Pet Loss Support Available

A recent experience supporting a friend who has lost her small dog, a treasured soul companion who had seen her through many life crises, has served to highlight how important it is to be provided with some strategies to cope at this time.

It is now well documented that those of us who enjoy living in harmony with multi-species suffer very intensely when animal companions are dying. Many find the void almost unendurable to cope with. Unfortunately, not everyone understands the depth of grief associated with the passing of an animal companion.

If you are anticipating or coping with a significant loss in your life and wish to better understand the grief that accompanies such loss, you may need to spend some time connecting with someone who has had personal experience.

Having experienced considerable loss, I have found my own way through grief many times.  As one who’s always wanted and needed animals in my life, over the years I’ve loved, lost and mourned a number of cherished companion animals as well.

Last year I formally graduated as a Master of Social Work but over the years I have helped individuals understand and cope with their grief.  As a former volunteer at the Melbourne City Mission, I worked with carers who were mourning the loss of their partners and family. I have also supported a number of friends who have lost cherished animals. The Temple of Solace offers visitors who have signed in a safe place to express their grief.  All you need is a WordPress account.

My years of bereavement counseling have taught me that grief is indifferent to the species of the loved one who was lost. I believe that anyone who loves greatly in life and grieves deeply in loss is deserving of whatever respect, caring and support I can offer.

This site was designed to meet the needs of those who are mourning the loss of their loved ones, whether human or animal.  Whatever your particular circumstances may be, I hope that you will feel welcome and that you will find some comfort here.

If you need personal support I charge a minimal, one-off fee and I will maintain contact via email and offer creative suggestions to help ease the pain.

Insights into Loss and Grief

After facing one death of a significant other after another, and another, words stuck well below my throat. I was silenced and spent many years lying fallow. Time, adjustment, resettling and reading articles like these have helped to finally break the silence.

Most of us live in parts of the country where there is a distinct change of seasons. Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall each have their own unique qualities. Grieving is also like the seasons – there are a variety of events that we experience as we grieve, much as we experience a series of events as the seasons change.

So, as we explore these seasons of grief, let us turn our reflections to the power of these seasons of grief – pre-grief, a time to grieve, a time to heal and renewal.
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Sometimes when I can’t sleep I walk through my grandparents’ old house in my head. I sit in the breakfast nook and watch as my grandmother shakes from a jar the handful of raw almonds she would eat each morning. Or I watch myself – I’m six and wearing a dress Grandma crocheted for me – pester her for the liquorice allsorts she always kept at the back of a cupboard.
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Summer’s here and Canada-wide, tomatoes are in the ground, mine included.

I live alone now, and at 61 years of age, I have little need for all the food I gr ow. But I do love my own produce, my pesto made with home-grown garlic and basil, which lasts me into the following summer.

I have been thinking of my connection to the land, of closely observing the daily, seasonal and yearly changes that occur. I like that every day something is happening: Another rhododendron opening its buds, the daffodils dying back, the asparagus poking out of the ground, the hummingbird flying past to the flowering red currant, beetles mating.
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A Day of Remembering: Making Descansos

Years ago, a hospice volunteer mentioned each patient and caregiver she spent time with was like a pearl in a necklace—over time, the necklace grew and grew.  I decided to use that idea as a theme for the Annual All Day Volunteer Retreat I facilitated for my hospice volunteers this year.  I had also come across Heather’s Soul Food Site “Descansos” which familiarized me with the term.  I then thought about how this theme could apply to hospice and to our Retreat.  Combining the two ideas, I planned a “Day of Remembering,” with the creation of a pearl necklace becoming the descansos made by each attendee.

 

Starting with a visualization to activate each participant’s memory about their loved ones, whether personal or hospice patients, we all thought of eight people we wanted to remember, and a few words about each that reminded them about what they received as a legacy from the person.  The legacy might manifest as an idea, a trait, or an actual item; such as, a recipe, a love of cooking, or a well-used rolling pin. 

 

I previously drew eight circles of varying sizes, on a piece of paper, with each circle touching the next, forming a completed chain.  This would become our necklace.  The largest circle in the necklace was generally reserved for a personal loved one, with the others filling in for hospice patients. 

