Grief Lesson For Petless People

If you think people say the dumbest things to you when you are grieving for family or friends, just wait until your beloved pet dies. Or if you are the one saying such things to pet owners, you won’t ever again be so insensitive after you read the guest post below by Dr. Dolores Spivack. A tear might just creep out of your eye.

I Miss My Cat    

When your pet dog or cat or bird dies, nobody sends you flowers or donates money in its name to a favorite charity, not even the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. If you get any condolences at all, your friends will say at best “Sorry and did you see the game last night?” Some people have even said to me “Your cat died, so now you don’t have a cat.” I miss my cat.

My cat, Mel, died two months ago after living all of her eighteen years with me. She was born right into my hands after her mother’s difficult labor. No bigger than a small potato, I massaged her chest with my pinky finger and Mel took her first breath in the palm of my hand. I then helped her mother clean her and nurse her.

At the end of her life, Mel only had one tooth and was almost totally blind. Because she shook her head so much after her second stroke, her ear shriveled leaving her only one ear. She was equal to about one hundred in human years. But, she could still navigate the house, find her litter box, and jump on the table. If, and when I reach one hundred years old, I want to be able to jump onto a table just like her.

I miss Mel. I miss her faithfully waiting for me to come home, even if all she wanted was her can of food. I miss her underfoot, even though I often stepped on her tail. I miss her scattering of toy mice I would give her as holiday presents. She couldn’t catch the real mice, only the toy mice. That made me laugh so much. The toy mice only collect dust now.

I knew she was important to me while she lived. I did not know how cherished and how vital she was to me now that she is gone. I find it difficult to explain to my family and friends how much I miss her. Often, when I wake up in the morning, I think I feel her cuddled next to me. Then I remember she died. I miss Mel.

My grief for Mel is as deep and sad as any I have ever felt for any human, friend or family. Why is that not acknowledged? For almost two decades, Mel made her presence known in my house; she ate her canned food with me while I ate my meals. While I slept, she cat-napped but for many hours more than me. She greeted me and all visitors with curiosity and a welcome. She was as much a part of my life as my family and she witnessed more of my life than anyone else. Why would it seem strange to mourn her loss so profoundly? All I ask of my loved ones is empathy at best or solemn silence at least.

When Mel died, I waited until I was alone to bury her. I knew I would cry long and hard. I wanted the privacy to cry how I wished. I felt no need to be strong. I placed her in the earth with the same hands that welcomed her when she was born. I sprinkled dirt over her shrouded body and tamped it firmly down while my tears made puddles of mud on her grave. I miss Mel so much.

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Dr. Dolores Spivack started a writing group to motivate her to finish her dissertation about New York City building codes. After successfully completing her PhD in Architecture, she has gone on to write creative nonfiction pieces like the one here. The survivors include a greyhound and Dolores’s husband. They both attend a yearly greyhound convention in Gettysburg. And yes, the owners’ dogs attend too.

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A First for Buster, Max, Princess and Molly: Pet Blessings

Buster’s latest diary entry: My owner Stacey makes sure my life’s not dull. Yesterday it was a pet costume contest where I had to strut around in a suffocatingly hot Superman outfit. Ugh! Today it was a pet blessing ceremony. As usual, I had begun my fitness routine in a dog run in a city park, but I knew something was up when Stacey trotted on over to the nearby gazebo, where plenty of other doggies were milling around, plus one cat that doggedly remained seated on her owner’s lap. I’m like what’s up, and then some alpha human named Chaplain Daniel started talking and we and all our owners all settled down along the edges of the gazebo. The word that most stood out in my mind in that chap’s introduction was “treats,” so I figured if that was on the agenda it would be worth my while to sit still. The other dogs were just as smart, because they arrived at the same conclusion and didn’t interrupt overly often.

The ceremony was not half bad as human noise making goes, and a guitar in the background made up for some of the “for humans only” type of chatter. But man my ears went on triple alert when I heard later on I could get my very own individualized blessing. That was a doggie of a different color; almost as valuable as a treat–well maybe that’s pushing it. Anyhow, a great big line of dogs formed along with their owners to wait their turn for Daniel’s made-up-on-the-spot blessings. As I waited in line, I swear I couldn’t help overhearing what the other dogs’ issues were. I thought their blessings were gonna be things like, “May your bruised leg get better soon,” or “hope you get frisky again like when you were younger.” Nope. Most of the blessings were about emotional things like, “May your dog lose her timidity and come to enjoy dogs and people more and more.” Or, “Molly has been sad and not sleeping well. May she find her zest for life again and speed along the dog run with new-found joy.”  The blessing I got was pretty lame: try to give Stacey (my owner) more slack. Argh! as Snoopy would have said. I thought the blessing was supposed to be for us, not our owners.

By the way, pets that were absent were part of this deal. I don’t mean just that they were not there, I mean they were gone forever. When Chaplain Dan said, “Bless our cherished pets  who have left this world but not our hearts,” I almost whimpered with sad memories about my parents. The chaplain then paused for people to say the names of their lost pets, and I was astonished at hearing a whole pile of ’em. A cat owner even got up to read a poem in it’s memory, how about that? Later I heard Karen, another chaplain (Sheesh, how many chaplains do you need at one time, anyway?) go over to that lady and mention how often  humans can be so insensitive about other people’s pets dying and act like grieving over them is nonsense. The lady basically replied, “And how!”

Oh, and I almost forgot: the treats, including animal crackers and bone-like strips got 5 stars, according to yours truly.   Yours truly, Buster

(Editor’s note:) The fancy shmansy word for types of grief that society delegitimizes is “disenfranchised grief.” Pet owners, and even fellow pets that lived with a pet who has passed (that’s another story), have every right to grieve for their pets as they need to. Not only that, did you know there’s such a thing as pet hospices? It’s true. They are all over, and two of them are called “Pawsitive Passings” and “Compassionate Care Cat Hospice.” You can see for yourself at the website of the International Association of Animal Hospice and Palliative Care. Their address: http://www.iaahpc.org/