Issue No. 06 Dec ’03

BECKY

DF Becky0001
 

Many thanks to Mr A J Stracey, for sending us this beautiful photograph of Becky, who was a dearly loved companion.

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MAKING COMPARISONS

Bereavement literature sometimes seeks to compare the loss of a human with animal loss.  For example:

It is worth noting that the other deaths don’t have to be of people: the death of a pet can be a real tragedy in some people’s lives – in a few cases, an escape from the other death which has occurred.

Susan’s pet cat was hit by a car within weeks of her father’s death, and onlookers were shocked by the extravagance of her grief for the animal, which seemed to oust any proper feeling for her father. ….. Susan said that the cat had been so much a part of her life that she almost felt as if she had lost a baby.

This is an example of the way in which grief can be deflected: we focus on the smaller loss because the other one is just too big for us to deal with just yet. From ‘Losing a Parent’ by Fiona Marshall.

 Sadly, the author makes two assumptions which are all too common – even in people, such as bereavement counsellors, who ought to know better: first that the loss of the cat was necessarily a ‘smaller’ loss (Susan herself certainly did not seem to see it that way) and secondly that she was only focussing on the death of her cat because she could not face the feelings around her father’s death.  What if the father had been, say, violent and abusive and the animal a gentle, constant companion through times of trouble?  Would not the bereaved person be entitled to feel more for the pet?  However, in Susan’s case (which is outlined in more detail throughout the book) it is apparent that she grieved very deeply indeed for both her father and her cat. 

Absent Friend by Laura and Martyn Lee (see the Resources section at the end of this newsletter) takes a  far more accurate and commonsense approach to emotions which may accompany ‘comparative grief’:

One such emotion is guilt, perhaps because you think you are grieving more for your pet than you did for a parent or relative.  One owner remarked:

‘I felt very ashamed to say that I shed more tears on the death of my cat than I did when my mother died’.

There is no reason to feel guilty if you react in this way, for the depth of grief experienced is directly related to the relationship shared.  Roles within any human relationship are constantly changing and families often grow apart.  In comparison an animal may be with you and dependent on you all its life.

‘I think it must be because I had lived away from home for a long time and rarely saw my parents, but my cats were an essential part of my home’.

Often the differences in the circumstances of death can make one death much more difficult to accept:

‘My mother was 92 and in great pain, the end of her suffering was a welcome release.  However my dog was only five years old and full of life.  I really couldn’t believe it when the vet told me he had cancer. I grieved so much for my dog – but then I wasn’t responsible for the final decision to end my mother’s life’.

I have personal experience of this, though in my case, the animal loss happened first:

Spirit, a pony whom I loved very deeply (see Departed Friend no.1) died at the end of January 2001.  I cried several times day, every day, for weeks. Emotionally I was ‘running on empty’.

By the time my mother died a few weeks later, on    4th April, I had no more tears left.  I coped with this loss far, far better than I did with the death of Spirit.          I wondered why this was and, yes, I did feel guilty.        I decided to compare the two events:

My relationship with Spirit was different in kind from that with my mother.  I had known Spirit for a few years and gradually grew to love her more and more.

My relationship with my mother had long ceased to be a ‘dependent’ one; I left home many years ago and have grown-up sons who have themselves left home.

Spirit was 22 –  although she was not young, her death was random, untimely and entirely unexpected.

Mum was 92 – very old.  The anticipation of her dying had overshadowed me for several years.

Although Spirit had ‘off days’, no-one suspected the serious health problems which only came to light after her death from an unrelated cause.  Though she had slowed down, she worked right up until the end.

Mum got progressively frailer over time and spent her final year in a nursing home where she was beautifully looked after.  She eventually had a severe stroke, which immobilised her: she could not speak and was totally helpless.

I saw Spirit almost every weekend when I went to the stables to ride her.  She lived 10 minutes’ drive away.

I only saw Mum twice a year because I have a full-time job and she lived 300 miles away. 

I missed a couple of weekends going to the stables and did not know that, the next time I went, Spirit would have been dead for several days.  Not knowing at the time of its significance, I can’t remember anything about the last time I actually did see her.

