Sextiped Valley column: Saying goodbye
As many of you know, in the past month I had to say goodbye to my beloved Chum, who lay beside me as I wrote last month’s column. I’ve learned that Tracey Yajko will be guiding a pet loss support group at Dog Holliday’s starting in November, and it reminded me of a piece my sister wrote about a pet bereavement group that was profoundly helpful to her, many years ago. We have age-old rituals for coping with the loss of human loved ones — but for our pets, not so many, or so respected. If you are looking for that solace that comes from shared remembrance of a cherished animal, contact Tracey by phone or text at 970-948-2431 to sign up. Meanwhile, I’d like to share my sister’s story.
Pet Bereavement Group
by Jill Raymond
About a dozen people sit around a conference table. Numerous boxes of Kleenex surround them, and a few folks hold papers or photographs in front of them. Many of these people have never met, but it doesn’t matter. They are linked in a sorrow that is communicated wordlessly, as each one enters the room and sits down. … Tonight, after introductory remarks for newcomers, each of the bereaved tells the story of their loss to the others.
One couple describes how their beloved Dalmatian, out for his nightly walk, collapsed suddenly in seizures and died on the sidewalk before their eyes. A middle-aged woman tells of euthanizing her 20-year-old Siamese cat: making the decision, wrapping up the sad little creature in her favorite towel, driving alone to the veterinarian. A retired architect reads a poem he wrote about the stray dog he fostered, nursed and then buried over a year ago. A businesswoman describes her euthanasia story, shyly holding up a photo of a proud Pomeranian. She looks searchingly at the group and wonders aloud: “Why is it so much easier to love our dogs than other people, sometimes?”
The news is full of the bloodshed and grief accompanying human death, and some would ask how one can place such importance on the loss of a rabbit, a ferret or a bird. “A parakeet?” an astonished coworker once said to me, as though body mass were the measure of lovability. In the United States, particularly, the bond between humans and members of other species is still lampooned or condescended to, even as half of U.S. households include at least one non-human resident.
… As I look around the table, I am struck by how little it feels like Washington, with its impatient, poker-faced pose of invulnerability. Here there are soft faces, and slow, broken words; nobody is in a hurry. I haven’t seen this many men cry unashamed tears in the three decades I’ve lived here.
Of course animals are easier to love than people, I think to myself. Animals accept you — overweight, unemployed, inept, unhip — whatever your particular social transgression. They love you unconditionally, and allow you to love them — love, but not manipulate. You don’t con an animal into trusting you; if you are deemed untrustworthy, you may be given another chance to prove yourself, but you can’t lie your way back to being trusted. Perhaps we have a confidence, therefore, in animals’ love that we can never have with human beings, who carry culture with them into every relationship.
Like a best friend who never moves away or joins a cult, animal companions stay with us, partners on our journey. They bring their idiosyncracies into our lives and resist our control, yet acquiesce in sharing the part of the world that is our portion. In the end, each of us really is alone. But in ways other people cannot, animals keep us company in that aloneness.
And then they are gone. The rest of humanity takes little notice. Your brother doesn’t fly in from Hawaii for the funeral; your boss doesn’t tell you, “Take all the time you need,” or “Let me know what I can do.” You go home to a too-empty house, and you wonder to yourself: What part of us is it that these creatures take with them when they go?
In meetings like this one, taking place in every corner of America, people ponder this question together, and every person there knows that his or her loss is respected, and that the creature they loved is respected, too.
I’m glad we will have such a group in our valley, now. Perhaps I’ll see you there.
Laurie Raymond owns High Tails Dog & Cat Outfitters in Glenwood Springs.
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