Every pet in our home has a background story…none of them are pleasant…some are much worse than others. But, for the most part, our pets are “over it” in regards to things that happened to them in the past. They live happy and carefree lives. Even Turnip, who has deep emotional scars, has come so far and embraced joy. Mom though, being the flawed human that I am, doesn’t always “get over it” as quickly as they do. I have moments, when I am reminded of their painful stories and I quickly retreat to feelings of anger and heart break.
Snoopy came here with a badly broken leg…we were told he was kicked down a flight of stairs…he was just 3 months old. His leg was broken so badly there was no choice but to amputate it. Unfortunately, he died under anesthesia when the vet attempted his amputation. The vet resuscitated him but he woke up blind and of course still having a badly broken leg. This is when Bret and I started fostering him. He stayed with us in an understandably hastily applied splint that caused him a lot of discomfort for weeks. We waited for a strengthening of his health to undergo a second attempt at amputation. With his vision restored and health stabilized Snoopy made it through a second attempt to amputate his leg. Bret and I officially adopted Snoopy the day before his amputation. We wanted him going in to his surgery knowing he had a huge family pulling for him. Waiting for his surgery to end was agony and we learned a new level of compassion for our veterinary team.
Make no bones about it…a puppy suffers CRUELLY after an amputation. Snoopy screamed…and I mean SCREAMED with pain for weeks. He was confused and he was frustrated. He would wake up from a dead sleep and start screaming…sometimes 10+ times in a night…nothing we did comforted him. Only Buster could bring him any level of comfort. Buster would run to him and lick his head when he cried. The entire scenario was horrible. But slowly…Snoopy regained his strength and his courage and definitely his joy.
Today…Snoopy (now 8 months old) is SO OVER IT..he is UNSTOPPABLE on three legs. He is the happiest and most playful puppy I have ever met…and frankly…he can be pretty naughty. Remarkably…he just loves people….all of them. Humanity does not deserve him. He is pure joy.
Unlike Snoopy, Bret and I will never forget his suffering. We didn’t leave his side after his amputation…we learned a lot about what it means to be both heart broken and madly angry at the same time.
When I had that moment the other day when I saw his “tripod shadow”…a poignant reminder of the cruelty he suffered…I became angry all over again…”he shouldn’t have to live as a tripod”…”he shouldn’t’ have had to suffer through an amputation”…I was wishing again I could get my hands on the S.O.B. who did this to him.
But while I am thinking all these toxic thoughts…Snoopy just turned, looked at back at me and shamed me with this smile. He’s over it and I need to get over it too.
Snoopy is fine…he can run fast, he can wrestle with his siblings, he can dig…he can snuggle fabulously…he certainly eats like a little piggy…he is a perfectly happy dog. I need to just get busy loving him and let go of his past.
The moral of the story is this…which again…I didn’t realize it until I finished this post…there is no “empty space” in life. When I was in seminary…one of the most powerful lessons I learned was from my favorite Old Testatment professor, Dr. Howard. I worked for him as his TA my last year…it was the year Bret and I lost our baby boy…I was completely crushed…probably the lowest I have ever felt in my life. He told me this very important truth when I expressed my despair to him…he said “just like it is in the physical world…so is it in the spiritual world…there is no “empty space”…you can fill your life with joy and gratitude and love or you can fill it with sadness, resentment and pain…there is no room for both…regardless of the difficulty of your circumstances …you must choose what you will fill your life with.” Not only will I remember Dr. Howard’s insightful words always…but I will forever remember Snoopy’s smile as a reminder of this wisdom…I will remember how easy it is for Snoopy to live this truth…Snoopy will remind me always that we must choose what we fill our lives with…no matter the circumstances.
I’m with Snoopy…I choose joy and gratitude and love. Snoopy and I wish that for everyone else too.
If you would like to follow my crazy life with pets more closely…friend me on Facebook or follow me on Pinterest.. I also sell my art and cards at my ETSY shop.
This is Snoopy’s first Pawffiti. It was auctioned in February for $375.00 to raise money for animals in Scott County (Snoopy’s home town). Prints are available at my ETSY shop.
Last Friday night our sweet Sam suddenly lost the use of his back legs. He crossed over on Saturday morning. We don’t know exactly how old he was…probably at least 14. At his age and given his health history…we don’t feel surprised that his time came…but we are taken back at how bad we hurt. Returning home to a house without Sam simply…sucks. He was always waiting at the door for us…up on this back legs…smiling. Home will never be the same.
