An Important Message to Pet Owners
ABOUT THE PETS WHO ADOPTED US
By Russell Friedman and John W. James
Founders of The Grief Recovery Institute and co-authors of The Grief Recovery Handbook
You might be thinking that the title of this column is backwards. We don't think so. Any self-respecting pet owner knows that they are very lucky if a pet adopts them and loves them and lets them say all those silly things that humans say to animals. We just want to set the record straight so there can be no doubt about who has been in charge in the pet-person relationship.
But this article is more about what happens to our human hearts when our pet friend dies. This is about the physical ending of one of the most unconditional relationships that is possible for us to participate in as humans. While death creates a physical ending, the emotional and spiritual aspects of relationships continue.
You have probably known people who have never been involved in a strong relationship with an animal. Of course you felt sorry for them. But the real issue is that they may not have seemed to understand the level of your emotional connection to your pet. It does not matter why a person is so devoted to a pet. There are as many reasons as there are people. The bottom line is that the emotional connection is so powerful that when the pet dies, it can seem as if we will never feel whole again. Amongst all of the explanations is the simple fact that most of us told our pets everything, the good, the bad, the ugly. It was their accepting listening that contributed to our sense of well-being following awkward or difficult events in our lives.
Now, the pet's death creates massive pain for us, and the very entity that we would tell the story to, is the one who has died. What an incredible emptiness!
We live in a society that has perpetuated a very dangerous myth, that says: "Don't Feel Bad, On Saturday We'll Get You a New Dog." When our first young love ends we are told "Don't Feel Bad, There Are Plenty of Fish In the Sea." Both of those comments create the idea that we are not supposed to feel anything, and run out and REPLACE THE LOSS. No mention is made of the relationship, just go get another one.
One of the reasons that the Grief Recovery Institute has such strong, positive feelings about Abbey Glen, is the very fact that they understand the nature and intensity of people's relationships with their pets. Within that understanding is the fact that every Abbey Glen employee is trained to be aware of and sensitive to what is happening in the heart of every grieving pet owner. We know, because we train them. They are trained to do certain things, but more importantly they are trained to NOT SAY CERTAIN THINGS. An Abbey Glen employee is not going to say "Well it was only a dog," or, "Don't Feel Bad, Just get another cat."
When people die, we go to great lengths to create a funeral or Conclusionary Ritual service that will help the largest number of people remember the person who died. Those kinds of memorial services can be very therapeutic, especially when they have created an "accurate memory picture" of the person who had lived.
While memorial services for pets are less common, they are no less valuable. It can be of tremendous benefit to grieving pet owners to participate in a conclusionary ritual which allows them to complete all of the things which are emotionally incomplete so that they can say goodbye to the physical relationship that has ended.
We know of too many people who never were able to have the joy of another pet because they were not able to get complete with the first pet who had died. Since our false societal ethic is to "replace the loss," many people become trapped, afraid to get a new pet, and not aware of how to get "complete" with the pet who died.
Abbey Glen has the unique ability to help grieving pet owners deal with the natural emotions that accrue to the unconditional relationships with pets. Whether it is a memorial plaque or bench, or an earthen burial, or an urn in a columbarium - combined with some assistance in creating an "accurate memory picture" - all can contribute to completing the pain caused by the death, and allow the possibility of a new relationship with a new pet in the future.