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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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The following story embodies for me what an incredible bond is forged between animals and people, even when the animal in question is no one’s personal pet. Yes, the polar bear cub’s tragic beginnings—being rejected by his mother and rescued by a human—plus LOTS of marketing helped this along, but I would imagine no one who witnessed Knut’s untimely death remained untouched by his passing.
I think this is in part due to our sense of responsibility toward this particular animal. It is said, save a life and you’re responsible for it from that day forward. It is also partly due to how comparatively young Knut was when he died; that made us feel he was somehow short-changed. It may be in part that his being in captivity and seen by thousands of visitors each year was a noble calling on his part—to represent the dwindling numbers of his brethren in the wild and remind humans to be better custodians for the Earth and all its inhabitants.
The fact that hundreds of people, young and old, gathered to create a memorial to this beautiful creature also reveals a vital human need to mourn a loss, to share grief with others who understand our feelings, and to pay tribute to the one who has passed away. This is in no way different from our need to hold memorials/funerals for humans who have died. A loss is a loss.
Sometimes people can allow something that is really outside their life to open a door to their hearts in ways things that are too close to them cannot because they get stuck in more complicated emotions. That’s why we willingly go to three-hankie movies, intending to bawl out our eyes for fictional characters on a screen, while we may avoid or bury our feelings of sadness over a more personal loss. We likely believe we can better control the intensity of emotion when we’re a step back from it—a safe catharsis.
In this way, Knut’s passing did us all a great service. It let us release a little of the universal sorrow that, in this world of ours—with its rampant wars, strife and natural disasters—has surely stockpiled within us.
Goodbye sweet bear. And thank you.—Sid

Fans gather at Berlin zoo to mourn death of polar bear Knut

By KIRSTEN GRIESHABER , Associated Press

Last update: March 20, 2011 – 11:51 AM

Knut, photo by Markus Schrieber

BERLIN – Hundreds of fans of Knut the polar bear flocked to his zoo enclosure Sunday to mourn the sudden death of the celebrity who burst into the limelight as a cuddly, fluffy cub hand-fed by his keeper.

The beloved four-year-old died Saturday afternoon in front of hundreds of visitors, taking keepers, animal experts and fans by surprise. The life expectancy of polar bear in the wild is between 15 and 20 years, but animals in captivity normally live even longer because they are not exposed to hunger, thirst or infections.

“I can’t comprehend what happened there. He was happy before, there were no signs of anything — it’s so shocking,” said fan Eveline Litowski, who said she had come to the zoo to find out more about Knut’s early death.

Litowski was among those who crowded around Knut’s empty compound Sunday, laying down red roses and white stuffed polar bears, lighting candles or putting up pictures of Knut with personal messages for him. Many children had drawn pictures of Knut or written farewell poems for their beloved bear.

Knut was rejected by his mother at birth, along with his twin brother, who only survived a couple of days. He attracted attention when his main caregiver, Thomas Doerflein, camped out at the zoo to give the button-eyed cub his bottle every two hours, and went on to appear on magazine covers, in a film and on mountains of merchandise.

Dozens of women known as die-hard Knut fans — some of whom reportedly even trued to hide in the zoo’s spacious park to spent a whole night with him — had assembled in front of the bear’s empty enclosure Sunday afternoon. Many sobbed and shared their memories.

“I’ve been crying nonstop since I heard about his death,” said Ingrid Rommel, a 65-year-old widow from Berlin, who said had been visiting Knut weekly since his birth on December 6, 2006. She credited him with helping her get over the death of her husband.

Heidemarie Vogel, a 58-year-old woman from Potsdam near Berlin, remembered that Knut had sometimes raised his paw when she called over to him.

“It was as if he was waving to me — so nice,” Vogel said tearfully. “My only consolation is, that now he is finally united with his keeper in heaven.”

Doerflein, the zookeeper who raised him, died in 2008 of a heart attack, earning front page headlines in a German newspaper as “Knut’s daddy.”

Soon after Knut and Doerflein’s first public appearance in early 2007, fan clubs sprung up across the globe, including in Japan, the United States and Germany. They followed the bear’s every move, including his weight battle — he had a weakness for croissants — or plans to move to a different zoo.

“Knutmania” led to a 2007 Vanity Fair cover with actor Leonardo DiCaprio shot by photographer Annie Leibovitz, a film and plush likenesses. Though the zoo has never released exact numbers, Knut merchandise including postcards, key chains, candy and stuffed Knuts have brought in hundreds of thousands of euros (dollars).

Even after packing on hundreds of pounds (kilograms) and trading in his soft fuzz for yellowish fur, fans remained loyal. News of Knut’s death on Saturday afternoon around 3 p.m. spread instantly and internationally via Twitter, Facebook and text messaging.

“We received condolences from all over the world: Australia, New Zealand, Honolulu,” bear keeper Heiner Kloes told German news agency DAPD.

He said Knut’s body on Sunday morning was pulled out of the pool in which he died, after it had been emptied of the most of the water. Experts will conduct a post-mortem Monday to identify the cause of death.

Some fans already had their own theories. Nadine Hipauf said she worried somebody may have poisoned Knut — whether on purpose or not.

“My biggest fear is that somebody may have thrown something in for him to eat,” Hipauf said.

Others claimed that Knut had died of stress, saying he was bullied by the three female bears he shared the enclosure with — Tosca, Nancy and Katjuscha.

“They should have given him a compound of his own,” retiree Brigit Krause said. “The ladies were constantly harassing him.”

Berlin zoo: Brain problems led to death of Germany’s popular 4-year-old polar bear Knut

Associated Press

Last update: March 22, 2011 – 9:33 AM

BERLIN – Brain problems apparently caused the shockingly early death of Knut, Germany’s four-year-old celebrity polar bear, the Berlin Zoo said Tuesday.

