10 Years of Departed Friend
Exactly 10 years ago, the first edition of Departed Friend newsletter came into being. I had for some time been troubled by the fact that there was a fundamental lack of understanding out there, and, above all, that the average person would not know where to turn in their distress when they lost a much-loved companion. Knowing from personal experience how painful the loss of our animal friends can be, and having had experience in counselling for human bereavement, I wanted to do something about it.
One morning I literally had a Eureka! moment. Like Archimedes, I suddenly sat up in my bath – the idea was born. I would produce a newsletter for people bereaved by the loss of an animal. As far as I knew, this had not been done before. I was aware of helplines, websites, chatrooms and publications which would allow tributes but, to my knowledge, there was no such thing as a newsletter devoted purely to this topic. I quickly decided on Departed Friend for the title and set out to produce the first edition.
|In March 2002, issue no. 1 was ready. It contained a tribute to a wonderful pony called Spirit who did not belong to me but whom I used to ride and still missed greatly. It helped to write it down and give her|
the recognition she deserved. This set the tone for the tributes I began to receive subsequently from other bereaved people who wish to commemorate their lost loved ones.
I sent out a pilot mailing of 50 copies of Issue 1 to people I hoped would be interested: personal friends who owned or who simply loved animals, and those involved with animal welfare; it was well received.
Since then, circulation has grown and people can choose whether to receive the newsletter by post or by email. I have noticed an increased awareness and understanding of this kind of bereavement and am pleased to say that the media are now taking it much more seriously, nowadays mostly treating it with respect rather than ridicule.
to set what I was already doing on a professional footing and expand what I could offer, but somehow I had never got around to it. When Eric died, I decided to make some good come out of that terrible day, 13 February 2008, and wrote the letter of application to the College, intending to dedicate all my coursework to Eric.
|I was accepted and started the course on 1st May 2008 (the 5th anniversary of the passing of my wonderful white cat, Spooky) completing the course in a year.|
I got the grades that were worthy of Eric, and thought that he would be proud of me. I was now a fully-fledged professional, accredited by the National Open College Network. As well as the newsletter, I offer support by letter, email, text and telephone (7pm – 9pm on weekday evenings). I have also started offering face to face support in my local area.
The next landmark was the blog. My husband Peter kindly offered to set this up for DF – and showed me how to edit and update it. (A long, laborious process accompanied by many a swearword when things go wrong! But well worth it). He has also just set up a new website for DF, which is currently under construction and will eventually contain information on all aspects of DF’s work and services.
While I was researching material for newsletter no. 36 (September 2009) Peter accidentally came across the website of EASE – a small charity offering companion animal bereavement counselling by email, and also support in preparing for pet loss. I was so impressed as I had never come across this before, and I contacted EASE to ask their permission to feature them in the newsletter. They said yes. They were also impressed with DF and we had a very positive meeting. I was honoured and delighted when they asked me to become part of the expanding EASE team, and I have been volunteering with them now for two years. It is good to be able to help people in distress.
DF has grown from strength to strength in the last 10 years, being featured in the local press and on stalls; I also gave a talk to the AGM of the Association of Private Pet Cemeteries and Crematoria and have established contact with various organisations and agencies including local vet surgeries.
The growth and development of DF has been in large part due to the support and generosity of our readers, who send in moving tributes, poems and photographs, as well as generous donations of stamps and money to keep the service going. My very grateful thanks to you all.
Significant developments in DF have been marked by losses as mentioned above, and sadly, this 10-year anniversary is no different. On 17 January 2012, we had to say goodbye to a gentle and deeply-loved companion of the last 16 years, sister to Mumia and Krishna ……….
On 10 December 2011, we got the news we had been half expecting ~ and dreading. Poppsy, aged 16 and a half, had not been herself for a few weeks. The change was subtle, but worrying. She was still eating, still waking me up at 4 in the morning, “whispurring” in my ear and trampling my hair into the pillow; still “helping” us type (producing words like “fffttttt9999” in the middle of our work ~ I guess this must mean something in Feline but I have no idea what); still standing in front of the monitor, or even pressing the key that turns it off when we were at the computer. But she seemed somehow diminished, not quite so vibrant, as if someone had turned the volume down.
The vet gave her a thorough examination and then the diagnosis ~ she had a mass on or near her liver, which was almost certainly cancer. He gave her 2 months at the most. Because of her age and the fact that it was almost certainly inoperable, he did not recommend putting her through invasive and useless tests but advised us to let nature take its course. He told us to spoil her and then let her go with dignity when her appetite went; we agreed. She had 5 weeks and 2 days left….
