human being—all kindness, compassion, patience, and love for the animals and humans she is helping at the hardest time of their lives. I wish with my whole heart I’d known her when all my past pets were ready to die, but Giles was the first to get to be freed from his used-up body in the comfort of his home. Far from being stuffed into his carrier and driven to the vet’s office (oh, Lord, did he hate to ride in the car!), he didn’t even have to get stressed out from having to be brought upstairs (where he was naturally afraid his nemesis, our newest Westie, Oliver, might be lurking to attack him). We all went to his basement “apartment.” I’d dimmed the harsh overhead lights and set up a candle that heated some lavender essential oil and scented the air with that relaxing, calming aroma.

When the good doctor arrived, and shortly thereafter, my husband Anthony came home from work (bless his heart!) we chatted about our goofy Westies’ antics while upstairs and they got in lots of petting, then we went downstairs to be with Giles again. Though very tippy from weakness, his spirits were high and he walked over to greet and nuzzle Dr. McComas and gave me a series of kitty kisses (gentle bites on my hand) as he purred loudly.

Dr. M told us Giles, being so emaciated, looked more like he was 19 than just about 15 years old, confirming that he was through with this physical body. She then explained that the sedative/painkiller shot she was about to give him would sting for a short while as it went in and that we could expect resistance or crying out from Giles. She delivered the shot and not a peep was uttered besides a tiny meow when she removed the needle. He was truly ready. We all complimented him repeatedly on his bravery and handsomeness. He deserved the praise and ate it up.

Within moments, he fell into a very, very relaxed state in my lap. He was so out of it, when Dr. M had to shave a tiny bit of his fur off his front leg so she could administer the euthanasia drug into a vein, he didn’t stir in the slightest. Giles simply drifted to sleep…and never woke again. (I know I’m a broken record, but every time I witness this, I beg the Universe to let me go that peacefully when it’s my time!) Dr. M kindly saved me his bits of shaved fur and pressed both of his front paws into some clay so I’d have a permanent paw print to remember him by. (This now joins Ludwig’s and Mortimer’s clay paw prints in my office.)

We noted that after his death the inside of Giles’ ears had turned a pronounced yellow, effectively performing a postmortem that confirmed his liver was no longer functioning and most likely was his cause of death.

We then brought down each of the dogs (except Oliver) and my other cat, Xander, to say goodbye to Giles and be sure they understood what had happened. That’s when my heart truly broke into splinters.

Our little Blanche, age 6 and second oldest among our four Westies, had always LOVED Giles. She would frantically kiss-kiss-kiss him to pieces, and he allowed it until it got so obnoxious that he had to place his paws on her shoulders, push her down and merely set his teeth on her as if to say, “Enough already!” Well, for all the months during which we’d had to keep Giles separate from the dogs for his safety, she’d been unable to kiss her friend.

(Quick backstory recap: After we’d had him a month and everyone was getting along splendidly, our newest adopted Westie, Oliver, age 7, suddenly decided to attack Giles after the cat hissed at him. That triggered the pack mentality among the other three dogs and they ALL—Blanche included—attacked Giles, numerous times, and often with me in the middle of the dangerous milieu. I’ve had seven Westies now, and this is the first time one has been mean to one of my cats. What’s strange is that Oliver is generally accepting of my other 15-year-old cat, Xander. We suspect the newcomer, Oliver, was the first to smell or sense the fatal illness that had taken hold of Giles and was responding as he would in the wild—getting rid of the weakest member of his “pack.”)

Anyway, back to Blanche in the basement. She became instantly frantic again, trying to kiss Giles’ dead body. She scratched at the pee pad on which he laid, tearing a hole in it in seconds. You could see her frustration mount as she couldn’t waken her kitty friend. She whined in a voice we’d never heard her use before then barked more shrilly than she ever had, too. I just sobbed for her loss and confusion. All of the other animals (except Oliver) came, sniffed for a second and walked away with no upset, which is what I’d expected would happen with them all.

