Loss offers an opportunity to express emotions in unexpected ways
A sense of emptiness, even discombobulation is a common feeling amongst those I work with in Pet Loss and Grief Companioning.
|Photo credit: Meghan Storey|
"...there was just this sadness and also a kind of surreal-ness," said Meghan Storey, one of Nico's humans. The day after the family's vet helped her along, Storey walked into the house from work for the first time without her cat being there. The new normal became starkly visible.
"Like, logically you know what's happened. You were there. You brought her to the vet, you left without her... but it still doesn't seem to make sense. Yesterday there was a cat here, today there's an empty space. I walked in the door to this empty table and I'm guessing I cried. I felt this need to acknowledge that Nico had been here. It would seem wrong to just come in and make dinner like it was an ordinary day. This little furry life had come and gone and intersected with mine for quite a few years, and she had a beautiful spirit, and I couldn't just carry on like she hadn't existed."
I was kept me up to date on how things were going with Nico, and was in the loop as bigger decisions were made on her behalf. It wasn't easy time. But a couple days after Nico died, I got an email that exuded a radiance, a sense of peace. Remembering what she saw with regard to the death and funeral traditions belonging to one of her best friend's family, who happen to be Vietnamese Buddhist, an idea organically formed in Storey's mind. In the Vietnamese Buddhist tradition, setting up a small adorned shrine in the home with photos of the deceased loved ones is common, as is burning incense. And these loved ones are acknowledged on a regular basis, sometimes setting out favorite foods and other things that they loved.
She explained, "And so, I set to work putting together my own little tribute to Nico. I lit a few sticks of incense and a candle. I put out little dishes of different foods that she liked, and treats, and some milk and water. A couple of her toys. And it really helped. I felt like I was honouring her."
|Photo credit: Meghan Storey|
"Since then, I have been lighting a little candle for Nico most nights. I was comforted when we received Nico's ashes, and then the sympathy card with her paw print from the vet. I've set up a very small shrine on our mantle. That's just my way of remembering that Nico was here, and letting her know that we loved her and that her sweet little spirit is welcome to hang out here any time it wants."
Do what's meaningful and comfortable for you
The things I did on those days, and what Nico's family did for themselves incorporated important elements: tangible objects, words, movement and meaningful, intentional activity that make rituals what they are.
I've no doubt that because of the rituals, I was able to remember more details from those days, something that I really wanted to do, knowing how much of a blur they can be in the fog of grief.
Lorrie Shaw is owner of Professional Pet Sitting, where she specializes in ancillary pet palliative and pet hospice care support. She is also a Certified Pet Loss and Grief Companion and a member of The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement as well as the International Association of Animal Hospice and Palliative Care and Pet Sitter International. She tweets at @psa2.