Perhaps our animal companions are watching over us when each year the rain threatens but holds off as we remember the ones who left us. Over 40 people gathered to share their grief and joy, remembering their pets.
Deb Chebatoris, owner of Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation and host of the event for the eighth year, opened with a welcome to those who had come to memorialize animal companions they'd recently lost as well as those remembered throughout their lives.
“I'm so glad you've joined us to remember your pet,” she said. “Don't worry what people will think and hide your feelings. This is a safe place to cry.”
Those attending are usually families of Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation who have lost a pet in the past year, or even in years past. Families gather and are encouraged to bring a photo or memento of their pet to place on the table and display board at the front of the tent during the ceremony.
The program includes two speakers, a reading of brief tributes sent by the families in attendance, the release of doves and then a final speaker.
Our Last Moments Together
"Part of my responsibility as a veterinarian is to have someone from my profession tell you the decision you made is okay," said Dr. Brad Carmichael of Pleasant Valley Veterinary Clinic who spoke about “Our Last Moments Together” with our pet.
He said he still too often hears callous remarks from people that a pet is "just an animal" and the loss shouldn't be grieved like a human's loss, but it's the responsibility of people in his industry to tell you up front that is not the case.
He also discussed the euthanasia decision and how animals do sometimes die naturally, both wild and domestic, and while we'd hope that our pet would simply die in its sleep of old age, illness and infirmities are very common and normal. In the wild animals die quickly of illness or are the victims of predators, but we provide health care for our pets, gently extending their time with us. Having them with us longer is a comfort, but at some point we may need to make a decision to end their suffering. "We should be glad that we can do that for our pets, and it's the most loving thing you can do for them," he said.
“If you are the type of person to have come here today, then don't have any doubts about the decision you made,” he continued.
He once again presented a framed, hand-lettered verse entitled, “The Veterinarian’s Prayer”, a favorite.
“A client gave me this in thanks, and it pretty much sums up how I feel about what I do,” he said, then read the text to us.
A VETERINARIAN'S PRAYER
Heavenly Father, I offer myself as an instrument of kindness and shelter
to the wondrous animals that You've entrusted to my care.
I ask you to enlighten and strengthen me
and to keep me as gentle as Thou would be.
O Lord, may you always hear this prayer--
Please be with me and be my helping hand
and when it seems I sometimes fail,
please help me to understand.
For even though You've given us our animals
for pleasure and to serve,
we thank You for Your gift to us through
the care they richly deserve.
Heavenly Father, please be merciful
to the animals who are in pain and to those who are ill
and hear my pledge as a veterinarian to serve and
always obey Your will.
©92 Patty Temple
Our Initial Grief Response
The next speaker was Elizabeth Babcock, LCSW, who also moderates the “Healing Hearts” pet loss session CCPC holds every February and also numbers among CCPC families, spoke about “Our Initial Grief Response”.
“Grief is not pretty,” she said.
“Compare the way you are feeling emotionally to the way you'd feel physically after a traumatic injury,” she said. "It takes time for your body to even begin to heal, and for a while all you can think about is the pain, how it consumes your thoughts in every moment. That's where your emotions are, and it takes just about as much time to heal emotionally as it does physically." She went on to remind us that our loss has touched every part of our life physically and emotionally and so we feel grief just as much physically in energy, sleep habits and appetite, as emotionally, in our tears and simply in our thought processes.
"An important piece of your life is missing and it will affect your whole system," she continued.
She reviewed what to expect as we mourn a loss, that we may relive the loss again at anniversaries or when something, even the weather, triggers the memory, and we may find ourselves wanting to perform or repeat activities that make no sense, but are part of a normal response.
“If you find yourself wanting to put down the food bowl at mealtimes, even though your pet is gone, just go ahead and do it, let yourself go through that ritual for a few days afterward,” Elizabeth said.
“If you want to cry all the time, go ahead,” she continued. "The composition of our tears is different when we are grieving, as if the body is trying to wash something from itself. Let your tears flow."
"And if you've done a fair amount of caretaking the loss can be particularly difficult because there's a special sort of bonding that takes place during caregiving," she said.
Elizabeth also stated that our pets are even more important to us today because we are more socially isolated today than ever before with smaller families and more people living alone, so the loss hits us even harder.
Allow your feelings to happen, she advised, and do whatever feels right for yourself within reason, and give yourself a break from grieving now and then so that you don’t exhaust yourself. Let your grief unfold in its own way and for as long as you need, and both seek the company of others who “get it” and avoid those who don’t. Lower your expectations of yourself for a while, she continued, and take good care of yourself.
But grief is a process and does eventually come to an end. If you feel that your grieving process is getting out of your control, or if a person you love and trust tells you they feel you may not be healing from your grief, then this has become “complicated grief” and it’s perfectly appropriate to seek help.
Deb encourages families to compose tributes of up to 50 words for their pets to be read aloud as part of the ceremony and includes guidelines and samples on her website. These were read alternately by Deb, Elizabeth and me, turning the rain stick between each one.
A sample tribute: “Lindy, Calvin and Hobbes, you were some of my best friends in this life and I am forever a better person for the years I spent with each of you. Thank you for all you gave, for all you made possible, and for the countless memories that will always make me smile. You were – each of you in your own unique way – the very best. –Elizabeth”
The Dove Release
Everyone stepped outside the tent for the release of doves, symbolizing the ability to let go of cherished pets and let them fly free while still loving them. The dove keeper took one of the gentle white doves from the cage and walked around the semi-circle of people, encouraging each person to touch the dove, then turned and let that dove go on its own, returning to the cage to release all the others to join it. Many tearful faces watched the graceful white birds swoop and swirl among the trees, disappearing into the clouds, listening to Celine Dion’s “Fly”.
The Joy of Pets
Then there was me to speak about the joy of pets, and loving another pet after a loss. Deb introduced me by my work, including the fact that I am her webmaster and help her with social networking, as well as the person who creates the Tribute Scroll each year, so most are already familiar with what I do.
“I am one of Deb’s families, several times over,” I began. "I am always glad to know she is the person to whom I will hand one of my cats at the end of our journey."
Mentioning my losses of both Cookie and Kelly this year, I explained that not only are they physically gone from my life, but they were the last links to a part of my life very dear to me, that I shared only with them and a group of cats who patiently waited for me to come home, stayed up late nights with me and were always encouraging while I worked and saved and prepared for working independently at home. All my memories from that time include them.
"Our animal companions are so intertwined with our lives that our memory of them is not simply a picture of their face, but pictures of them in our lives, perhaps in the backyard with one of the kids wearing a cap and gown on graduation day, or on the plaid couch with our parents on Thanksgiving day.
"In our memories of our pets, we see not just them, but our lives with them in it," I told the audience.
I read my poem "The Gift of a Morning", and said I was glad I hadn't missed this moment Cookie gave me, whether because I was irritated with her or because I may have decided years before simply not to take her in and keep her.
"Imagine your life without your pet. Now imagine what it might be like if you don't adopt the next loving animal companion, and you miss those memories. When the next one comes along, let those memories mingle with the memories of those who've already shared your life," I finished.
The photos and tributes gathered during the ceremony will be produced into a slideshow with musical accompaniment, “Tribute Scroll 2012”. This will be found on the Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation website, www.ccpc.ws along with Tribute Scrolls from previous year’s Pet Memorial Sunday ceremonies.
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