Grieving a Pet’s Death

Grieving a pet’s death has many similarities to grieving a beloved person. We planned a trip across Canada knowing if we took our 23-year-old-cat, she might not make it back home due to aging issues. We had four choices: cancel our 60th wedding anniversary trip, leave Stormy with a relative, friend or in a kennel, put her to rest before we left, or take her with us. Knowing the last choice would change our activity somewhat, we chose to create a space in the back of our van for her litter box, water, kibble and of course her favourite food, ‘Temptation Treats’. Not to forget her favourite space on my husband’s lap.

I suppose you could call this a driving distraction, but it was comforting for both her and for him.

Since we had anticipated Stormy’s death over the last year, anticipatory Grief during the trip was present, especially in the last couple of weeks as we saw her getting weaker. No, it didn’t spoil our trip. A surprise blessing in the 8000 miles of driving, (sometimes 4 or 5 hours a day), was the special time to hold and care for her. She was happy to stay in the travel trailer and sleep as we stopped to visit with friends and relatives along the way. Her health became a daily conversation as people asked for her and visited her in the trailer or on a lawn. As it took five days to travel through northern B.C. (times two – there and back), I am thankful she slept most of the way through those mountains. I cannot imagine having to think about her death on a mountaintop, as beautiful as they were.

Stormy had a good death – loved and held through . . . to . . and during the end of her life. When she got busy in the dying process, it only took her a day and a half. We buried her in a friend’s garden where chipmunks, neighbour’s cats and a variety of birds, including morning (mourning) doves played.

Two water fountains and a statue of St. Francis frame this special area.

Will it be difficult to leave her here? Yes and no. Over the years, I’ve seen many family members travel from around the world to a loved one’s funeral and cemetery service, and then leave to go home – maybe never to return, yet knowing that all is well. So it is with us.

My grandnephew said, “I’m glad Stormy got to see the Yukon, touch the grass and breathe the air.” A friend said, “You were able to spent more intimate time with Stormy on the trip, while confined to the car through travelling, than you might have been able to take at home.” My niece said, “What an honour – how wonderful to die loved.” One of our adult children said, “I’m just happy Stormy is with you guys, and you are all in a place of peace.”

Isn’t that what grief is all about? Going through the experience the best way you can to eventually end up ‘in a place of peace.”

By the way, Stormy is one of the animals staged in my ‘Come to the Farm” series of children’s stories. Two of them star her in Stormy the Watch-Cat and Stormy’s Mouse. She makes an appearance in Where will Jenny build her Nest? and How will Hetty Hide Her Eggs? plus a few other stories. Stormy will live on in our hearts and our memories as well as through children’s experience as they learn about her life through story.

 Jot down a few thoughts if you are grieving your pet’s death.

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Helpful Review of Grief Material

After I write grief material, I find it helpful to read strong positive reviews. This is not to get a pat on the back, it’s to learn what has been helpful. It shows if the resource has met a need in a reader’s heart and mind. And it also shows that which we hope will be important, has proved its purpose. Thanks, Paul.

The following review is written by the Rev. Dr. Paul Miller, Ministry Support: Waterloo Presbytery of the United Church of Canada:

 

Good Grief People. By Alan Anderson, Glynis M. Belec, Barbara Heagy, Donna Mann, Ruth Smith Meyer and Carolyn Wilker, 2017

Review by Rev. Dr. Paul Miller

Death, and the experience of loss and grief that it brings, is both universal and intensely personal. Good Grief People captures that two-fold aspect of grief beautifully and profoundly.

The authors include writers, an editor, a minister, a counsellor, but they all have this in common: each has been touched very personally by grief.

Three things stood out for me as I read this book.

First, grief is not an event, but a journey. Many of us have been taught that there are “five stages of grief.” But this book illustrates that it is not a straightforward progression, but a road with many twists and turns that takes a lifetime to travel.

