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Archive for the ‘Loss of A Pet’ Category

Cards and Letters

Ah, the power of the printed word!  Since my blog which was ported over to the Grief Center Newsletter, the calls, emails, and condolence cards have been pouring in, many with a Golden Retriever on the front.

For those that do not know, Chewie died on October 3rd, one of the saddest days I will ever remember.  But many people I know were unaware of her passing and due to our newsletter believe that it was recent.  Believe it or not four months still feels recent.

Every member of our family stills gets teary eyed when we talk about her.  The real water works happen when others share their pet loss story, or when someone shares Chewie memories, as when my daughter presented us with one of those amazing scrap/ photo memory books of Chewie’s life for Christmas.  My five year old granddaughter brings out Chewie’s toys and draws pictures of Chewie every time she visits.  She can turn anything into a Chewie memorial and does.

I search web sites of Golden Retriever breeders looking for a puppy that is almost as beautiful as Chewie.  None have yet been found.  I know she can not be replaced, and I am beginning to look at the puppies more objectively now.  Gradually, I make progress.  Last weekend I even had the courage to call a breeder and talk about a puppy maybe this summer, though choked up when telling her about my beloved Golden.  One step back.

Am I beginning to heal?  Some days.  I still have that moment when I open the door  my mind for some reason still expects to see her lying by the door waiting, only to be reminded a fraction of a second later that she is gone.  Her picture is on the fridge and her toys are by the fireplace.  I did finally give her food away, well most of it. and I seriously hope that Rainbow Bridge thing is real.

So, thank you for all of the kind thoughts, cards, and letters.  It does not ease the pain, but it does remind me that we are one large human family that loves and cares for the other creatures of this planet, especially those we consider ours.

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Last week, I came home from working out with the personal trainer, and I bawled my eyes out. You see, I’d been working with a really great gal who pushed me hard and “got” my challenges and gave me inspiration and goals to work towards. And when I went to my session, I found out she no longer worked there. And that I would have a new trainer, who I’d never met before. 

The week before that, my parents moved from my childhood home, and my cat (who lived with them) had to be put to sleep. I spent a whole weekend holding back tears (and letting them out) and feeling a little bit empty. 

I’ve been a little bit crabby for about a month now. I mean, who gets so upset about their trainer getting a new job? 

Sometimes all of the little losses in our lives add up, making it hard to focus, and function at a high capacity. Things change, like not knowing my parents’ address by heart, knowing that this is their home, not mine, and not having my Ginger-cat ignore me as soon as I step foot in the door. And when all of those losses piled up, a seemingly insignificant loss (my trainer leaving) put me over the edge. 

There is a quote, and I have no idea who it’s by, that goes: 

Be kinder than necessary

Everyone you meet

Is fighting some kind of battle. 

In my own defense, I ask you to remember this when you’re interacting with others. We have no idea what’s going on in other people’s lives, and what might seem like “nothing” could actually be the last straw in a series of tiny losses. And don’t ignore the little losses in your life – they might catch up to you at the gym!

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The Lord Alfred Tennyson’s famous quote has been getting me through the last few days. It describes how I feel about the loss of our beloved dog, Chewie. I never knew how painful it would be to lose her, though I am so grateful for having loved her.

 

Chewie was the first dog our family had. A beautiful Golden Retreiver who came into to our lives 13 years ago at the age of 6 weeks. We cried as she did, when we adopted her and took her from her parents and the loving breeder. She was one of nine, born of two stunning champion Goldens. She was a white puff ball, who quickly captured our hearts.

The boys named her after their favorite Star Wars character and she certainly had the coat to match. What did not match was the name. She never chewed a single item. The one time she found a baby booty from a guest, she walked up to me with it in her mouth with the, I have something in my mouth for you, “please take it” look.

She only retrieved in water, where she would retrieve a stick to exhaustion. On land not a lot of retrieval occurred. We always suspected that is was just to warm for a dog with her coat.

Our dog was more of a princess than a Chewie I believed. I often thought we named her incorrectly. She pranced on walks. She greeted each and every human or animal. No amount of training would change that. In puppy school she, unlike any other dog in class, would inch over to the nearest puppy like an excited kindergartner. On walks she owned the neighborhood. Neighbors knew us as Chewie’s parents long before they knew our names. I know that one of the reasons there are so many Goldens in our subdivision is because everyone hoped they would get a Chewie.

She truly became a member of our family. She shared all of the moments of our lives for 13 years. Wherever we were she was. Nothing got past her. If we were sick she sat by our side and she was in the mix for all of our celebrations.

She not only loved us; she loved everyone. She consistently answered our door, though never barked, because she was quite anxious to make new friends. We believe she thought Halloween was her special holiday.

Over the last year, her hearing worsened, her vision decreased, she stopped climbing stairs, much like a comparable human at her age. She lived well beyond the ordinary lifespan for a Golden. She lived a long healthy life. We took her on two final road trips this summer. She rode shotgun between us as she always did, she had her ice cream cone, she hung her head out of the window. We knew they were her last trips and Jim and I savored every moment. When she stopped walking her last three days our family provided hospice care.

Together we spent her finals days and hours and now together we grieve.

I had no idea how painful it was to lose a pet like Chewie, but I go back to the the sentiments of Lord Tennyson. My life was enriched by her presence and as difficult as it is to let her go, I am so grateful for having loved her.