 

The grief of hospice workers, and other nurses, doctors, and aides, etc., is considered disenfranchised grief—not acknowledged as real grief since the health care worker only knew the patient for a relatively short time compared to if the person was a beloved parent, spouse, child, grandparent.  However, one can become quite close to someone and still need to deal with their loss when it occurs.  When the losses are ongoing, as with health care workers, and one is then on to the next patient, those losses aren’t acknowledged and dealt with, and so accumulate, leading to eventual burnout.   So I try to allow the volunteers an avenue to know it is all right to grieve for patients, to provide an avenue in which to grieve and express that grief in a different way each year.  We’ve done “Legacy Writing,” “Ethical Wills,” “Rekindling,” “Inner Child” and many others in the six years of having Volunteer Retreats.

 

We each wrote the name of the remembered person in one of the circles.  Then we perused magazines to find pictures or words describing the person and their legacy to us, or used colored pencils or crayons to draw pictures or words.  There is something so therapeutic in using scissors and colored pencils, in smelling glue and crayons that takes us back to childhood.  The volunteers know by now every creation made at our Retreats is considered a work of art, and so have resolved any lingering critical voices in their heads from childhood.  Even the men get involved with creating and sharing.

 

Snip, snip, snip go all the scissors.  Sniff, inhale deeply beloved smells of childhood.  Oh! Look at this! Wow! intersperse the proceedings as people move about seeking the perfect picture or accessory like ribbons or beads, small flowers or feathers, yarn or thread, crayon or colored markers.  Anyone see a lilac bush in bloom?  How about a man fishing?  Here’s a woman baking.  Who was looking for that?  Looking for oneself as well as looking to help others.  Sharing as part of the process of creating, usually considered a solitary activity.  And sometimes it got quiet as each was busy getting it “just right.” 

 

Finally finished, or as finished as it can be in the allotted hours.  I asked each to bring in a fairly recent picture of themselves.  Now those pictures were glued into the middle of the picture, and we each truly had a pearl necklace going around our necks: a descansos of our legacy from losses of loved ones.

 

 

Then the verbal sharing started.  Each, in describing their necklace, gave a eulogy for the pearl-people (in their necklace), telling of the legacies they received from each, telling stories and activities, sharing the love they felt with others in a setting where they were really listened to.  And what stories!  Fortunately, I brought many boxes of kleenex, which were needed during the three hours of sharing.  Powerful legacies from patients one was with only a short time but where a real connection was built, showing we might never realize the influence we can have on others.  Three hours later, we all felt as if each of us had honored our loved ones in a eulogy sometimes more pertinent to the person than that done by the “professionals”—ministers and funeral directors.  Our hearts filled with inspiration and the goodness of so many people, including the volunteers telling their stories.  Truly “A Day of Remembering”, by making a pearl necklace, a descansos of our loved ones.

 

This was so therapeutic I went on and made a pearl necklace honoring my personal loved ones and using their pictures as part of each pearl, as well as individual collage cards honoring my memories of each person and their legacy.

 

all souls need solace

My internet connection was down for a week and thereby shut me out of the Temple of Solace and Soul Food Cafe.  After a few days I realized that anywhere in Soul Food is my Temple of Solace from my surroundings.  The whole world seemed to get stuck on the “ugly channel” for a while.  And then somebody switched it to the “Seanna” channel again, and though that channel is a painful one, it is anything but ugly.  There’s so much love and beauty to be discovered in there. 

One of the reasons for getting a ferocious looking dog, and a dog who indeed would be ferocious if anyone broke in while I was asleep upstairs, is the lovely addition to the neighbourhood of the crack house on the corner of my block several houses to the right of mine.  They of course are not to be outshined by the neighbours three doors to my left who left such an enormous number of bags of garbage outside the city refused to take them away and the tenants let them rot by the sidewalk until they were overrun with rats.  Yes, rats.  Neighbours called to yell at The City, and The City called to yell at The Building Owner, and The Building Owner threw The Tenants out and there was quite a scene.

The rats came from the hazardous waste site that my property nears.  I say “nears” because there is an alley between my backyard and their storage yard.  It’s really called an “environmental waste storage facility“, but they are moving and the land being redeveloped into something friendlier.  I think.

I know everybody likes Spring, but winter’s snow covered the garbage in the alleys and streets and gulleys and ditches.  The snow has receded to reveal the same mess only now with colours muted slightly from last year’s garrulous hues. 