Second, grief is a shared journey. I was moved by how the authors, and in many cases, those who were dying, invited others to take the journey with them. Family, friends, church communities were all given permission to participate in the process of death and grieving. This is in contrast to the death-denying ways of our wider culture.

Third, honesty is crucial. There are no empty platitudes in this book, no sugar-coated euphemisms. There is no attempt to hide from the truth. The authors advocate facing the reality of death openly, and finding comfort and hope through honesty.

The book is helpfully organized to show that there are different kinds of dying, and different kinds of grieving. There is death over time, from cancer, ALS, dementia, heart failure. There is death that strikes suddenly – accidents, suicide, murder, and that special trauma, the death of children. The book gives space to miscarriage – a form of grief that is often the most confusing and frightening to those who experience it.

Good Grief People is unabashedly Christian in its approach. The authors are people of faith, and the resources of faith are critical to their journey towards healing. But faith is interwoven into the narratives unself-consciously and with great authenticity.

The book has some excellent practical counsel on how to approach situations of death and grief as a friend, family member, or helping professional. It includes quotations from well-known authors, personal testimonies, and a lists of “What to say” and “What NOT to say” to those who are grieving.

The subtitle of the book clearly states its purpose: “Easing the sting of death by recognizing and respecting the individuality or grief and the reality of hope.” I would warmly recommend it to anyone who is taking the journey of grief.

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Jot a few notes to help follow the above information and apply it to your life.

 

Donna Mann can be found at donnamann.org

Missing You!

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Losing you is like losing me

Whole pieces of me are gone . . . I know not where

I’m not sure who I am

or if I can ever be who I was.

I was your wife, your confidant, your comforter,

your encourager, your lover . . . 

It is as if my heart is gone.

It beats and I function but . . . 

I wonder why sometimes.

When I’ve finished work or made a difficult trip

There is noone to call and say, “I’m O.K.”

or

“I’m on my way home.”

There is noone to tell me I look great

when I get dressed.

Noone to look for when I am playing the piano at church

No distinctive laugh to listen for when I’m in a 

crowd or entering a church function

Noone to touch when I wake up during the night

Noone to wait supper for.

Noone to fill this aching void I feel 

in the pit of my stomach.

Will this ever change?

Submitted by Muriel Lush: ‘in memory of my husband’ (2008)

 

 

What do I remember about John?

The book Good Grief People continues to meet the needs of those who read it. Check out Amazon or donna mann.org

Did you walk up the street past the funeral home or a church and see black cars parked along the curb? Did you say, “I wonder who’s funeral that is.” Or maybe you walked by a cemetery and saw a small group standing with a few persons seated in front. In most cases you walk on completing your errand or keeping your appointment.

Maybe you saw an obituary in the morning newspaper, or perhaps someone phoned to tell you that John Doe’s celebration of life will be held at a particular place at 2:00. You think of former years when you and John attended the same school. An afternoon where both of your famlies showed up at the same reunion is part of a vague memory from those days. You might say, I haven’t seen him for years. And yet, you remember winning a two-legged race with him at the Sunday School picnic. And there was that time you cleaned the school auditorium with him, after the graduating ceremony.

Maybe I should go. I might see some other school friends. There will be lots of stories. It’ll be good to be reminded of John. Now that I think more about it, we did have some good times together. But I don’t want people to think I’m only there for the lunch.

As you go about your day’s work, you think more about John. Strange how small pieces of memory about him begin to give you forgotten moments. And those precious memories almost forgotten can be a gift for unresolved grief that might not have anything to do with John, but more about you.

Jot down a few notes in your journal about services you wanted to attend.

So I Soldier On

Every once in a while I read words that ring so true, I’m sure they were written for my loved one. In this case, not so, but for the author’s special friend. With permission I am publishing this poem written by a writing colleague. I trust you will find yourself in her words. 

Tribute to a friend

 by Mardel Wyborn

 

I miss you.

I miss your smile.

I miss your advice.

I miss laughing with you.

