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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.

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I just received this wonderful message about my book. Keep your collective fingers crossed that the board accepts the proposal to make my book part of their required curriculum! It’d be a dream come true for me to be instrumental in helping other animal chaplains prepare themselves for doing such important work. Whatever the final decision, I offer my sincerest thanks to Dr. Kris for her kind initiative.—Sid


Hi Sid — Dr. Kris Lecakes Haley from Emerson Theological Institute here — I just took a look at your book and you really did a phenomenal job on incredibly important topic!  I have been searching for a comprehensive text that contains all of the critical components of loss and you hit every single one.  I would like to submit your book to the school (Emerson) for consideration as one of the texts we use for the Bereavement component of our Animal Chaplain program. … Really exceptional job.

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’m excited to announce another article of mine has made it to the presses! Check it out at the “Grief Digest” magazine site. This will get you started:

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[18 Oct 2010 | No Comment | ]
Pet Loss Grief is a Valid EmotionBy Sid Korpi
Myriad studies have shown that having an animal companion in your life is just plain good for you. Blood pressure is lowered, loneliness is diminished, psychological stress is reduced, social interactions and communication are enhanced, exercise may increase, and so on. Physical, emotional, cognitive, and psychosocial benefits to animal interaction abound, as the following examples show.
As baby boomers age and become increasingly isolated senior citizens, cherished pets may be the only constant companions of the elderly. Many assisted living establishments, nursing homes and hospice centers recognize the benefits …

See the Grief Digest link for the rest of the story.

As I went through my darkest, most painful passage in my life to date (see the article just after this for details on my “tsunami of loss”), I tried almost everything I could to relieve my pain. (And no, I don’t drink or do drugs, so there was nothing that could slide into negative escapism.) From exercise to talk therapy via a support group to Western medicine to acupuncture to hypnosis to reading books on spirituality to…well, you get the idea. And each was helpful in its own way. Put plainly, I was searching.

Among the things I tried was Bach Flower remedies. I am not a homeopath and have no official stance on their effectiveness, but I can speak here as a person who felt better after using them. (If you read my book, I advocate a healthy skepticism about all things, so I’m not “selling snake oil” here. Everyone is to decide for him-/herself as to what to believe.)

What I said about these flower essences at the time—and among other things, I took Willow to “help [me ]to forgive past injustices and move on when [I] feel resentful and bitter,” often necessary after a breakup—is that regardless of whether there is empirical evidence that the FDA will accept about such remedies, if you are taking the time to slow down and be mindful of what your aim is (in my case, seeking to forgive and move on) and envision something unseen moving through you to help you bring this about, it is highly unlikely to do you any harm and quite likely to do some good. I believe that the very act of taking small sips of water with these flower essences as you meditate on making your spirit lighter/freed of hurtful baggage and your life/psyche healthier in general is a good practice.

When I came across this article as it related specifically to pet loss, I knew I should share it with you. For further information, please visit the website of Elaine Garley at Animal Bridges. She incorporates Bach Flowers in her practice and knows a heck of a lot more about them than I. —Sid

Losing a pet is not only the loss of a dear friend, but also often the loss of a major source of unconditional love and affection. We get so attached to our pets that when they are no longer with us, the impact of their love and friendship still remain in our hearts. When we are unable to let go of the intense emotions around the loss of our pets and get stuck in thoughts of the past, unable to accept the present, then it is a good time for us to try flower remedies.

Bach Flower Remedies are 38 plant and flower based remedies developed by British physician Dr. Edward Bach in the 1930s that can help you to manage the emotional demands of life. Losing a loved one often begins a prolonged state of grief and despondency. There are specific Bach Flower remedies that can help with the emotions associated with grief and loss. Each remedy represents a particular emotional archetype, like fear, sadness, guilt, despondency, etc.

Recognizing exactly how you feel is the key to choosing the most appropriate Bach Flower Remedy. Sometimes this can be tricky, as our mental and emotional states can be a mixture of many emotions which might require a combination of corresponding flower remedies. The emotional states described below are ones common in pet owners after the loss of pet.

There are some remedies that are also safe to give to any co-pets, since they too are probably experiencing grief – Rescue Remedy, which is a blend of essences and Walnut. If you’re having a hard time pinpointing which of your emotions should be addressed first, ask a friend to help you sort through them.

Here are few commonly prescribed remedies for healing and loss, and their key-indicators:

STAR OF BETHLEHEM: For recovering from SHOCK, if the loss was sudden and unexpected. Also helps animals who have suffered traumas or abuse.

WALNUT: If you’re having a hard time ADAPTING to the loss, walnut works as a “LINK-BREAKER” to help you to let go and release your pet. Walnut is also safe for your other pets who may be grieving.