I felt an urgent need to visit my mother and managed to see her 13 days before she died.  Although I did not know whether she could understand, I fed her, talked to her, told her I loved her and was effectively able to say Goodbye.

Spirit was accidentally poisoned by polluted floodwater. Antibiotics did not work. She was suffering so much that she had to be shot.

After my last visit, my mother just ‘slept away’ as the staff at the nursing home put it.  Her end was a dignified release and very peaceful.

I think it is clear from the above why one of those deaths was easier to come to terms with.

It is still somewhat taboo and less socially acceptable to grieve long and hard for an animal, especially where there is a human bereavement close in time but, in my opinion, it is utterly wrong to make sweeping generalisations about grief.  It is such an individual thing. 

Some people who have no experience of close relationships with animals might find the idea that people can be devastated by their loss quite offensive, as if their own human bereavements were being mocked or trivialised. These feelings must be respected, just as we ask such people to reach out and try to empathise with, say, the homeless person knocked sideways by the loss of his devoted dog. Such a person may not have had any reason to love the human race, having suffered rejection, prejudice and abuse at the hands of all and sundry.

Not everyone shares the same values and events affect different people in different ways.  Whether of human or animal, everyone’s bereavement experience is valid and must be treated with sensitivity and respect.

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BELIEFS AND EXPERIENCES

Following the experiences related in the last edition of Departed Friend, John Cowen has sent us this article, in which he considers the ‘sixty-four thousand dollar question’ of what happens after death, whether animals survive…….

 Animals’ Final Destination

It is very heartening to see that the knowledge that pet owners can be devastated by the loss of a beloved pet is becoming more and more accepted and respected and that organisations such as Departed Friend have been set up to help people cope with their great loss.

     Having made great progress in this direction perhaps the next step should be to question where do animals go when this life ends.  No one knows for sure and beliefs differ in regard to what happens when human life ends.  For animals it is even more complex; they have always been defined as inferior to humans, not able to think or order their lives like them.  Animals are also designated as having no souls.

     But are these definitions correct?  Each animal was given functions to deal with their natural existence. Birds were given wings so they could fly, fish fins so they could dwell in water and mammals paws so they could move on land.  Every animal, like humans, needs love and companionship.  Also like humans they are prone to anger, fear and jealousy etc.  They also need to prove and advance themselves in their different spheres of life.  As with humans, each animal reacts differently to the same circumstances.  Animals are not robots; they cannot be manipulated by push buttons.  Each one is living flesh, the only difference being in their physical and psychological aspects to humans.

With all these attributes akin to humans (which sadly are overlooked by the great majority) how can one say with certainty that animals have no souls, that the end of their earthly existence is the final step for them?  No one has been able to give any definite rendering of what takes place after death; it is all a matter of conjecture. With such uncertainty, it is greatly amiss to say St. Peter bars animals from the kingdom of heaven. Would the Donkey who carried Christ to his crucifixion be barred?  With the acceptance that the loss of a beloved pet entails great grief, perhaps it is now the time has come to debate the animals’ final destination

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We also received this revelation, from a Christian perspective, from Mary O’Brien:

 Chariots of Fire

 17th November, 1970:

*****************

 The Farmhand’s wife gave me his collar and bell – Moses arrived later – in a Box – from the Vet – Dead.

 “Animals don’t have an immortal soul”: ‘They’ said.  So bad enough that he’s dead, now he’s gone into oblivion.  Roman Catholic teaching, but to compound the problem it was someone from the C. of E. (& Evangelical) who drove into the farm yard and hit him, then just drove off, leaving him to crawl down the lane, where the dogs found him at the Kennel, run by an eccentric non-Believer who took him to her Vet and paid all the expenses.  A Sympathy note and some flowers from the farmer’s wife (Cat loving Church goer), but at the other extreme the Pentecostal man I worked for informed me “You can’t expect the world to stop just because your cat has died.”

 …oOo…

 I looked and felt awful, my eyes always looked especially bad if I had been crying, so I left my desk in tears and sought refuge in the cloakroom, splashing my face with cold water and quite uexpectedly as I shut my eyes I ‘saw’ a Chariot & Horses heading off across the sky.  Elijah and the Chariots of Fire.  But Horses?  They don’t have horses in Heaven.  “Animals have no immortal soul”: ‘They’ said.