 

I loved you

  and I loved your crazy way

  of dealing with pain.

I loved your kids.

 

At times I came close to hating you.

You did your own thing

  and didn’t include me.

You chose men I disliked.

You avoided me when you were in

  relationships that were harmful to you.

 

And then something would happen.

I needed you..

  and you were always there.

We coped with loss together.

We celebrated life

  and then you died..

  before your time

and I was lost.

A part of my life was gone

  and I couldn’t get it back.

 

But then I think of you

  and your resilience

And I know you wouldn’t want me

  to quit living

  just because you are no longer here..

 

So I soldier on

  with a smile on my face

knowing that by doing so

I only make you proud.

 

And instead of crying,

  I smile.

Remembering Loved Ones

Every experience of grief is worthy of journalling your feelings. Facts and emotions are too easily forgotten. When this happens they lose their significance and heartfelt meaning. A paragraph or two will cause a flood of memories to flow that were once emerged into daily living. You may never do anything more with your memories than jot a few notes and over time, add a few more points of reality and sentiments. You might not feel called upon to act on those impressions. But then again, if you decide to send a letter or a card to someone connected to your experience, that’s a bonus. You might bring some sunshine into another’s life.

On May 17th, 2016, I received an email from Glynis Belec of Angel Hope Publishing inviting me to become part of a team she was building to write stories, poems, etc about grief. It didn’t take me long to accept her invitation. The team formed with five other writers along with our publisher. Although the stories were not always easy to recall and to write, I am privileged to see them within the covers of Good Grief People.,  Ten months later, on March 10th, 2017 we sat in Tim Horton’s excited to hold the book in our hands.

Good Grief People is a work of love, acknowledging our lives with others and sharing our loss. It validates how much we cared for people as well as our desire to know them in life and in their dying. It is a message of confidence that remembering, writing and sharing is important to keep our loved ones close to our heart. It is an invitation for those who read the stories to think about people they’ve loved. This invitation stretches us to write those memories down on black and white in letters, journals, blogs, emails and scribbles on whatever is handy.

If this blog reminds you of an experience of being with someone in their last days, take a few moments and write it in your journal. Six months from now when you reread it, you’ll be glad you did it. Visit http://www.donnamann.org for grief selections and other material.

 

 

 

Good Mourning

Often we skip a period of mourning and focus on grief. Mourning time is a valued space after personal loss – sometimes lasting longer than expected. Have a look at what Merriam Webster dictionary says about mourning:

  • mourning1
: the act of sorrowing mourning for her dead husband.>

2a :  an outward sign (as black clothes or an armband) of grief for a person’s death mourning — Arnold Bennett>

2b :  a period of time during which signs of grief are shown mourning, resume their ordinary dress>

My aunt wouldn’t take part in a family birthday party because she said she was ‘still in mourning’. This is honoured behaviour although we don’t often hear the word mourning.

I remember when my grandfather died, my dad put on a dark shirt. His suit was navy. As a teenager, I knew about colour coordination and mentioned he should wear another colour of shirt. All he said was, “This is proper”.

In my genealogy studies I often see pictures of black wreaths on front doors and black crepe paper used in decorating the house according to a family’s mourning traditions. It was not unusual in past eras to wear a black armband for a short period. This is not practiced now in local cultures, but other actions signify grieving and the need to have time alone.

After my father’s death, I remember thinking it wasn’t respectful to do certain activities in the same week. There used to be a definite three-day waiting period to observe a death in the family. This too has changed over the years. Families take responsibility for these decisions.

Mourning is a good word as is grief. Consider Elizabeth Gilbert’s use of these words:

“Someday you’re gonna look back on this moment of your life as such a sweet time of grieving. You’ll see that you were in mourning and your heart was broken, but your life was changing…”― Elizabeth Gilbert (Goodreads)

Write a few thoughts about your pattern of mourning and grief.

