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Mourning for Your Pet by Reverend Sandra Shaw, O.S.F.


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Shadow
When I play with my cat, who knows if I am not a pastime to her more than she is to me?

Montaigne

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Annie Rose
A dog is like an eternal Peter Pan, a child who never grows old.

Aaron Katcher

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Squeeky
When I play with my cat, who knows if I am not a pastime to her more than she is to me?

Montaigne

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Ebony
It's nice to see a cat curled up with a good book. Sadly it is the book I want to read

Y. Max Valentonis

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Kodiak
I will always remember the olive-eyed tabby who taught me that not all relationships are meant to last a lifetime. Sometimes just an hour is enough to touch your heart.

Barbara L. Diamon

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Lizzie
In a cat's eye, all things belong to cats.

English Proverb

Mourning for Your Pet

by Reverend Sandra Shaw, O.S.F.

Pet Grief is Not Silly and There is No Need for Shame or Embarrassment

Over and over again I hear a version of the following apologetic plea: "Chaplain Shaw, I feel so silly and no one in my family understands why I am feeling so lost over the death of my pet. I am embarrassed to tell anyone. I know it was just a dogs"

Stop right there. You should never apologize for your feelings, no matter what they are. And certainly we must never apologize for love. To repeat the phrase that others might have said to you, "It was just a dog [or cat or horse or bird]" is to betray your own heart and the deep bond of love you felt for that wonderful animal.

YOU know it was not just a dog. You just need validation of your truest feelings: that you lost a best friend, you lost a family member, you lost a child, you lost a companion that is irreplaceable. Your heart is in mourning for this loss. It does not matter to your heart that your friend and companion, this family member, had fur or feathers, walked on four legs or flew with wings. Your heart only knows that a loved one has died.

A time of mourning is not silly. A time of mourning is nothing to be ashamed of. A time of mourning is nothing to be embarrassed about. Mourning deserves great respect from your family, friends and colleagues. When we acknowledge the mourning that a person is going through, they are relieved of a burden. To feel that we need to hide our grief puts a lot of pressure on us. When others understand, that burden is lifted and instead of carrying a weight, we find others ready to help lift our load.

By coming forth and telling others we are in mourning, we also help them to acknowledge their own losses. Support groups at the workplace can even result and new friends made. Simply by standing up and explaining you are mourning the loss of a beloved pet will help you and those around you. For the few who respond with thoughtless comments like "Get over it. It was just a dog," you can ignore them with the confidence that what you are going through is your right, your need and the duty to your own heart, for you have loved and been loved in return. Those kinds of comments come only from people who have never known this kind of love. You have been blessed. It is a Good Mourning.

Coping With Loss

As you move about your day, remember to be good to yourself. Your system is still somewhat in shock. You will find your daily routine will change. The daily chores, routines and times together with our pet filled our days. There will be an emptiness around those times and this can create difficult moments.

One of the greatest coping mechanisms we have as human beings is the ability to cry. Crying is not a sign of weakness. It is rather a sign of good mental health. When we do not cry, we are not reaching those deep areas within where our feelings lie. Coping literally washes out our grief, our sorrow and sadness. After a good cry, we feel cleansed of those pent up feelings. Crying is needed by the body, mind and heart and is part of the process of healing.

Another coping mechanism is to talk it out. Unfortunately we still live in a society not completely understanding of pet grief, so the same person who was understanding when you needed to talk about grandma's death might turn a deaf ear when it comes to talking about the passing of your your poodle. It is not met with the same level of understanding or respect. So seek out a friend or relative who understands and is there for you. And you can call Chaplain of the Pets. We are there for this reason and will listen. You need to talk it out.

Keep some of your routines going.

If you enjoyed a daily walk in the park with your dog at 4 in the afternoon everyday, KEEP WALKING! At that same time, pick up your dog's leash and take that walk each day for a while. You will know when you no longer need to keep the routine. You might just find that it becomes that living part of your pet that remains with you and you will keep on doing it for years to come!

Talk to your pet in Heaven.

While you are on that walk, or sitting in your favorite chair where your cat used to jump on your lap, talk to your pet. I know that they are indeed living spirit and can hear you. But even if you do not believe that, the act of talking to your pet and pouring your heart out, can be a very good way of coping with their absence. What you find yourself telling your pet will become very healing. Think of them as still walking with you or sitting with you, and tell them how much you miss them. Tell them about all of the fun times that you enjoyed together. Tell them how it made you feel to walk in the door at the end of the day to find them waiting for you excitedly. Tell them why you picked them out of the litter or how they came to be with you. Go over aloud all the things that they brought to your life. This can be a very healing thing to do and you might enjoy it more than you imagine.

Visiting animals in shelters for therapeutic help.

Although you are not ready to take the step for a new pet while your heart is mending, you can begin to reach out with your love bit by bit in visiting your local animal shelter or humane society. Many of those animals are grieving and feel lost and alone just like you do. It can do you some wonderful good to get out and see them, talk to them and just extend your hand and voice to those who would just like a pat. You can go there and come home again without the responsibility of caring for another animal right now while you heal. But it can be a wonderful outing for you and a very healing activity. When you are feeling up to it and if you have the time, you might want to make it a regular habit. Who knows! By the time you have worked through your grief, you might have established a bond with an animal in the shelter who pulls at your heart and be on your way to love again!

Why it Hurts So Badly

You hurt so badly because you have a broken heart. It takes time to mend. But it will mend and the pain will fade. You are homesick for your beloved friend and you know you will never see each other again in this life. This hurts. To become separated for a time in any way from our loved ones can cause us great anxiety and stress. To be permanently separated through death is at first unthinkable and unacceptable, but it is the sudden reality you now face and that adjustment takes time.

As mentioned previously, it is as if you have an open wound and your heart is torn apart. A physical injury like that takes weeks to months to heal. Our psyches are no different. The workplace may only allow you 3 days bereavement leave even for a human loved one. We are expected to be up and running on all cylinders immediately following the funeral. 100 years ago we were expected to mourn for a year. This was actually a very wise practice and observance, for it honored what our ancestors knew and understood before we became so technologically smart. They knew that the human mind and spirit needed time to recover from loss and this was accepted and honored. When people said that he or she was in mourning, it was understood that the mourner was under special circumstances and needed to be cared for gently. The mourner was not expected to go to events and participate in activities for which they might not be ready. The year was needed. It still is.

We tend to heal more quickly if we can tend to our grief and mourn out loss without the pressure of "getting over it" coming from our circle of family and friends. We tend to heal more quickly when we allow ourselves time to grieve, when we MAKE the time and TAKE the time to move through this process. We tend to heal more quickly when we take positive action to embrace our grief and do something in honor of our pet's life. We tend to heal more quickly when we do not deny our feelings.

It hurts so badly because our hearts have cracked open and the love is pouring out in a bucket of tears. Cry a river of tears if you need to and fill that river with your the tears which will carry your raft to those peaceful and tranquil waters at the end of the journey.

Reverend Sandra Shaw, O.S.F.
CHAPLAIN OF THE PETS

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