The brightest display this season was put on not by a showy flower but by flames shooting skyward from what we thought was the old St. Vincent De Paul building.  Coming home from dinner two nights ago we saw thick black smoke rising in the sky and followed it down to its obvious source:fire.  The fire appeared to be coming out of the building next to Beasley Park just around the corner from my house (inner city version of a “park”).  No fire trucks or police cars were on the scene so we called 911 and got through just as the first fire truck arrived on the scene and said “Never mind.  They’re just arriving.”  We drove around the block to park well out of the way and came back to discover that the building was not on fire, but just a car that was parked in front of it.  Totally engulfed in flames.  Must have had a full tank of gasWelcome to the neighbourhood!

Last night I dreamt that I was looking for my Seanna, sure that she couldn’t really be gone, that she must be around here somewhere.  Where’s my beautiful girl?  Where’s my beautiful babe?  Where’s that pretty smile hidin’?  Where’s she tuckin’ away them pretty hands?  I dreamt that I broke into her birth mother’s house, where Seanna died, to look for Seanna there.  Thinking that I’d been misinformed.  But no.  There was no sign of her.  Life had gone on with all of its kid stuff but not with Seanna.  They went on without her.

The world was such a pretty place when Seanna was here.  But then…I wasn’t living in this house…then.  Here.  This is a sad place.  I have been planting trees and ducking the bees buzzing the gorgeous scent of the blossoms on my apricot tree.  Tomorrow I will take pictures for you, but today is a migraine headache day.  Damn the sun!  Ow!!!!  I took a small wayward seedling of plum from the back corner and planted it in the front.  And in the corner of the postage stamp lawn (where people throw garbage…argh!!!!) I dug up a section for a wee patch of garden.  There are peonies, something that will reveal itself when it blooms, and a tiny tree replanted from the kitchen garden.

My eyes are filled with ugly images and the promise of beauty alike.  I wonder which will follow me into my dreams tonight.  I’m looking for something.  I need something.  I need solace.  This house, this home, must become my own temple of solace.

steph

For Anne – Mourning Her Mother’s Passing

ItsTime

At the appointed time we must each return to our source.
For Anne who is left behind.

Deep peace I breathe into you
Oh weariness here, O ache, here!
Deep peace, a soft white dove to you;
Deep peace, a quiet rain to you;
Deep peace, an ebbing wave to you!
Deep peace, yellow wind of the east from you;
Deep peace, blue wind of the west to you;
Deep peace, green wind of the north from you;
Deep peace, red wind of the south to you!
Deep peace, pure gold of the sun to you;
Deep peace, pure silver of the moon to you;
Deep peace, pure green of the grass to you;
Deep peace, pure brown of the living earth to you;
Deep peace, pure gray of the dew to you;
Deep peace, pure blue of the sky to you!
Deep peace of the running wave to you,
Deep peace of the flowing air to you,
Deep peace of the quiet Earth to you,
Deep peace of the sleeping stones to you,
Deep peace of the Goddess to you,
Deep peace of the God to you,
Deep peace of the Flock of Stars to You.
Deep Peace of the Spirits to You.
Deep Peace, Deep Peace.

– Old Irish Blessing of Peace

The Weeping of a Disappointed Womb

 THE WEEPING OF A DISAPPOINTED WOMB

Twice–

hiatus in the weeping

of a disappointed womb

Twice–

this womb embraced

wonderous babes  

My womb was pleased

and so was I

we both reveled

in the ease of pregnancy

the joy of birth             

Long ago

a nurse said

“the weeping of a disappointed womb”

was a uterine function;

it stuck over the years

as I pondered

its accuracy and intent.                       

This womb, my womb,

provided good service

Symbolized the part of me,

hidden from incursions

of others

in use and abuse;

protected

within my body

protected

unconsciously by me,

until I could learn

to speak for myself. 

As I apply this wisdom

the uterus is taken from me

endometrial cancer

hysterectomy needed

just enough time

for quick words, thoughts

gratitude, love, appreciation

for all its gentle weeping

all its being there with me 

My womb is gone – and now I weep!                                             

                     (published in Releasing Times)

ALLOW Yourself to Grieve

ALLOW Yourself to Grieve:

honoring your personal grief journey*

*When I speak of grief/grieving I am not talking only about losing a loved one. We grieve many and varied losses in our lives and can often use the same methods to assist ourselves.