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To be or not to be – angry

I’m late in getting my mid-month grief blog published. One huge reason, although the  Christmas season provided its own, was contributing to a grief anthology. The publisher good-grief-people-coverwanted personal stories. As part of my process, I found it interesting to see how many times I remembered feelings of frustration and anger. In hindsight I see they were healthy contributions to my process of grief and have dissolved over time.

Too often we think these feelings are negative, so we deny them thinking we’re protecting our well-being. Keep in mind as long as they are not harmful to you or others, we can take our time to work through them. Anger is one emotion that is often misunderstood.

It is not uncommon to see both deep-seated anger and/or easily-fused anger in grief. Anger can surface for many reasons. It is sometimes mixed with fear of the unknown. This happens especially when individuals are not informed about what happened, how or why. Often they want answers even at times when there are none. They can be angry at God, doctors, ministers, funeral directors, neighbours, family and friends, even themselves. There is no end to the list. Yet, once they understand, anger often dissolves. Unfortunately, we sometimes think grief is about emotions and experience. But, grief is as much about knowledge and learning as it is about feelings.

People can shy away from used and abused one-liner religious clichés. Many choose  to work through a logical and practical process. This is another good beginning to understanding grief.

Granger Westberg wrote this: “When we say anger and resentment are a part of “good grief,” we probably should qualify this . . . these feelings are normal for every human, and that even the most devout persons can very well feel angry and resentful, even though we try very hard to sublimate these feelings (Good Grief (1971) p.61) Fortress Press).” He suggests that we face these emotions and in time rise above them.

Take a few moments and write down some facts and feelings about anger in your grief journal.

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WinterGrief

In Canada, we are beginning a rather furious winter. We didn’t have much snow until a couple of days ago, and now we have road closures and blizzard conditions. However, most of us have put snow tires on our car, checked our supply of windshield washer and purchased an extra pair of warm mitts. We are prepared.

Some may love winter for sports and other interests. Some don’t like winter for many reasons. However, the earth in this area is very thirsty after a long dry summer. And we know that spring will come in all its glory. So I suppose we will find ways to endure the winter months.

Grief is sometimes like that. When I wrote WinterGrief, I compared nature’s seasons to the nature of grief. Yes, some nice comparisons. I’ve attached an old piece of paper where I did some pondering. I hope you enjoy it.

wintergrief

WinterGrief cover

Notepad_iconJot some of your pondering, leave it for a while and then glean the wisdom of your words.

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donnamann.org = for more prose, stories and pictures.

 

Grief, Mourning and Loss

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“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.” ― Elisabeth Kübler-Ross


Kubler-Ross’s words may seem harsh – they’re not. They can be very healing. Notice there is a present status and then explanation. There is hope in every sentence. Words can be turned over and around to mean different things to different people, but there is a base line of understandig. What is helpful to one person isn’t always so for the next one. However, most words have a common denominator that will stand on their own.

Having said that, there are people who get stuck in grief because of words we use. They may have the language of recovery, but their actions and attitude may show something very different.

It can be helpful to reflect on both the word grieving as the internal expression  – an emotional reaction or response to loss. While mourning is the external expression. We might ask ourselves, “Am I grieving or am I mourning?”

Mourning can be the process I use to deal with my loss. It is often the ache, and how I cope with that feeling. Many years ago, men used to wear a black armband when they were in mourning, or a woman might wear a veil. In today’s society we are not so visible in our mourning, however we still do it.

Loss can refer to any kind of disappearance – great or small severe change in our life where what was, is now no more. It can be anything from losing Grandma’s pearl ring to mislaying my tickets to the Maple Leaf game, to a dear friend’s death.

In some ways, I’m experiencing grief at this time. There is a sense of loss of relationships through the play I was directing. Months of practice can never be replayed. Its over – never to be again as it was. Yet, I can reclaim the faces, the laughter and the music through my memory. Even though that’s true, I still suffer loss.

Notepad_iconSketch a feeling or jot down some words about grief, mourning and loss. Then identify with a particular loss you have recently experienced.

Donna