Later, when I was holding Giles wrapped in a blanket, readying him to leave with Dr. M for his cremation, Anthony was holding Blanche and we put them near each other again to say a last goodbye. She again so urgently wanted to rouse him she actually nipped his ear! We had to give Blanche Rescue Remedy (a homeopathic Bach Flowers mixture to help her calm down) after Giles was taken out. I felt just horrible for her. (She’s better today, thank goodness.)

I will forever miss Giles’ obnoxious, insistent demands for attention and treats; the way he let Anthony rest his soda can on his kitty head and kept it balanced there; his neurotic tugging out of his fur whenever things weren’t absolutely to his liking (such as if his food dish were set down somewhere he didn’t deem proper); and his unbelievably handsome, regal bearing. He was a gorgeous boy, and quite self-assured of that fact, right up until the sweet (not bitter) end. He’s forever in my heart…and in my book. I’ve excerpted his story from “Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss” below. Rest in peace, my dear, darling cat.—Sid

Giles taking a cat nap

 

Giles’ Story: A Supernormal Experience from a Still-Living Cat
More than a decade ago, months after I had lost my two beloved Siamese cats, Dudley and Genevieve, I knew my home was in dire need of more kitty energy to complement the doggy energy provided by my two Westies, Tuppence and Ludwig. As is so often the case with me, I knew what my upcoming pet’s name would be before I
met the actual animal in the flesh. I knew I was on the lookout for two cats named Giles and Xander (after characters on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” one of my all-time favorite TV series).

I’d been casually visiting places like Petco during their adoption days and seeing many beautiful, sweet cats, but I sensed that none of them was to be mine. I went home empty-handed time and again. And this is unusual for me, being someone who’d like to adopt every needy animal on the planet. Finally, my husband at that time and I had gone to a Holiday Boutique sale at the Golden Valley Animal Humane Society and decided to stroll through the cat section just to say hello. Again, I petted darling kitties through their cages, visited several that were
free to roam in a special interaction room, and still, my heart told me to wait, these weren’t meant for me.

Just before we were about to leave, however, my husband pointed to a charcoal-and-gray-striped tabby in the last cage in a long row. He said, “What about this one?”

My eyes met luminous green ones, my heart skipped a beat, and I exclaimed embarrassingly loudly. “Oh my God, it’s Giles!” No deliberation was necessary. I literally “recognized” him. I knew as certainly as I knew my own name this was Giles, not Xander. We took him from his cage and he climbed into my arms, stretching his front legs
around my neck like a desperate hug. Several people came by as I held him and noted his incredible handsomeness, expressing interest in adopting him. I flatly pronounced to them and my husband, “We’re getting this cat.”

While he went along with the purchase at first, quite to my surprise, once we’d gotten home, my then-husband got angrier with me than I’d ever seen him in our (at that point) ten years of marriage. It wasn’t that he didn’t like the cat; he pointed him out to me in the first place. It was just that, to him, I was apparently making a unilateral
choice and somehow disrespecting him by doing so; I can understand his perceiving it that way because, outwardly, I’m sure it seemed I was a little nutty. But I couldn’t walk away from what I knew was the Universe’s gift to us, our Giles, just to say I’d taken time to properly deliberate. When I know something is right to do, I do it. Simple as that. Consequences be damned.

I think, too, my soon-to-become ex was correctly noting that my love more readily flowed toward our pets than toward him (and the same likely was true for him). I won’t say we divorced years later because of Giles, per se, but my desire to expand my furry critter family, and my obvious adoration of them all, and my husband’s subsequent
resentment of all that surely exacerbated our growing distance and difficulties. I believe part of the reason Giles was brought into our lives was to help bring to light what was seething beneath the surface of our relationship. Sometimes what we need to see isn’t always pleasant.