Sam’s ashes were ready first thing Monday morning…Bret left work as soon as we got the call and hurried to bring Sam home. We sat in a bit of stupor as we looked at his ashes and then solemnly went on with our day. Keeping busy is the best we can do for now.
I have sent a small amount of his ashes off to be made in to a necklace. We will bury some of his ashes with Luna and Kringles and the rest will sit on the mantle between Hercules & Sparky ‘s ashes…our 3 boys are back together again…bittersweet.
It would have been really nice to “check out” from life this week…but I don’t have the luxury of taking time out for a quick “melt down”…I have two business to run and I have 7 other dogs to take care of. It is times like these when I am especially grateful for all of our sweet pets…they not only keep me busy but also make it so I can continue to smile in the day. Life with them, in fact, demands a lot of smiling. Still the pets are integral to each step of my daily routine and each step reminds me of Sam…Bret and I have both broke in to tears a few times a day all week. Nothing is right without Sam.
My friend Jan came over Monday with a card and a gift…this lovely canvas of two dogs called “LEAN ON ME”. I brought it in the house, sat down and looked at it… in the white stripes is some light writing…it is some of the lines from the song “Lean on Me”…like “I’ll help you carry on”…all I could do was weep…how completely we “lean on them”…at least how completely “I lean on them”…especially Sam. Caring for all of our pets is a full time job. I am wrapped up in cooking for them, exercising them, vet visits, playtime, baths, nail trims…picking up the poo and vacuuming up all the hair. I lose track in all these moments of busyness at how richly they feed my soul. Especially Sam. Sam was easy and always a pleasure. In fact, he is probably the easiest dog Bret and I have had. He was agreeable, goofy, and incredibly well mannered. He was also trustworthy and constant…his presence was very big in this house…because we could all count on him. I now know how much I leaned on him…because I feel it in his loss. I wonder if he knew how important he was to all of us?
Today I did several hours of yard work. Normally, Sam would be at my side while I worked outside…supervising…it was his favorite thing. In the past, if I left him in the house he would bark…a low, steady bark that would not stop until I came and got him. I heard him barking today…but I could not call him out to be at my side. He is not the first dog I have heard barking for me after they have passed. I am coming to believe it is some sort of a spiritual goodbye ritual.
There really aren’t accurate words for what I feel when I lose a dog…our language is so limiting…the best I can come with is that each one leaves a new hole in my heart…it can’t be filled by another dog…it doesn’t work that way…the hole will remain there until I see them again. Over time it gets less painful…but it never heals.
The worst thing about fresh grief is that it reopens the old holes…each loss brings back a bit of the sting of previous losses. I think we are grieving the loss of Luna and Kringles all over again. But it also reminds me how richly blessed my life has been by so many of God’s sweet creatures. Grief can only exist where true love once dwelled. There has been so much love in our home.
Bret and I realized the night after Sam died that our entire marriage is framed by dogs…we wouldn’t be the same people, as individuals or as a married couple, without the dogs. When we first married a friend told us that our marriage will “rub the rough edges off of us”…and it sure has…but our life with dogs has polished those rough edges…it makes life bright and shiny.
We are simple people…every penny we have literally “goes to the dogs”…we will leave no legacy…no one will remember Bret or Nancy. We are not “religious” people but we are guided by the simple spiritual principles of figures like St. Francis and the Quakers…particularly in regards to stewardship of all creatures/creation. One of our favorite quotes is this; “I expect to pass through the world but once. Any good therefore that I can do, or any act of kindness I can show to any creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer it, for I shall not pass this way again.” (Stephen Grellet). Caring for the sweet animals is our way of expressing how much we love God’s good creation and the sisterhood/brotherhood we feel with the animals.
Very often I have to remind myself that “my pets” are “not mine”. Death is the ultimate reminder that I am just a temporary steward. Death makes the concept/notion of “ownership” of a pet a fallacy. Besides, referring to them as “property” seems entirely inappropriate in the context of the true nature of the relationships we have with them. If we learn to see them differently…as part of a divine creation…as eternal…well I think the world could be a significantly better place.
