Thursday, April 12, 2012

Grief, Guest Blog, From My Grief Counselor, Linda (AND MY BFF)

This blog is about grief, something that we all experience, but hate to think is ever coming.

My guess is, that if you are reading this blog, you are not only a pet-owner, but a pet-lover, and that unfortunately, you have experienced the grief that comes from losing a pet. For pet lovers, and I count myself among their ranks, pets are not “just pets’ but treasured companions. They are family members, confidants, court jesters, family therapists and often, best friends. In my day-to-day life, my own little dogs, Noodle and Banjo, are my most faithful and ever-present companions, literally following me from room to room throughout the day and never being more than just a few feet away. Their barking, their breathing, and even their snoring in their sleep are the soundtrack of my life. As I write this, I look down and they are there.

For the past few months I have been working for the Jarrettsville Vet Center, making condolence calls to owners who have lost their pets. The calls have opened up my heart to a world of love I knew was there but still amazes me.

First of all, let me explain that I am not a certified grief counselor or therapist. I am actually not a certified anything. My qualifications are those that most of us have…being a good listener and being (I hope) kind and compassionate. Maybe the only thing you really need for this job is to have loved animals and then to have lost them. For this, I am overly qualified.

My first calls were a bit timid…who would really want to talk to a total stranger about something so private and so personal? Turns out…most people. I just had to tap the surface with…..”How are you doing since Benny, or Sparky, or Angel died?” “Do you feel like it would help you to talk about it?” A moment’s pause…..and then the stores unfold. People have talked about their dogs as puppies…the day they first brought them home from the shelter…the day they ran away and got lost in the snow, but managed to find their way home…the way they used to lie on their backs and make cooing noises like a baby. Each story is unique, as is each animal, as is each an expression of love. And talking to a total stranger is sometimes easier than talking to someone you know.

People describe the pain of losing a pet as a crushing feeling, a hopeless feeling, a panicky feeling (he’s not there!), and a lost feeling. “What do I do at the end of the day when there is not dog to walk?” “Who will care if I get up in the morning, if my cat is gone?”

Over and over, I hear…”he loved me no matter what”.

For mourners, just the new facts of life can be too much to bear. Even simple tasks….should I throw away his dish of food? Should I vacuum up his hair? Seems obvious...yes, you should, of course…but when his hair is a reminder of’s not so clear a choice. I remember when our little poodle, Mason, died five years ago. I screamed at my husband- he himself going through his own grief- when he dared to clean the front windows that held Mason’s messy nose prints. Sounds like the actions of a crazy person, but in fact, it was just the actions of a person infused with grief.
Everyone has a different way of coping. And for everyone, their way is the right way.

I spoke to one man who had just lost his beloved Labrador, his hunting companion. This creative and ingenious man contracted a decoy-maker to make a new hunting decoy. The dog’s ashes were put inside the decoy and this way, the dog would still be present on each new hunting expedition. Genius!

Another family had a dog whose main goal in life was to pick up sticks from all over the yard. The day of the dog‘s burial in the back yard, the smart mom, who knew how powerless her children were feeling, had the kids gather sticks from all over the yard to place atop the dog’s grave, thereby giving acknowledgement to this dog’s favorite hobby and also letting the children contribute in a meaningful way. Genius again!

One gal who lost a cat had a gathering at her house a few days after the death. She invited all of her friends who loved the cat and they went around the table telling their favorite stories about the life and antics of this special cat. The gathering started with tears, but after awhile, everyone was laughing. And the best part was-with everyone sharing their feelings, the cat’s mom gave herself permission to do the same. This is standard behavior when people die…why not do it when your pet dies, as well?

Several people have told me that they posted obituaries for their pets on Facebook or Twitter. Putting your loss out into the world and then receiving supportive responses makes you feel like you are not alone. Great idea!

When my little Mason died….just a few years before the Facebook phenomenon, I submitted an obituary to the local paper. I wrote about how Mason loved Cheerios and how he loved to sleep in my husband’s guitar case. I even submitted a photo of him in his favorite sweatshirt. I think my husband was a bit mortified by what he considered wacky behavior, but when we started getting sympathy cards from total strangers, he realized I was on the right track. And that track is...whatever makes you feel better, is the right thing to do.

From me...A small tribute to my pets that I will meet again someday..





Ms. Pig

D.C. and Squeak-Box

Lilly (and Ambrose)

Ms. Pig and Ambrose

Here are some pet loss support helplines. These organizations will call you and help you talk about your grief. They are all volunteer and they are a free, anonmous support for any of you that feel you need someone to talk to. They are wonderful people who understand your grief and want to support you in your recovery.

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