PINE: For getting over the ‘GUILTY FEELING’, if you are struggling with euthanasia, or having had to make a very difficult decision to let your pet go.

GORSE: For the feeling of HOPELESSNESS especially when you feel discouragement, darkness and resignation. Gorse brings deep and abiding faith and hope; equanimity and light-filled optimism.

SWEET CHESTNUT: In extreme cases of LOSS OF HOPE where nothing rejuvenates the mind and darkness overshadows ones life. Brings deep courage and faith in life.

HONEY SUCKLE: When our mind escapes the present, CLINGS TO THE PAST, and longs for what was. Helps one to learn from the past while releasing it.

WHITE CHESTNUT: If particular THOUGHTS / DREAMS of your lost pet repeat frequently, almost making you feel imprisoned. This will bring inner calm and a quiet, clear mind.

ASPEN: For any unexpected surges of ANXIETY that you may be feeling about the health of your other pets, in spite of their good health. Brings trust and confidence to deal with unknowns.

How to take them:

You can add 3-4 drops of the corresponding remedy to a glass of water. Sip frequently until the emotional state resolves to a more manageable intensity. In the case of a combination of dominant emotions, add 2 drops of each applicable essence.

Dr. Amit Karkare practices as a Homoeopath and Veterinary Bach Flower Therapist – also serving as a Grief Counselor. Know more about his services at: http://www.dramitkarkare.com/pet_care.html.

Author: Amit Karkare
Article Source: EzineArticles.com
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When I was going through my “tsunami of loss,” during which time I lost my mother, stepfather, uncle, three dogs, two cats, cockatiel, 15-year marriage, etc. over a pretty short period of time, I experienced some of what the woman, Pam, in the story that follows, went through (from HappyClaws.com by Steve B. Reed). In particular, I related to the author’s story of the monkeys and the jars.

I used my own metaphor for our tendency to cling to fear when I said it was like we (i.e. people facing awesome life change and being terrified to move as a result) were hanging from the precipice of a cliff by our fingertips. We rant and rave and scream that we’re going to fall and be destroyed if we let go. But in reality, if we simply trusted and released our stronghold on our negative emotions, we’d likely find we were dangling just inches above a very sturdy ledge that was ready to catch and hold us. For some, that means trusting in their religious beliefs or a power beyond themselves to be there for them. For others, it’s simply acknowledging that our fears are often magnified out of all proportion by us, and letting go and facing the reality of the situation can release a lot of the torment we put ourselves through.

The author of this article presents an unusual method for treating grief/fear—the REMAP process. It may warrant looking into further if you’re feeling you’re clinging to your own precipice and are open to alternative healing methods. (I have not personally experienced and therefore am not endorsing the efficacy of this treatment. I am simply presenting it as an option for people to investigate for themselves.) I’d be interested to hear from anyone out there who has undergone REMAP therapy though.

—Sid

THE NORMAL PATH OF GRIEF

Grief is the natural emotional response to a significant loss. The loss of a loved one, an important relationship, a pet, a career, a belief, some aspect of one’s health, an opportunity, or even a prized possession can trigger a normal grief response. When we go through grief, we can experience a range of related emotions. People may feel shock, regret, anger, sadness, and eventually acceptance in route to resolving grief. We usually work our way through these stages in a period that is proportionate to the loss suffered. In most cases, we eventually move through the process to arrive at a place of acceptance and a readiness to look forward in life.

STUCK IN PAINFUL EMOTIONS

For Pam, this healing pattern was not happening. Instead, she found herself stuck, unable to let go, always looking back at what was lost. She had a history of being stuck in grief. After her divorce, she grieved for 6 years. This time she was stuck grieving the loss of her 2-year relationship with a boyfriend. It had been going on for a year and a half with no end in sight. She felt hopelessness, depression and fear.

CAUGHT IN A TRAP

Pam’s plight reminds me of a story about catching monkeys. In some parts of the world, people employ an ingenious method to catch monkeys. They use a large heavy jar, with an opening just big enough for the monkey to squeeze a hand through. In the bottom of the jar, they place a banana as bait. The monkey slips its hand into the bottle and grabs the banana. Then, holding tightly to the banana, it is unable to remove its hand from the jar. It never occurs to the monkey to let go of the banana, so it remains in the trap. Pam was clinging tightly to the memory of a lost love. Unable to let go, trapped.

WANTING OUT

Pam did not want to suffer the way she was. She had been in therapy for years. By now, she was nearly an expert at behavioral therapy, cognitive therapy and the analysis of her problems. She understood her dilemma intellectually, but was helpless to feel better. She was on antidepressant medication, talked to her friends and spent time attending a grief support group. Still her pain persisted. She had come to me with the hope that one of the new forms of treatment that I work with might help light her way out of the darkness of her grief.