This morning I ran in to my friend Jan who gave us the “Lean on Me” canvas at the grocery store. She asked me what day Sam died. I said Saturday. She told me that it was Saturday that she bought this canvas when out shopping for a prom dress for her daughter. She knew she had no place for it in her house but for some reason she knew she had to get this piece. The next day she saw my post about Sam. I am grateful for such a profound friend.
As I write this tonite, Millie is sound asleep in a small bed on my desk…she is snoring…like really loud. I love the sound of her snoring. It brings me comfort. Tomorrow I get to wake up and have another busy dog filled day…I will be exhausted by the time I sit down at the end of it but my soul will be fed. For now we will rest in our grief for Sam…rest in the mystery of life and of death… and be grateful that we live such a blessed life.
Solidarity in grief…on being a voice of compassion for someone who has lost their pet.
When someone we care about faces the death of a beloved pet we want to say and do helpful things for them. For those of us who are pet lovers there is a unique solidarity in the grief of a lost pet. But not everyone
is a pet lover and that can make relating to someone grieving a lost pet more difficult. Over the years I have learned one golden principle before opening my mouth to offer someone else comfort…and that is to always “error on the side of grace“. Following this principle has served me well. First though, let’s take a step back and consider a few things that can help us be a source of compassion when someone we love is in mourning.
Grace is patience and understanding as grief is complex.
Grief is complex. It is a spectrum of deep and varying emotions. I will never forget the depth of the emotion I felt when I lost my first dog. I was taken back by the depth of the heart-break. It was the first time in my life that emotional pain literally equated to physical pain. I was also surprised at how complex my grief was. I bounced from anger to sadness to extreme guilt; over and over. I questioned my judgment and felt I failed my dog.
Whether someone has lost their pet quietly in its sleep to old age, in a tragic accident or chose to humanely euthanize a sick pet; the parent is going to experience a range of emotions and all need grace in friendship. We can’t assume we know exactly what someone is feeling when they are grieving. Thankfully, you don’t have to understand someone’s pain to “sit with them” in it. It is always possible to be present for them no matter what they are feeling. It is helpful to keep this universal truth about grief in mind; WE DON’T GET OVER GRIEF. Rather, WE LEARN TO LIVE WITH GRIEF. Learning to live with grief takes varying amounts of time for different people. Grief is also rarely isolated to one loss. When someone is grieving the loss of their pet it may open them back up to past losses they have experienced in their life.
Routine complicates grief. Our pets are creatures of habit. They love and live for their routines and their routines becomes our routines For most of us there is more than just routine though. We have silly and joyful rituals with our pets…around feeding, treats and tricks, bedtime, etc. When our pet dies the disrupted routines and rituals transform in to a series of daily painful reminders of the emptiness we feel. When my rottweiler Hercules died I cried twice a day; everyday; for at least a month when I fed the other dogs their breakfast and dinner. Hercules was such a huge presence at meal time that when he was gone this once joyful task became a sad one. It takes a long time to establish new routines and rituals.
Grace does not judge
Ok…I will say it plainly as I can. This is the time to KEEP OUR OPINIONS TO OURSELVES! This is where the “error on the side of grace” principle really matters. NOTHING about losing a pet is cut and dry. When someone is grieving it is NOT the time to share our opinion on whether a pet should die naturally or be euthanized; nor our opinions on what could have been done medically differently or how an accident could have been prevented or whether a pet should be cremated or buried. Button up! Trust me on this one. If we value friendship and desire to be a person of compassion, judgment should be spared.
Compassion and judging someone’s actual grief process are also incompatible. Grief is a unique journey for each person in both its intensity and duration. Everyone deserves the space to grieve in their own way. Some people grieve immediately and very openly. Some people grieve privately and at times long after a loss has occurred. I made the mistake of sharing my own grief with people I thought I could lean on. Instead of solidarity or compassion I was shamed and diminished for grieving the loss of a “damn dog”; once by a so-called “pastor” and once by a family member. That experience permanently changed those relationships. It is NOT childish or silly to grieve a pet. Rather, it is a mature reflection of love. It is typical for our relationships with our pets to be more affirming to our lives than our relationships with some people. When someone is grieving a pet they are on the right side of history. The bond between people and animals dates back to ancient times. Countless pre-historic grave sites have been found with people and their dogs buried together.