Initial findings from a necropsy performed Monday by an institute in the German capital showed “significant changes to the brain, which can be viewed as a reason for the polar bear’s sudden death,” the zoo said in a statement.

The zoo didn’t elaborate on the changes to the animal’s brain, and officials could not immediately be reached for further comment.

Pathologists found no changes to any other organs, the zoo said, adding that it will take several days to produce a final result. Further planned tests include bacteriological and histological, or tissue, examinations.

Knut died Saturday afternoon in front of visitors at the zoo, turning around several times and then falling into the water in his enclosure. Polar bears usually live 15 to 20 years in the wild and even longer in captivity.

Knut, who was born in December 2006 at the Berlin zoo, rose to celebrity status as an irresistibly cute, fluffy cub.

Knut was rejected by his mother at birth — along with his twin brother, who only survived a couple of days. He attracted attention when his main caregiver, Thomas Doerflein, camped out at the zoo to give the button-eyed cub his bottle every two hours.

The bear went on to appear on magazine covers, in a film and on mountains of merchandise.

Doerflein, the zookeeper who raised him, died in 2008 of a heart attack.

Knut and his caregiver

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
Digital Camera News

I’m personally quite pleased to see this topic gaining more attention and in a major publication like the NY Times. When last I looked, more than 200 people had commented on the article I’ve attached below. Perhaps someday we animal lovers won’t feel we have to go “underground” to do our grieving and our feelings will be more universally validated.

—Sid

Mourning the Death of a Pet

By TARA PARKER-POPE

catsAndy Manis for The New York Times

Years ago, I had an orange tabby cat named Dave who was more person than pet. Sometimes when my husband and I were visiting our neighbors in Houston, we would hear a knock at the door. “It’s probably Dave,” our friends would say, and sure enough, there he was on the step, waiting to be invited in with the rest of us.

When Dave died after being hit by a speeding car, I remember feeling a profound sense of loss and dreaded going to work the next day. “My cat died,” I told my editors, wiping my eyes with a tissue. Even as I explained, I knew I sounded silly to them.

I thought about Dave recently as I was reading an article on PsychCentral.com about the death of a pet. Leigh Pretnar Cousins writes about how she lost so much more than a pet when her 14-year-old silver cat, Luna, died.

I am stunned at how much I miss her and how empty the house feels without her soft round self asleep on the sofa. With her passing goes a chunk of my son Matt’s childhood. He was 10 years old when he selected her out of a box of kittens abandoned at the wildlife center….In Matt’s raising of and caring for Luna, I witnessed an enduring trait in my son: his extraordinary gift for nurturing.

Last year, researchers from the University of Hawaii’s animal science department conducted a study to determine the level of grief and stress that a pet owner experiences when a pet dies. Among 106 pet owners interviewed from a veterinary clinic, 52 percent had lost one or more pets from natural causes, while 37 percent had lost a pet to euthanasia. Although many pet owners experience significant grief when a pet dies, about 30 percent reported grief that lasted six months or longer. Severe grief that resulted in major life disruption was less common but was estimated as high as 12 percent of those studied.

It’s not only animal researchers who are taking note of the grief that occurs when a pet dies. The journal Perspectives in Psychiatric Care noted that the bond between people and their pets can affect both physical and mental health, and that the grief reaction that occurs after a pet’s death is “in many ways comparable to that of the loss of a family member.”

“Unfortunately, the loss of a pet is not recognized consistently by friends, acquaintances or colleagues as a significant or authentic occasion for bereavement,” the journal authors wrote.

When my cat died, the reaction was mixed. One person shrugged and said, “Well, I’m a dog person.” A well-meaning friend fumbled when he asked, “Are you over the cat thing yet?” The best response was from a man I worked with who adored his pet basset hounds. I received a sympathy card in the mail noting that a donation to the local animal shelter had been made in the memory of Dave.

To learn more, read the full PsychCentral post, “When a Beloved Pet Passes Away.” The Humane Society of the United States also offers advice on coping with grief after a pet dies. And please join the discussion below. How did you cope with the grief of losing a pet?

In my work as an animal chaplain, I face on a regular basis people whose emotions are raw and whose pain is incredibly acute from their readying themselves to lose/just having lost their beloved animal companion. It’s never easy to know the perfect thing to say or do for that person, and I confess I simply must wing it with each encounter, trying to discern clues as to where each person is in his or her grieving process and what might be the right approach, the right words to help the most.

Sometimes, the best thing to do is give a long hug, hand over the tissue box and just listen. Other times, it’s offering reassurance that the person’s pet is still around, doing fine once again in its new state of being, and always sending his or her person love. Still other times, it’s helping them create a healing ritual or memorial service to bring closure and honor that pet’s life. On the happier end of things, it can be helping the person become open to the signs that the pet that has just passed will bring to guide them to their next animal family member.

Whatever you’re required to do to help a friend or family member through this trying time of loss, know your efforts will long be remembered  and appreciated for their sincerity.

However, I caution you to resist rushing him or her into adopting another pet prematurely just to try and shorten your own stint as the available “shoulder.” Opening one’s heart and home to love again is the ultimate goal, of course, but racing to that outcome before the necessary processing of emotions is complete can have very dire results. Stuffed or denied emotions can wreak havoc with our physical selves—resulting in disease down the line—as well as with our relationships. The pain WILL find its way out somehow. Tamping it down merely ensures it will come out at an inappropriate time and usually toward an undeserving target.

I just happened to find this link that provides some very sound advice as to what to do and what not to do for a friend who is struggling with the grief from pet loss.

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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