If you are grieving you’ve probably heard at least one of these:

“Keep busy, it’ll take your mind off things.”
“It’s time to get on with your life!”
“He (she) is better off now.”

None of these honor your particular experience or expression of loss. They are designed to get you to push your feelings away, to ignore your personal grief timetable, and to “assist” you in getting back to the way things were (to who YOU were) before your loss. But, the strong – deep feelings of grief – the loss that has occurred, cannot be easily (or healthfully) ignored.

Many times the people saying these things are uncomfortable with strong emotion or they don’t know how to offer support to someone who is experiencing loss.The direct opposite of these non-supportive statements, and the most important principle of self-care (particularly during times of mourning), is: ALLOW!
Allow yourself to:
feel
think
socialize
rest
talk.

AND their opposites: don’t feel, don’t think, don’t socialize, don’t rest, don’t talk.

Just ALLOW. Value – honor – your unique process of feeling, thinking, and experiencing life and loss.

Because grief often feels like the rug has been pulled out from under you – you lose your equilibrium, your sense of how to BE in the world – some examples of incorporating the principle of ALLOW into your self-care work may be useful:

Allow yourself to feel. This can run from anger to sadness to numbness (a kind of not-feeling) and everything in between. Your emotions will probably fluctuate a lot.

Try to feel without judging, allowing your feelings to be whatever they are. You don’t have to act on your feelings. It’s helpful to remember that YOU are not your feelings. In other words, you can feel very nasty toward a person – even hateful – and that does not make you a nasty or hateful person, just a person who is having a nasty or hateful feeling.

When you want to allow yourself not to feel you can do something physical – work in the garden, or do the dishes.

Allow yourself to think about your loss – about your loved one, your future or past. Perhaps you wish to plan some type of long term memorial – a garden, a grouping of pictures, a piece of art or letter/story that describes your loved one. When this becomes too overwhelming, or you feel that you need or desire a break from thinking – move your body. Take a walk, clean or organize, do a craft. Or, “move” your mind by placing it somewhere else – read or watch TV.

Allow yourself to socialize or not depending on how you feel. People will often attempt to convince you that getting out – going to social gatherings – will help you. Only you know if this is true at each particular moment. If you feel awkward turning down a number of socializing requests, it might be helpful to remind yourself (and assure the people who are wishing to spend time with you) that you have not decided to become a hermit – you are just honoring your need for alone time now.

Allow yourself to talk about the person who died. Don’t be afraid of the negative – sometimes we have a tendency to make saints out of everyone we’ve lost. This doesn’t honor the person they really were.

When my paternal grandmother died my cousins and I sat around uncomfortably reminiscing over funny and sweet things about her. At one point someone spoke about how she had been a strict disciplinarian. We all laughed and the tension broke. It seemed that the comment brought us closer as we could talk honestly and did not have to pretend that our grandmother was perfect.

Again, allow yourself not to talk about the person who has died when you do not wish to – even if someone else thinks it is a good idea.

More often you will probably find that people shy away from talking to you about your loss or your loved one. People can misguidedly assume that if they bring up your loss they will make you uncomfortable – as if in not mentioning your grief you will be spared feeling it. If you wish to talk about your loved one and/or your feelings of loss, honor your desire to do so.

Allow yourself to rest. Grief is hard work and you will probably need more rest than usual. You can think of rest time as refueling. Rest will mean different things to different people. For you it could be a nap, a time to sit and read or daydream. It could mean time to zone out in front of the TV, or to meditate or pray.

Also allow yourself not to rest – if you wish to keep busy, honor that.

There are many ways to nurture and support yourself during times of grief. Please know that there is NO right way to grieve. No self-care methods are better than others. Honor YOUR own ever-changing way!

Sunday

Depression and sorrow have turned me into a cat.  I have a constant craving for soft, warm places to lie down where no one will bother me until it’s time for my next feeding.  I stare dazedly out the patio doors watching, waiting for something interesting to wander past.