Grace doesn’t start theological arguments
As a seminary graduate I have a lot of thoughts on theology, religion, philosophy, etc. I try to live by a rule that I don’t offer those thoughts unless I am specifically asked about them. As I have grown older I have
become much more comfortable with mystery and tension…(by tension I mean acceptance that there are things I will never understand). I have also never met a winner of a theological “argument”…because Truth is a journey…Truth is not something we hit each other over the head with. When someone is experiencing a great loss, an important part of a normal healing process and their own spiritual journey is to explore and/or reaffirm their own convictions about life after death. Many years ago the same person who shamed me for mourning my dog also chastised me with the “I suppose you think the damn thing is in heaven now too” line…seriously! The comment literally sucked the air out of my lungs…I couldn’t respond…I just walked away feeling emotionally mugged. Frankly, at that time I had not come to any conclusions about what I believed happened to pets after death…it was the first time I was faced with processing the death of a pet. But I will always recall that moment as one of the cruelest interactions I have had with another person. Perhaps it was the best lesson I ever learned in the importance of extending grace when interacting with someone who is grieving. Trust me, its a really bad idea to give someone your theological treatise on pets and death…give them the grace and the space to work that out themselves. Today, I have very strong convictions on life after death for all creatures…but that was my own journey to take.
Avoid campy euphemisms:
Sometimes they slip out; but if we can, it is a good idea to avoid campy euphemisms like, “at least they are not in pain anymore” or “he is better off now”. Seriously, these are not helpful statements when you really think it through. No one in mourning is satisfied with the implication that their loved one is better off dead. Perhaps it might be a factual statement but it does not bring comfort to the bereaved and therefore is not helpful. I shouldn’t have to say it but I will; “it’s just a dog/cat” or “you can always get another dog/cat”…bad, really bad things to say.
It is normal for us to want to “speak” and “help” and “do” when someone is hurting and that is a beautiful thing. To keep myself from letting tricky statements slip out of my mouth I try to stick with “you questions” when I have the urge to say something….for example “what can I do for you?”…”how can I help you through this?”…”how can I make this better for you?”.
It also is a good idea to avoid unsolicited advice like’ “why don’t you get a puppy to make you feel better”. Again, well intended but not helpful. Some people will get another pet within days of losing a pet…others will never get another pet. Give them the space to work it out on their own. If they ask for help getting another pet…by all means trot them down to the local shelter!
So what do we say and do for someone grieving the loss of a pet?
Here is my unsolicited advice for standing in solidarity with someone who is grieving their pet.
Say nothing. Just listen. Let’s be honest…we stink at this. I could write an entire blog post on the “ministry of silence”…maybe I will. But we don’t have to talk to be helpful. We can sit in silence with someone who is in pain. Our quiet presence is often the best form of solidarity we can offer. For someone in mourning; expressing their range of emotions out loud can be very therapeutic. Being a quiet and patient listener for someone in mourning is a great gift. You don’t have to have words of wisdom…just be there. If you just have to say something…thank them for trusting you with their feelings and reaffirm your solidarity with them.
Be honest. If you aren’t a pet lover or have not yet experienced the loss of a pet BE HONEST about not understanding their grief. You don’t have to understand someone’s pain to stand in solidarity with it. Express how much you care about them and your desire to be someone for them to lean on.
Ask them how you can be useful. You can’t know how to help someone unless you give them a chance to tell you. Grief is a really strange journey and you might be surprised at what someone will find helpful. We can’t know unless we ask.
Don’t pretend it didn’t happen. Don’t avoid their discussions about their pet. Share your favorite story about their pet; using their pets specific name out loud.
Make a condolence gesture. Send a sympathy card (a real one…not an ecard…hand write your message); I still have all the pet sympathy cards. They mean a lot to me. Get the bereaved a picture frame or scrap-book. My favorite memorial gift is a wind chime. I have wind chimes in my yard for all of my pets who have crossed over and it is my favorite gift for someone else. Other great ideas are yard stone markers; St. Francis statues; make a donation in their pet’s name. I am going to do an entire post on unique ideas to offer condolence and memorialize a pet.
Check on the bereaved often…remember; grief is journey that lasts the rest of our lives…the most difficult part of that journey can go on for weeks, months, maybe longer. Check on them and ask them specifics on how they are doing and what you can do to be there for them.