In 1995, my son Richard’s cat became pregnant, despite my having nagged him constantly to get her spayed. He said he had good homes lined up for the kittens. When they were born, he invited us to see them; they were beautiful ~ two tabbies and two tortoiseshells, all girls. Then he changed his mind about the good homes ~ he did not trust the people after all and could I take them on. I said yes, with the intention of finding them good homes. They were nine weeks old and I let them have the run of the house during the day and shut them in their own room overnight. Each morning I woke to the sound of urgent squeaky miaouws and when I went into the room, I would gather the four tiny bundles into my hands and marvel at the loudness of their engines ~ they sounded like little motorbikes.
Prissy, a gorgeous tortoiseshell, quickly found a home, and so did tabby Krishna. (Krishna later returned because her owner had to go away a lot and did not think it was fair to keep asking us to look after her; we willingly agreed to have her back). That left tabby Poppsy and the other tortoiseshell, Mumia. They were fond of each other so I wanted them to be homed together. This nearly happened twice but both homes fell through and by this time I was too attached to them to let them go.
Shortly after being spayed, Poppsy developed a hormone imbalance, losing much of the fur on her back. This went on for years, though eventually she was able to stop treatment and the fur grew back. I always wondered if it happened because she wanted to have kittens; she would have been a wonderful mother. She was the biggest and we think she was the firstborn; Richard had acted as midwife and helped her into the outside world.
She got on well with most of the others, but for some reason disliked our pale ginger, Eric, bullying him remorselessly. She did not actually fight him but instead she stalked him, intimidating him psychologically, staring him down and forcing him off the bed. I often wished he would smack her one, but he was far too chivalrous and scared of her, even though he was fearless with toms. I do, however, have a rare photograph of Eric and Poppsy actually sharing a beanbag.
She developed mammary cancer about three years ago and the vet saved her life, performing two big operations called the Mammary Strip ~ removing each row of mammary glands. Poppsy was very strong and recovered remarkably well, enduring having to wear an “Elizabethan collar” with long-suffering patience.
When we got Henry, she got on very well with him and he used to lick her forehead as an early morning ritual on the bed; he then lowered his head for her to return the compliment, but she never did, though once or twice we thought she was about to do so.
It was only in her later years that she ever sat on our lap; she learned to do this by first sitting on an upended TV dinner tray, beanbag side up! From this, she graduated to sitting on laps and decided she liked it.
In her last few weeks, she became thin and wobbly but kept going by sheer willpower: still eating, still purring and still taking pleasure in being brushed. When she was stronger, she used to like us to use the vacuum cleaner on her, refusing to move when we were trying to do the chair she was sitting on, until we had first vacuumed her!
Those last weeks were a roller coaster; there were times when I thought: Today is the day… then she would rally and demand food and seem to take pleasure in life and I would sigh with relief at the reprieve. I had a silver pendant made of one of her pawprints, by Karan’s Silver (see DF45) with her name engraved on the back. I took photos and short videos of her with my phone and digital camera.
In the afternoon of 17 January, there was a definite deterioration. She asked for food (it was fish, her favourite) but she could not eat it. She looked at me in a puzzled kind of way as if to say: “What is happening?” I thought ~ I can’t make it better, but I can make it stop.
When she could not eat her evening meal, but instead lay on her side looking rather uncomfortable, I knew it was time to make that phone call…..
While at the vets, by coincidence I saw Lynda, a good friend from work, who herself has cats and knows the pain of losing them. She came into the surgery just in time to say goodbye to Poppsy and to hug me; she then went into the waiting room to comfort Peter.
It was very quick; Poppsy had gone before the injection had finished going in. The vet said: “She is in a field, playing with butterflies”. She then told me about her husband’s dog, who is buried in their garden. She said flowers grew around the grave. I asked if they had planted them there and she said no, they had come up by themselves. I found this strangely comforting.
|We buried Poppsy in the garden, on the opposite side to Eric, and had candles burning all night.|
She still helps and inspires my work, but now in a different way, from a different place.
On 10 January 2012, the vet found a mass in Krishna’s stomach. It all seems unreal ~ like a macabre action replay. But thankfully, at the time of writing this tribute to Poppsy, Krishna is doing all right. She is quite thin but still enjoying life, eating well and purring on the arm of Peter’s chair as he sits and strokes her while watching television.
“The owners of departed pets want to know:
- That their pets are happy
- That their own grief is normal
- That they will be reunited with their pets one day,
- and that it’s OK to love again.
Bill at Rainbow Bridge fulfils these wishes.”
So reads the promotion on the back of this remarkable little book – and it is right; Bill at Rainbow Bridge does all this, and more.
This unusual bereavement resource is written in the form of a story, taking us through the arrival of Bill, a much-loved British Bulldog, at Rainbow Bridge, and the journey through grief of David, the man he left behind. Enhanced by beautiful illustrations by Peg DuVal, Dan Carrison’s book touches upon difficult topics, such as David’s feelings of shame and embarrassment at being unable to control his emotions and his wife’s concern for him, alongside her thinking David’s suffering is misplaced “and very nearly an affront to her own grief at the loss of her mother”. These and other issues are raised and worked through in a gentle, positive manner.