This is not to say my first husband didn’t come to love Giles; he most certainly did, and he never mistreated him. It was just me he came to love less and less — a sad fact that had to happen to move us both along our respective, separate paths to where we were supposed to be years later. Though not something we would consciously wish, it is understandable that we might transfer our affection to our unconditionally loving companion animals when we feel the people to whom we were closest are withdrawing from us.

But not all times with this newly expanded family unit were unhappy or strained, of course, and one in particular
was downright phenomenal.

It was early December 1997, and I had drawn up some Santa-themed flyers for my husband, who was a reflexologist
(therapeutic foot massage therapist and teacher of same), to send to his clients to color in and enter into a
drawing for prizes. We’d received dozens of entries and wanted to be truly random in choosing the winners. Folks had been told it wasn’t important that they colored well, just that they made some small attempt and at least mailed in their entries on time.
I got the goofy idea to have Giles choose this year’s winners. So, I made a large circle (about seven feet in diameter) on the living room floor, evenly spacing the 8.5×11-inch papers along the edge. I then placed Giles in the center of the circle and said, “Giles, would you please help us choose the winners for this year’s contest? Show us who
should win third prize, the foot-care basket.”

Giles looked at me for a moment, then walked very deliberately to a colorful entry at the 7:00 spot on the circle. He placed a paw on it, looked at me again, then returned to the center of the circle and sat down! My husband and
I gaped at each other. I noticed my hands had begun shaking a little, and I forced myself not to jump up and down screaming, not wanting to spook Giles.

I thanked our cat profusely and took away that entry. I then repeated, “Giles, would you please choose who wins second prize? Who wins a copy of our book, kitty?” (That was Reflexology: Therapeutic Foot Massage… and other matters concerning the soles, ©1996, which we’d co-written and I’d edited and designed for him to use in his classes.)

Again, that handsome cat looked knowingly at me, then went to a colored entry sheet at the 1:00 spot, put his paw on it, and returned to the center of the circle and sat down!! “Fluke” was no longer a term we could apply to what was happening. My voice cracked a bit as I thanked Giles and retrieved the second-prize winner’s sheet. I silently whispered to my husband, “Did you see that?” He nodded, stunned, from his post on the sofa nearby.

One last time, I asked Giles if he would kindly choose the first prize winner, the one that would receive a free reflexology session. The third time was still charmed, for he went to the 5:00 spot, placed his paw on it, and returned once more to the center of the circle!! I finally couldn’t stand it, and I scooped him up and gushed praise on this remarkable creature. I kept saying to my husband, “Oh my God, you saw that, right? I didn’t just dream this, did I? Giles actually understood and chose those winners, right?” He just kept nodding
his head, eyebrows raised impossibly high.
I pointed out to my husband that not only had Giles chosen entries when we asked him to, but he’d also chosen the three that had been colored in the most artfully! I immediately got on the phone to my brother Dave in San
Diego, practically screaming into the phone, “You are never going to believe what our cat Giles just did!!!”

I spent another hour on the phone, calling everyone in our phone book and telling him or her what happened.

The rest of the evening, as we drove around town delivering the prizes and Christmas cookies I’d baked for friends and family, I periodically checked in with my husband, “You saw it, too, right? It really happened?” He reaffirmed my perceptions about twenty times before I finally shut up and accepted that either our cat is a genius or someone
from the Other Side was working with him to blow our minds.

Giles is still a wonderful cat, but he’s never re-enacted such a supernaturally miraculous feat since then. He actually appeared chagrined from all my gushing. I posited the theory that he wasn’t supposed to actually reveal his full animal brilliance to us because pretending to be “dumb animals” is the natural kingdom’s greatest defense against humans discovering these creatures’ inherent superiority. I’m sure he felt he’d shown us too much and now might have to kill us to keep the secret safe. Tee hee.