We all struggle with seeing someone we love in pain so I really hope this post is helpful. I enjoy hearing from other pet parents with their ideas and experiences of grief and healing. You can contact me by commenting on this post or by email at email@example.com.
If you are struggling with the guilt that often comes associated with the loss of a pet I encourage you to read the post I wrote on euthanasia and guilt. Working through my own guilt after the loss of my first dog was a long and painful journey for me. Part of the healing process was finding solidarity with other pet parents who experienced the same feelings of guilt. Follow this link: Euthanasia and Guilt.
I am an artist and full-time rescue mom. The majority of my art is pet rescue themed or pet sympathy themed. Pet sympathy cards are my favorite work and also my best-selling items. If you are looking for handmade pet sympathy cards please follow this link: The Rescue Mama ETSY Shop. I offer discounts to pet professionals purchasing 10 or more cards at a time…send me an email or convo me directly through ETSY for a coupon code.
This is the first in a series of posts I am writing this year on pet sympathy related topics. I am going to follow up this post over the next few weeks with a post on writing sympathy cards and other gestures of condolence, a resource guide for those who are in mourning and finally a post on my own convictions regarding pets and the afterlife.
If you are a lover of “all things pet” please consider following my blog. I blog weekly on a variety of topics related to pet parenting, pet rescue and expressing my life through art. I also have a The Rescue Mama Facebook Page and The Rescue Mama Pinterest Page. My Pinterest page is a collection of both my original content and curated content. I have boards that cover pretty much every topic you can think of regarding pets! If you are looking for pet art, pet cards or some fancy pet accessories please visit The Rescue Mama ETSY shop!
Pet Rescue Art: Do we see our pets again after death?
What I am working on in my studio usually speaks to what is going on in my head and heart…lately is it grief and sadness. Grief is such a strange journey…its unique…no two losses are the same but no single experience of the loss of a loved one is about the loss of just that one loved one. When we open up for grieving it usually re-opens many old wounds that never completely healed. I find that my sensitivity to everything around me is heightened when I am experiencing grief. My ability to truly feel the experiences of another person or animal is so acute that it is physical. It is both an awful and awesome place to be emotionally and spiritually.
I am of the opinion that we never “get over” the loss of someone we care about. Rather, we just learn to live with the pain. The piece of our heart that breaks when they are gone remains broken and becomes part of who we are forever. It is part of becoming truly human.
I also believe we see our pets on the other side of life. Not because I “need” to believe that nor believe it is something polite and appropriate to say when anyone is in pain over the loss of a beloved pet. I believe it because it is logical to believe it. It is congruent with a Christian world view to believe it. And there is tangible evidence that we see our pets again. To say that a living creature is lost forever when it dies would constitute a belief in a world view called ” annhilationism”. Annihilationists believe that anything that is alive is gone forever once physically dead. The problem with that belief is that collective human intelligence (and by that I mean almost every single society that has ever walked this planet) has rejected annihilationism. Almost every society has believed in the spiritual birth of something new after death. While those belief systems vary, of course, what they hold in common is that there is something beyond life in the flesh for creatures. To hold the view that any creature, human or animal, is annihilated after death would put you in conflict with most of humanity…so which view does it make logical sense to hold? A Christian world view holds that all of creation is redeemed and part of God’s plan…while I will write more on this at another time…to exclude our beloved pets from God’s redeemed creation would be in direct conflict with a Christian world view. While it’s not as common to talk about it in a contemporary culture that does not want to deal hands on with death and dying…stories of what happens during the dying process and accounts of Near Death Experiences tell us a lot about what awaits us on the other side. And these experiences include interactions with animals; particularly pets already gone.
I like to think of the pets gone before me as waiting for me…which is selfish…really I hope they are running and playing with others and doing what they were meant to do naturally. But I know I will see them again. I hold this belief so strongly that while I love life on this side…I look forward to it on the other side just as much.
I have been painting Sparky, my beloved black lab who recently died. The painting is taking awhile because sometimes I am too emotional to work on it. It is a painting of how I picture him looking down on me now. (ok…tearing up as I write this…). I will share it when its done. I believe its completion will bring me as close to closure as one can get when a loved one dies.