Speaking of which…the other day my partner wandered past me wearing a shirt printed with the words WE ARE WHAT WE REPEATEDLY DO, and I thought with great dismay, “Oh my god!  I’m nothing!  I’ve been reduced to nothing!”

 A deeply imbedded survival instinct urges me – absolutely INSISTS! – that I Never Stop Trying.  This instinct is there for a reason.  Bred in the bone.  A gift, no doubt.  I trust it.  But depression is not a ‘normal’, healthy instinct.  It’s an abberation, and error in my programming.  It creates special rules for survival, like Don’t Fight.  Resistance to depression deepens it, like struggling in quicksand: it will just make you sink faster.

 Activity can pull me up out of a depressoin, but only at the right time.  This round of depression is taller, wider, deeper and longer than any I’ve experienced in many years.  It was made monolithic by several months of nerve-shattering tension and then by great loss and acute grief. 

 I at least have imaginings of making art.  This is a significant Something.  But lying down and imagineering things doesn’t LOOK like activity, and so this doing nothing (seemingly) isn’t earning me the praise and respect (though not quite scorn, either) of the people around me.  Even those that love me dearly are looking askance. 

 They will just have to keep looking.  Desire will not come at my bidding.  Enthusiasm is too quick and elusive for me still. 

Steph

Getting Plastered (on ice cream)

Last week was Seanna’s birthday.  She would have been 16.  16 and most certainly not sweet.  *smile* We loved her dearly for that gorgeous wildness.  Truly, Seanna was the Wild Woman I want to be again.  I was overly optimistic about the day not being difficult for me, for us.  We didn’t celebrate her birthday grandly mainly because she didn’t understand that particular marking of time.  It meant nothing to her.  As far as she believed she had always existed and so had we.  But this year it meant everything to me.  Just everything.  I completely fell apart and haven’t quite done up the seams yet.  I miss her so much I feel sick to my stomach.  I dissolved into tears and they flow still. 

Grief is not like a broken arm; it does not heal in six weeks.  There is no cast, and if there were certainly the heart and soul would not be made whole again within six weeks, able to bear the weight of daily living.  No.  There is something interesting about that six week mark though.  I stayed in bed about that long after she died and only at six weeks did the tears and pain crash over me.  A week since her birthday, I’ve not been out of my pyjamas for two days now and am nearly to the bottom of my second bucket of ice cream.  Bucket, darlings, not “bowl”.  I keep Clarissa’s “Women Who Run With Wolves” nearby and dip into every few hours.  She’s writing this for women *exactly* like me and there is so, so much to digest.  So much that is difficult.  I can’t concentrate for the pain it brings to the surface.

Steph

If I Could Rise

If I Could Rise

  • no desire to begin
  • no desire to be gone
  • no one waits for me
  • no one hates for me to be alone
  • quiet and unrequired
  • to smile
  • to touch kindly
  • to reassure
  • a day or a year could pass now
  • and no important love
  • will be missed
  • but all would be well
  • and full
  • and complete
  • and enough
  • if I could rise right now
  • and wash my beloved’s hands

Stephanie Hansen

September 27, 2007

I Told Myself

I told myself

not to do it – to

touch the hand

laying lifeless on

my beloved’s breast

It would be

cold

I knew

But

I reasoned:

How many winter

homecomings had I

warmed those icy fingers

with devotion in my every breath?

I told myself not to do it and

now I cannot forget the

touch of the hand

laying lifeless

on my

beloved’s

breast

I reason:

death is colder

than a Canadian winter

Stephanie K. Hansen

September 10, 2007

Always When

To small children with big minds

the word Love is the sound

you make that makes mothers

and others

smile.

The loved and the lucky

learn eventually that

love is the When

the sound is made.

When the wicked splinter

is pulled painfully

from the slender finger, forgiveness

is found with the sound of

Love You and Had To and tears.

Love is the sound made when the day is over

and a head is against a heart in the dark

and there is only the beating and

the breath and the

Love You, Baby.

When all the time is spent,

wise and foolish,

the casket is closed

over slender fingers,

still and cold,

and no sound is made

and no sound is heard.

then Love becomes the echo of

a question asked and answered

throughout the lifetime of

a small child with a big mind:

When do I love you, Baby? Tell Steph.

Forever. Stephie loves me forever.

Stephanie K. Hansen

September 16, 2007