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dog in Ljubljana

Image via Wikipedia

The Grief Resource Center Newsletter will be coming out in a month or so, and this edition has a very interesting theme: how animals can influence our health and wellbeing. I’m giving our blog readers a sneak-peek into one of the upcoming articles. I had the opportunity last week to interview Laura Hey, a certified Animal-Assisted Therapist who will be bringing her skills to the Horizon Hospice In-Patient Unit at Columbia St. Mary’s Ozaukee Hospital on a weekly basis, beginning in March. Laura is a very interesting and talented lady with a passion for helping people. Her business is called Health Heelers and I know she is going to bring a new level of expertise and care to our patients. 

Laura is a certified Animal-Assisted Therapist with a background in health care, and her therapy teams (dogs and their handlers who will join us at the Unit) are specially trained and are registered through a national therapy pet organization called the Delta Society (www.deltasociety.org). Animals and their trainers are tested as a team and must excel in a number of areas, including obedience, safety, temperament, and social skills. 

Animal Assisted Therapy is used in many situations and with many types of clients to decrease stress and anxiety, and to provide social and emotional support. It is Horizon’s hope that it will provide an added sense of peace, and help our patients and families feel even more at home while they stay with us at the In-Patient Unit. 

You will hear more about this program in the future, but for today I encourage you to remember how therapeutic your own pet might be – if you’re feeling down or hopeless, spend some quality time with your dog or cat – their influence may surprise you. 

For more information on Health Heelers, visit their website at www.healthheelers.com.

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Two billion monarch butterflies (pictured) hib...

Image via Wikipedia

When I was in Kindergarten, the teacher gave us an assignment in the spring about life and how things grow. My Grandma and I found a cocoon in the backyard and put it in a little cage. I took this into my classroom and our class watched and waited for weeks as our collection of cocoons turned into butterflies. All except mine that is. 

I remember being disappointed that my cocoon hadn’t opened yet, but was still holding out hope that it would soon be a beautiful butterfly. One day, my teacher sent me home with my beautiful cage. My Mom must not have known what to tell me, so she took me to my Grandma’s house. 

Grandma explained to me that the cocoon was not going to open because the creature must have died. I was heartbroken and cried a lot. I remember not understanding completely what she was talking about. I remember asking her why a lot. I also remember that she soothed my tears and allowed me to cry openly about it. I always knew from that first experience that I could express my grief with my Grandma and she would soothe my tears and help mend my heart, which she did throughout her life when death struck our family.

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Toy Rabbit

Image via Wikipedia

At times you may fear that you are going to forget your loved one or pet, but this is impossible. It is during these times that we tend to think we need to hold onto every piece of clothing or item that reminds us of the one who is deceased. 

Over time, this memory clutter can feel like added weight and begins to impede your ability to feel peace and calm in your home. Pick out a memory token or linking object that is special to you and then let the rest go (only when you are ready—and you will know when the right time is). 

You’re probably wondering, just what is a memory token? A memory token is something that is a visual reminder of your loved one. After our first dog died, we found a small bulldog stuffed animal that reminded us of him. My husband and I both have this animal hanging on the rear view mirrors in our cars and every time I see it, I think of Titan and now Dozer. Pictures or collages can be wonderful memory tokens—pick out pictures of special moments, trips, or milestones. Seeing them will automatically ignite your memories. Or get creative and make a craft in honor of your loved one. In February, come to the Grief Resource Center to create either a heart pin or a 3-D butterfly to remember your loved one for the Valentine’s holiday or upcoming spring. 

Linking objects are also powerful. These are items that keep you connected to your loved one. When I graduated high school, my Grandma gave me a beautiful stuffed bunny rabbit. It was a gift in honor of special memories we had made while I was growing up when I would stay overnight at her home and we would cut out bunny rabbits from magazines and make projects with them. That rabbit keeps me connected to my grandma even though she died several years ago. For a lot of people, this object is jewelry, your loved ones favorite item of clothing, or car. Take some time to find your memory tokens and linking objects. These are comforting to have and keep you connected to your loved one. And spark your creative juices to find new ways to continue to honor them—and share them with us. We’d love to hear what you come up with!

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There are a lot of misconceptions about grief in our culture. Many people think you get 3 days off work and you should be over your loss. We also get several messages in our culture about how to “fix” grief—replace the loss (i.e. get a new pet if your pet dies), get busy (meaning, if you don’t think about it, it will get better), time will heal everything, and we don’t grieve certain losses (mostly, divorce, break-ups, moves, house fires, change of jobs, and loss of a pet). 

Due to these reasons, people say many rude and hurtful things to those who are grieving. Although their intention is to make the person feel better, they can cause more pain. In fact, sometimes they feel like a sock in the gut. 

Unfortunately, I got a sock in the gut this week. My dog, Dozer, quite suddenly lost his ability to walk this past weekend, most likely due to a brain tumor and we had to put him to sleep. On a walk with our younger dog, a neighbor asked where Dozer was and when we told him, he said “Well, life goes on. At least you have your other dog.” My mom said, “Well, at least you had 6 years with him.” 

I hear variations of these from almost everyone who comes into the Grief Center, no matter what type of loss they have had.

  • At least you have other children.
  • At least you had him/her for a long time.
  • Life goes on.
  • At least your loved one is out of pain.
  • You are still young enough to….(get married again, have other children, etc.)
  • Just get another dog, cat, pet.

 And unfortunately, there are a million more. Sometimes the best thing to do is take a deep breath, walk away and know that the person was trying to say or do something to make you feel better. And then you let the comment wash over you like water off a duck’s back and move on knowing that they do not know what they are talking about. Someday they will, and they will do better in that moment. Until then, they may not be the support person you need in your corner—but there are a lot out there who can be in your corner, and there is always the Grief Center in your corner!

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