Thanks for reading my posts and viewing my art. Much of my art is for sale at my ETSY shop. Sparky’s passing has opened a new chapter in my pet journey…one that is very focused on a new member of our family, Buster. Buster is a reactive dog that came here in a pretty wild state…I have decided to start chronicling the ways I have worked with Buster’s reactivity in hopes it can help other dog parents dealing with reactive dogs.
If you are in to all things pet and pet rescue check us out on Facebook or Pinterest!
I have been having a burst of creativity and inspiration to make some new pet sympathy cards…I am sure it is has everything to do with losing Sparky. Funny thing grief is…we never “get over it”…at least I don’t believe we do. We just learn to live with it…and over time living with it makes it an important part of who we are as spiritual beings. Funny thing too…grief can happen in such flashes…I was at Hobby Lobby, buying some card making supplies, when I felt inspired to buy a wind chime for our backyard…to hang in honor of Sparky. At first I just felt moved as I was picking one out…almost a bitter sense of comfort in the memory of him and for doing something in his name…and then a moment of guilt came over me because I realized that it was the first time I had thought about him that day. Grief is weird.
I believe we are all put here to play a special part…to be involved in a spiritual enterprise that rubs the rough edges off us as we grow…for me it is pet rescue. I make no apologies for my pets playing such a large role in my life…not to friends…not to family…it is who I am…take me or leave me as I am. I was made for taking care of them.
Sparky rubbed a lot of rough edges off of me…it was patience and persistence that he taught me for sure…but more important and especially later in his life it was that every day he reminded me to never waste an opportunity to have a little enjoyment. I had six dogs when he was still alive and I am a bit of nut about exercising my dogs…which takes a lot of time in my day and a lot of my energy. Sparky was SOOOOOOOOO slow the last year of his life and he had a bit of doggy dementia…so often we would walk back and forth down the same street…he would get confused about which direction we were walking…I always just went with it. But I had to walk him separate from the other dogs and even a very short walk took an enormous amount of time (sometimes I would even bring a book). But dammit…I was gong to make sure he had his time…he loved his walks and it was one thing I could give him…I new that one day he wouldn’t be there…if today was by chance the last day…it was going to be one he enjoyed. I find a lot of comfort today in my patience and persistence for him and his walks. It has made me a better person.
I am one of those oddly wired people that needs to create to be whole. I lose time when I am creating…whoooda thunk it would be pet sympathy cards that I enjoy to make…but that is how it just turned out….so I go with it. If I can be a small part of bringing a tiny bit of comfort to someone grieving a pet…I am glad to do it. I write my own greetings for my cards…they are not poetic…just genuine thoughts from someone who knows a little something about grieving a pet.
If you ever need a pet sympathy card, keep me in mind…they are available at my ETSY shop…I take great pride in making them and in my customer service in regards to them.
Love your pets today…and everyday…you are their whole world.
Please follow my blog if you are interested in seeing more of my work and hearing more of my opining about all things pet. I post 1-2 times/week on my blog and daily on my Facebook Page.
Pet sympathy: Cat memorial painting…textured acrylic on canvas.
This painting is part of my “Anima” line of products for pet sympathy. “Anima” is the Latin word for soul. Everything in my “Anima” line is about remembering our beloved pets that we have lost. This is a textured painting done in acrylics on mounted canvas. I had a lot of fun making the moon glow in this painting.
Usually I only make cards for this line…this is my first painting…what do you think? Check out my Art Gallery to see some of my other paintings or look through my Hope After Loss page for articles and links for coping with the loss of a beloved pet.
If you love all things pet and pet rescue consider following my blog…I post 1-3 articles per week on my blog and daily on Facebook and Pinterest pages.
I will admit that the recent inflatable tribute that Miley Cyrus displayed to her lost dog might be a bit over the top for some. But I cannot be silent in the face of some of the nasty rhetoric that has ensued. I am not a Miley Cyrus fan and frankly other than her most outrageous displays that make evening news, I know nothing about her. But I do know a lot about grieving for a pet. While there has been a ton of positive sentiment since Miley’s inflatable dog I have also noticed several articles and a lot of nasty commentary that besmirches grieving over the death of a pet. I personally find it callous and a decidedly ugly side of humanity when one person passes judgment on another’s grief. Can we not at least agree that people deserve respect and space when mourning…no matter who or what it is they are mourning? Can we not show enough grace to give someone the space to mourn even if we do not understand or agree with their grief? I know from experience how painful it is to be shamed by others when grieving a lost pet…it really is the very bottom of the creepy barrel to kick someone when they are mourning.