 I checked the story in the Book of Kings when I got home.  Elijah & the Chariots of Fire – and Horses.    (II KINGS Chapter 2 vs. 11).

 But what of Moses my little black cat.  The circumstances of his death haunted me for more than 15 years …until …

 November 1985:

*************

 I love books and there were always bargains in the secondhand bookshops in the Town where I lived in the South East of England.  “SET FREE” by Betty Tapscott.  A book on Inner Healing, about which I knew – Nothing – and priced at 20p.  it was a real Bargain.  It turned out to be more than that, as I discovered later that evening as I thumbed through it and found the following letter from a woman in Canada:-

 ‘After attending an inner healing service conducted by you and your husband, I was led to read your book…

 When I was five years old, a neighbour and his dog came to visit our farm.  While there, his dog killed my “Kitty” who had been my closest companion for as long as I could remember.  From my living room window, I watched my white Persian kitty suffer and die out on the snow.  I said to myself, “I’m a big girl, and big girls don’t cry.”  I stifled my tears and buried a pain that tore me apart…

 Twenty-six years later, after reading your book, the Holy Spirit revealed this incident to me, and I wept as I’ve never done before.  I know the Lord asks us to forgive others, but I never thought He would ask me to forgive a dog.

 As I retraced the steps of this painful, but buried memory, I saw Jesus walk over to my “Kitty.”  He picked up her lifeless form and came towards me.  As He stood before me, He restored her broken body, gave her life again and said, “She is such a beautiful kitty.  May I keep her until you come to stay with Me?”

 Oh!  I thought, if only I’d had an experience like that.

 “Ask and you will receive”, but not necessarily immediately.

…oOo…

 22nd April, 1986:

*************

More second-hand books, including a modern version of Pilgrim’s Progress, which coincidentally was the very book I’d been reading when Moses was killed. I never finished it.

I turned to the Chapter I’d been reading back in 1970.  It was rather sad.  Christian & Faithful in Vanity Fair.  Faithful is executed.  At the time I had identified Moses with Faithful.  Out of curiosity I picked up the story where I’d left it.

 ‘Then I saw that there stood behind the crowd a golden Chariot and a couple of fiery steeds, waiting for Faithful, who (as soon as his adversaries had done all they could against him) was taken up into it and whisked away up through the clouds, the nearest way to the Celestial City.’

 That, of course, explains the picture I’d seen in my mind’s eye of the Chariots & Horses.  But I was so upset at the time that the significance of what I’d read and seen had not registered.  Leaving me Earthbound with a Dead Cat who ‘They’ said had gone into oblivion.

 I decided to read on to the End:

 ‘As for Christian, he had little respite.  He was remanded back to prison, where he remained for some time.  Then, as The Lord of all would have it, he was finally released, and he went on his way singing:

 ‘Faithful, you have fulfilled your worthy name, “Faithful”, to Him with whom you now are Blessed.  While pleasure-seekers, men without your faith, Cry out in fear, and cannot hope for rest.

 Sing, Faithful, Sing!  Your name will now survive, For though they killed you, you are still alive!’

 Oh Alleluiah!  I got my answer.

 FOR THOUGH THEY KILLED YOU, YOU ARE STILL ALIVE!

 …oOo…

 DF St Francis of Assisi0001

In memory of all Departed Friends

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KAPS

The Korea Animal Protection Society was set up in Korea by Koreans, to rescue animals, especially cats and dogs, from being bred and kept in appalling conditions, then tortured and killed for food.  This organisation urgently needs funds. To raise money, they have produced a beautiful 2003 calendar, approximately 13” x 18” with delightful photographs of rescued cats and dogs.  This is a bargain at £10.00.  If you want one, please send me a cheque made out to KAPS, and I will send you your calendar post-free.  I have 2 awaiting good homes.  Otherwise please contact Anne Phair:  Tel. 01237 477291, or write to her at:  27 Amyas Way, Northam, Bideford, Devon EX 39 1UT.

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Departed Friend by E-mail

If you are on line, you might like to receive your Departed Friend  newsletters by e-mail.  If so, please let me have your e-mail address and I will add you to the list.  Also, I hope, at some stage, to set up a Departed Friend website.  Watch this space……

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