TRYING SOMETHING NEW

The first time I saw Pam, she was in the wake of a painful rejection. She would frequently call her old boyfriend, try to get him back but he would coldly reject her effort. She sat in my office emotionally bleeding as though the scab had been freshly knocked off her wound. The only thing I could offer to help ease her suffering was an experimental new treatment. Pam was in such pain she was open to any option. Therefore, I briefly told her about a new type of treatment that is more similar to Chinese Acupuncture than to Freud. It is the REMAP process and it involved her gently tapping a series of acupuncture meridians while she thought about the problem that bothered her. It’s a simple yet profound process designed to adjust the body’s natural energy system and to produce blood flow changes in the deep regions of the brain as a way of effecting thoughts and emotions. This alternative approach uses an entirely different pathway to heal emotional pain than talk therapy alone. Since Pam had tried all other treatment paths, she was open to the experiment. She began working with the protocol and to her great surprise her level of disturbance dropped 60% in 30 minutes. She left smiling and saying that she could cope with that level of pain.

BEYOND GRIEF

Next week, she reported another call to her ex-boyfriend and another cruel rejection. However, she also reported something new, a decision never to call him again. She also reported no further obsessive thoughts about him and a dramatic improvement in how she felt, virtually no grief.

Such changes are more common than not. By using leading-edge therapies, people are able to free themselves from painful emotions even when they are stuck. The best part is that the changes last. Three months after Pam’s treatment, she still reports feeling good.

PET LOSS…PREPARING FOR IT, COPING WITH IT, MOVING ON AFTER

FREE TELESEMINAR

When do you know when it is the right time to say good bye to your pet? How do you cope with the emotions of it all? What steps can you take to help with the pain of losing your special furry friend?

During this free teleseminar Animal Chaplain Sid Korpi and Animal Channeler Sue London will share tools and tips to help you through the entire process.

To learn more about Animal Chaplain Sid Korpi please visit http://www.goodgriefpetloss.com

Do you have questions you would like answered during this teleseminar? Please email them to sue@asksuelondon.com by Monday March 8th to have them answered during this live teleseminar.

Date: Tuesday March 16

Time: 8:00 pm Eastern / 7:00 pm Central

Dial-in number: (712) 432-0075

Access Code: 662484

Below is the blog entry I wrote for the grief support site LegacyConnect, which contained the following categories and members: Loss of a parent (313 members); Bereaved spouses (277 members); Loss of a child (271 members); Loss of a sibling (144 members); and Suicide’s survivors (112 members). While I in no way wish to diminish the importance and value of this site, I am led to wonder “Why is pet loss missing from this grief support site?”

Each time I come across a website designated to offering support and comfort to those who grieve the loss of a loved one, I am most pleased because human beings are at their best when both reaching out to others for help and reaching out to others to offer help. However, I more seldom find grief sites that offer that compassion to those of us who have lost a beloved companion animal. Check your own prejudices here. Did your mind instantly go to the too-typical response, “What’s the big deal? It was only a dog/cat/hamster, etc. You can just go get another one at the pound. It’s nothing compared to losing a human being!” This phenomenon is one I, in my work as an animal chaplain and author of “Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss,” have termed “Loss Snobbery.” It’s almost as if people set up a pain scale and ascribe more “pain points” to their own loss —whatever it may be—than to someone else’s. I lost my mother, stepdad, uncle, dog, two cats, cockatiel and 15-year marriage over a few years’ time. Do I “win” by sheer number of losses? Ridiculous. Grief is grief; it’s not a competition. What’s more, consider those of us who are profoundly bonded to our companion animals. Take, for instance, the senior citizen who is isolated, having no family to visit and watching his or her human friends pass away one by one. Can anyone honestly say that, if a scruffy little dog is the senior’s one and only faithful friend and constant companion, that person will not deeply and intensely mourn that pooch’s death? For that senior, the loss of a pet is likely to be emotionally devastating. One doesn’t have to be socially and/or physically isolated from humans, however, to cherish the unconditional love and affection he or she receives from a pet. No one has the right to imply the grief we feel over the loss of a furry, feathered or even finned family member is inconsequential to us. You don’t have to share the same emotion or circumstance to acknowledge another person’s right to feel whatever it is he or she feels. I don’t have children, for instance, and can therefore never feel the acute loss a parent must feel when a child dies, yet I would never for a second consider telling that parent to “just go adopt a new one.” And for those of us who are animal lovers, it only stands to reason that the death of a companion animal with whom we may spend 24/7 will leave a bigger hole in our life than when a distant relative we haven’t seen in years passes on. Everywhere we look in our homes is another place our heart tells us that pet should still be. And consider how much harder it is to heal that pain when so much of society withholds permission from us to grieve. I urge you to open up your site to include a section for pet loss and consider me its first member. Sincerely, Sid Korpi http://www.goodgriefpetloss.com

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