Our society is ever-changing; we are becoming more impersonal and disconnected from each other than ever, yet our need for companionship remains integral to what it means to be human. For many people, especially so many of our nation’s elderly, a pet may be the most constant and reliable companion in their life. The loss of a loyal companion (of any species), especially in the midst a culture that struggles to adequately face death and dying, is devastating. I think we can do better, extending grace and giving people the space they need to mourn without passing judgment on them! What do you think?
I just added this new card to my Anima line of products for those mourning the loss of a beloved pet. Feel free to contact me if you have questions about techniques I use to make my cards. If you are interested in purchasing my cards, most are available at my ETSY Shop. If you use the coupon code “NEWCUSTOMER” you will receive 10% off your first purchase. I do offer discounts to veterinarians and other pet professionals who purchase multiple cards at a time.
This is one of my original designs for a sympathy card. This card starts with a base card stock of recycled paper. I stain it (all sides) and then heavily emboss the front. There is a distressed, stained and embossed piece of cream cards stock that is largely covered with the poem and embellishments but it creates a lovely accent behind the poem. All of the embellishments are stained to match and some of them are stamped with designs.
This is one of my favorite cards, what do you think?
One of the product lines that I design is called “Anima”. “Anima” is the Latin word for soul; all of my products in this line are meant to bring comfort to those who are mourning the loss of a beloved pet and to celebrate the joy that our sweet pets have brought to our lives.
I recently finished this candle; it is the end result of about five designs landing in the garbage can in my studio. I designed these to match my favorite sympathy cards. These are really not too hard to make they just take some time as it is several layers of work that needs to completely dry in between applications.
I started with a basic prayer candle; you can find these in Catholic stores, Dollar stores, etc. I used 8 inch pillar candles. You could use any size candle or candle holder to make this project just remember to stick with tempered glass.
The first thing I did was print out the poem on white card stock with my laser printer. When I print lettering from my laser printer that I want to use for crafts I spray the printed paper with Fixative so that it will not smudge. You could use a multitude of things on the front of one of these candles; a photo or a card for example. I loosely tore the edges of the poem, stained the paper with black Distressed Ink and sprayed it with Perfect Pearls.
I put a thin layer of mod podge on the candle and then rolled it over a pre-cut piece of tissue paper. Here I used a tissue with paw prints on it but you could use any kind of tissue or even plain tissue that you stamp your own images on with Archival Ink. I let this first layer dry overnight. When I work with mod podge I use the general rule that less is more. I always apply it fairly sparingly so I don’t tear the paper I am working with, cause bubbles or make a big ‘ol mess. For the second application I put mod podge on the back of my poem and pressed the poem down on the candle – again I let it dry overnight. The third layer; I put a layer of mod podge over the candle (not on the poem) and sprinkled glitter generously (I used a clear large flake glitter here). Again, I let this dry overnight. The final layer was a layer of mod podge over the glitter (applied with a paint sponge).
The reason for the last layer of mod podge was to avoid having a situation where the candle flaked glitter every time someone touched it. When I was finished I did spray the candle with a glaze (if you do this step make sure you cover the inside of the candle as glazes are flammable so you don’t want any residue in the candle).
The reason I let my projects dry for at least 24 hours between steps is to avoid having a finished project that feels tacky. If you have ever done a mod podge project that felt tacky when you were done (which really makes it useless) it is either because of the humidity where you are working or the project didn’t dry long enough between coats.
To finish this project off I attached a small black ribbon at the top of the candle. I am fairly happy with how these candles turned out and the project has inspired several other ideas for me.
How do you like these candles?
I hope this was a helpful tutorial on how I made these. If you are not a crafty person I do have several of these for sale at my ETSY store (use coupon code “NEWCUSTOMER” for 10% off).
Feelings of guilt associated with euthanizing a pet is something that profoundly affected my life. It was also something that I had a very hard time talking about. Compounding the grief I felt when losing my beloved pet was the isolation I felt in this guilt. A guilt which made my heart ache that much more.