(Excerpted from “Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss” by Sid Korpi)

 

It is with a heavy heart that I share today the news that I believe my almost-15-year-old cat, Giles, is readying himself to leave this plane of existence. In the past couple of days, he’s scarcely eaten anything and is starkly skeletal and weak. He doesn’t appear to be in actual pain and his sassy meow is still strong, but he has stopped coming upstairs to greet me and is, instead, remaining in his basement cubby hole apartment. It’s been a hard year on him with the arrival of our latest adopted Westie, Oliver, who has made Giles’ annihilation his life’s duty and necessitated our keeping them permanently separated.

I am using the advice I’ve given others about knowing when it’s time to let our pets cross over, namely, looking to see how many of the things our pets loved doing when they were well they are still capable of. I will be keeping a close eye on my sweet, handsome, eccentric boy and ask him with my whole heart to let me know his wishes.

Despite having a good relationship with death and knowing Giles will take the actual passing over in stride and be free of any pain or suffering, I nevertheless am already dealing with a heavy, aching heart at the thought of no longer have his loud, rather obnoxious, incessant sassing whenever he and I were together. It is both what makes me cry and what will eventually make me smile when I think of him.

You’ve been a much-beloved part of my life for 14 years, Giles. Thank you so much for choosing me as your human mom. I adore you and will love you always, sweet kitty cat.

Xander, L, and Giles

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.

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.

Check out my article in the latest issue of K9 magazine. Here’s the intro…

Coping With the Death of a Dog: A Springboard to Change

Written By Sid Korpi

Have you ever had a nightmare wherein you’re in a class you don’t remember signing up for, on a topic about which you know nothing, yet are expected to pass an exam right there on the spot? For many of us, that’s the kind of feeling we get as we try to navigate our way through the grief associated with pet loss. We never willingly signed up for it, and we haven’t a clue how to get through it—especially with plenty of folks seemingly bent on seeing us “fail.”

Unless surrounded solely by fellow animal lovers, we typically either hear people say out loud or perceive their unspoken sentiments that tell us, “Get over it already, it was just a silly dog. Just go get another one.”

Everywhere we look, it seems, there are impatient faces, tacitly denying us any chance to healthily express our emotions or process our grief. Bosses, co-workers, even family and friends appear to expect optimum performance by us of our day-to-day tasks while we struggle with one of life’s most painful lessons and, like the nightmare above, one for which there really is no way to prepare for the ultimate test.

Click here to read the full article.

Yesterday, I got to meet a wonderful veterinarian, Dr. Rebecca McComas, whose business is Minnesota Pets Gentle Euthanasia at Home. She is a warm and gentle person with the very best attitude toward death I’ve ever encountered

Dr. Rebecca McComas

I asked her how she manages the sadness of her job and she said she understands how sad the people are who are personally losing a beloved friend, but, she said, “I LOVE my work! This is the most loving thing you can do for a pet that’s suffering.” She told me that when she’s surrounded by the animal’s human family and they’re all shedding tears for their loss, she doesn’t feel the need to cry herself because they’ve got that covered. Tears are the first stage of their honoring and saying goodbye to their pet, an indication of how much that animal had meant in their lives.

What is hardest for her to take is when the humans are all stoic and nobody’s crying at all. “That just kills me,” she said.

I shared with her the fact that I always, ALWAYS cry at a euthanasia, even when I’m accompanying someone whom I may never have met before and witness  the passing of a pet who’s also unknown to me. “I’m crying somewhat out of empathy for the grief the people are feeling, but more than that, I’m crying because of the profound beauty I’m witnessing when the pet actually transitions out of this life and into the next so peacefully.” Apparently, this made Dr. McComas’s day because she finds it difficult to explain that part of the process to people.

“It really is beautiful!” she said, eyes glowing.

I know that whenever I’ve held my own sweet animal companions and watched them gently slip away, I always think, “That’s exactly how I want to go!” They better have legalized human euthanasia by the time I’m in need of that release from my body.

Below is a video made by Dr. McComas to explain her services. If you’re facing this painful decision, this is well worth watching.—Sid

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