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.

Ashes to Dust

 

It was time to scatter Jerry’s ashes.  A few of us gathered in the woods near his house that brisk January 1st morning of 1995.  His ashes were placed in a large glass punch-bowl perched on a small table on the wooden pier Jerry had built.  It extended partway over his pond.  Since none of us had ever scattered ashes before and couldn’t contemplate our reaction to handling the remains of our close friend, a man who died way too young, we allowed for each of us deciding at the moment whether or not to participate in the ritual.

Flute in hand, Carol moved down the hill to stand in an open area near the pier.  The waves of mist and fog made it hard for us to discern her, but we were able to catch the plaintive notes as they drifted up through the Arkansas woods Jerry so loved.  This was his wish–to be scattered on his pond where he always swam in the hot summers, where he sat to meditate and contemplate.  The stillness and beauty of the pond and the surrounding woods were a balm to his spirit in an increasingly difficult world.  He had been diagnosed with cancer on his thigh; shortly thereafter his leg was amputated.  It never healed properly as the cancer continued its relentless spread.  How could someone who was so dedicated to living off the land and being independent, how could he deal with this huge impediment to his way of life?

Those of us gathered had tried to help Jerry on his journey and be supportive as he attempted to continue to live his chosen way of life.  Preparing food, cleaning his home, a cabin he lovingly built by hand, stacking firewood and hauling water from the pond for washing dishes, all these things were but temporary stops on his way to finally needing constant care in someone else’s home. 

And now we gathered to say goodbye, Jerry back on his land once more.  The seven of us strolled through the fog, following the notes of the flute down to the pond.  We each shared what we brought to read or say in his honor. 

Then a pause… a long pause.  Would anyone be able to scatter Jerry’s ashes?  I kept thinking I couldn’t possibly put my hands into his ashes… I had just seen him alive.  How could I do such a thing?  This was Jerry, his actual body, burned down to dust and ashes.  How could I touch those burnt remains?  Yes, I knew there was a Styrofoam cup on the table we could use, but even so, how could I dig into his ashes and let them sink into the water?   I knew very well the real Jerry was fine and beyond all this, but still, how could I honor his remains by scattering them?  Could I, even knowing it was what he desired? 

As I pondered my own images, my preconceived notions, I saw Carol walk to the table on the pier.  She scooped up some ashes in the cup and gently spread them on the water.  Another of his friends then did the same.  And another. 

Finally I was ready – sort of.  It was time for me to approach the table, but I still didn’t know what I would do or if I could do anything.  The crisp winter air tinged with woodstove smoke from other cabins sprinkled throughout the valley invigorated me to at least resolutely head onto the pier as it gently rolled under the weight of my steps.  The wood creaked a bit as I crept forward and then I stood before what remained of Jerry.  I took a deep breath in preparation…Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

I plunged my bare hands into the ashes, letting myself relax into what felt right at that moment.  No barriers of gloves of Styrofoam to the experience.  And was I surprised!  The ashes were not all ashes.  There were chunks of bone throughout.  Ohhh, Jerry’s bones!  A moment of reeling with the knowledge; then came an infusion of energy.  I grabbed two large handfuls, flung my hands up and out, releasing ashes, dust and bone high into the sky accompanied with the cry, “Go, Jerry!  Go!”  He was free and flying to the heavens. 

The breeze seemed to reflect my exhilaration and joy as it caught the ashes and bone bits, carrying them further into the heavens before returning them to the pond Jerry loved.  I knew then that the phrase “ashes and dust” was a fallacy, a euphemism for ashes and bone fragments.  But I also knew a deeper truth. Jerry was not those ashes and bones; he was spirit and joy!

(published in Sage of Consciousness)

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.