In 2008 I made the decision to euthanize my Rottweiler, Hercules. He had osteosarcoma (bone cancer). Hercules had received the best in veterinary care to treat his cancer. When I made the decision to let him go I had the support of my veterinarian (she has been our vet for 10 years and I completely trust her judgment). I had the support of my husband who loved Hercules as much as I did. I knew in the depth of my heart that it was time to let Hercules go and logical reasoning dictated that it was time as well. I want to be clear; I am a logical, critical and confident thinker. I have a master’s degree. I studied philosophy, epistemology and logic at the graduate school level. I should have been confident in this decision that I had so carefully reasoned out and prayed deeply about. But the reality was; once Hercules was gone I was filled with a terrible sense of guilt. I felt that I had killed the creature I loved most in the world and it was simply horrible. I went over and over the facts and would reaffirm to myself that I had made the right decision but logic mattered not. I believed that I had let Hercules down and I was the reason he was gone. These feelings were crushing my spirit.
I was also ashamed to share these feelings. Really, what do you say to someone? “I am wracked with guilt because I believe I killed my dog!” It was not a conversation I had the courage to have with anyone, even my husband. My husband did know how deeply I was grieving though. Several times he suggested I read a book called “Rescuing Sprite” by Mark Levin. After weeks had passed and I was still mulling about in my stupor of grief and guilt my husband asked me several more times to read the book and I finally complied. It is a good book (have a box of Kleenex ready if you choose to read it). What struck me about the book was that Mr. Levin shared this same sense of guilt that I was feeling. I felt a small sense of relief for the first time. I was not the only person who felt this and it is ok to talk about it, and in this case, write it in a book! Solidarity in grief became very meaningful in my life and it gave me the courage to share the guilt I was experiencing with people who I trusted. Finally, with a new-found sense of solidarity the healing could begin.
I have spent the better part of the five years since Hercules’ death reading everything I can get my hands on in regards to the topic of the souls of animals and studying the work of some of history’s greatest thinkers in regards to the relationships we have as humans with creation, particularly with animals. I am the type of person that when faced with a dilemma responds by diving in and actively solving it …my way…which is to study and analyze it to its end. With many of the vagaries of life this is an effective approach, but alas, it does not work well with emotions. I had to find peace with the decision to euthanize my pet elsewhere and eventually I did. I found my answer by learning to trust what was most real about the seven years that Hercules was mine…and that was how much I loved him. There is a simplistic element to this because love means a lot of very specific things when it comes to a pet. It means providing their basic needs; food, water, medical care, exercise, socialization and a safe environment. I did this and I did it with great joy. Love is protecting our pets from harm and giving and receiving affection with them. I did this too. Over time I could reflect on how I loved Hercules well in all these ways and that my relationship with him was not defined by one difficult and traumatic act but rather that we had a seven year narrative of joy and love. I began to realize that love for my dog began with an unspoken covenant between us the day he became mine. A covenant that for me reads something like this; “I will love you forever. I will never abandon you. I will meet your needs physically and emotionally. I will be your voice. I will defend you, be your advocate and have the courage to make difficult decisions for you.” I came to realize that I fulfilled this covenant and that I was loving and courageous for doing it even though parts of fulfilling the covenant were traumatic for me. This is how I found peace…by seeing my courage to act for him when he needed me the most.
Over time, by reading other people’s stories (something I highly recommend) I was able to reframe euthanasia in a more balanced way. I came to terms with the fact that it is simply not about me at all but all about the dog and protecting him from suffering. This seems obvious, but when you are in the throes of grief it is hard to see past your own pain and in my case guilt. Eventually, I started to view helping Hercules cross over as the ultimate act of love. No animal deserves to suffer and certainly not one that I love. Instead of feeling guilty I began to once again feel the love I had for Hercules and I was able to mourn and heal.
This is an important journey as I will face end of life decisions again, many times. I have four dogs and three cats right now; four of the seven are seniors. I feel differently now than I did five years ago. Yes, I absolutely dread the day I lose any of them and I will cry a river of tears for them all. But I feel confident that I can trust my love for them when I am faced with difficult decisions. I have an unspoken covenant with them and I will honor it with courage.
Solidarity is powerful, especially in grief. The reason I started The Rescue Mama blog was to create a place of solidarity for people who are trying to cope with the loss of a beloved pet. I hope this article helps in your process of healing. I would love to hear your story of love, loss and healing. Please feel to write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Always, peace to you and yours.