The chapters describing how Bill and his animal friends spend their days at Rainbow Bridge – and what happens when a human is suddenly spotted at the Bridge – are interspersed with the steps David takes, supported by his wife, Susan, to try and come to terms with his terrible grief. He books an appointment with a pet bereavement counsellor who understands to the core his pain as he himself has endured the loss of a beloved cat. He joins a support group of people who share reminiscences of their departed friends and find this therapeutic. David also decides, although this at first seems strange to him, to write a letter to Bill. Eventually he is able to contemplate helping others through their grief and even investing love in another dog, while acknowledging that he is not “replacing” Bill and that the relationship with the new dog is entirely different.
The book is written from the heart and certainly engages the emotions as well as the mind, but it is not sentimental or sugary. The sixty four thousand dollar question of survival after death is assumed, from a scientific point of view. As a member of the bereavement support group says:
“I’m an engineer. I deal in facts and figures, and I appreciate Einstein’s theory of the conservation of energy. Basically he showed us that energy cannot be destroyed. The energy that made up our loved ones … doesn’t simply vanish when they die, because energy cannot be destroyed. …. That’s why I don’t think the idea of Rainbow Bridge is far fetched at all…”
The book has been selling well in the USA and has now become available in the UK, as an inexpensive digital copy available on Kindle or to download to your pc, from Amazon.co.uk. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bill-at-Rainbow-Bridge-ebook/dp/B00689JWME/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1323105895&sr=1-1
Or you can get a copy from Dan himself, with an inscription of your choice, from http://www.BillAtRainbowBridge.com.
There is also a tab entitled “Friends of Bill”, with links to important pet bereavement services.
The book was featured in the January 2012 issue of Dogs Monthly magazine www.dogsmonthly.co.uk. One of the editors of Dogs Monthly, noted British author and pet specialist Caroline Davis, was so impressed that she is now the distributor of the paperback edition of the book for the UK. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on tel. 01406 331421, if you prefer to have a paperback rather than a digital copy.
Send cheque for £9.50 payable to ‘Mrs. C. Davis’,
Rivendell, Lambert Bank, Gedney Hill, Lincolnshire PE12 0PR.
As a companion animal bereavement counsellor, I unreservedly recommend this wonderful book, which I am certain will bring comfort and solace to people going through the pain of losing a beloved animal friend, giving them the reassurance they so badly need that their grief is normal and that there are people out there who truly understand.
Goodbye Dear Friend
It wasn’t a protracted illness, it happened quite quickly. I noticed a decline in his appetite and energy levels about a week before I took him to the vet and though I didn’t want to admit it I knew, just knew it was serious. It turned out that Sox, my 18 year old cat who’d been with me since he was a kitten, had a rare form of heart disease that’s known as the silent killer, silent because there’s no sign there’s anything wrong until very near the end. Hard though it was, the decision to put him to sleep was the right one and I was thankful I could be with him at the end just like, three and a half years ago, he was there for me when I needed him.
Sox is buried in my back garden. I will buy a rose bush to mark the bright and sunny spot where he rests and I will think of him often. He was a lovely cat, good natured and affectionate and handsome too. Sox wasn’t my pet, he was my friend and I loved him.
OF OUR BELOVED DOGS
SHELLY OUR BEAUTIFUL G.S.D.
SADLY LEFT US 28-12-2001 AGE 13 YEARS
ALSO OUR BEAUTIFUL YORKIE TACE
SADLY LEFT US 1-4-2010 AGE 8 YEARS
MISSING YOU BOTH SO MUCH
LOOK AFTER EACH OTHER UNTIL WE MEET
ON RAINBOW BRIDGE
LOVE MUM, DAD, BEN & TY-SON
Your Letters ……
Just wanted to say it will be 1 year on 24 March since my Jessica crossed Rainbow Bridge & went to Heaven. Time passes so fast and I miss her every day, but the pain does heal & life is never the same. She comes to me in dreams when I am upset or in trouble, and her life & love will never die.
I never had anything published, but her death enabled me to write a tribute from my heart, which you kindly published and I returned to the Church, (I am a Roman Catholic) to feel closer to Jessica and heal from the pain, Jessica renewed my faith!
She taught me valuable life lessons on her short time with me and I will never forget her.
Life with Marmalade is one glamorous furry whirl, he is my constant source of joy, devotion, fun & unlimited unconditional love, in fact he gave me an early Mother’s Day present of a poor little Christmas Robin today.
I would be grateful, if possible to mention Jessica in your forthcoming newsletter
Blessings, Hazel Fernandes
We are both OK and our Lucky is so lovely. He is such a happy little doggie and we love him so much. He has helped us so much over the past 2 years since we lost our beloved Benji.
Could you please put a little piece in your newsletter in memory of Benji and Pepper.
Benji died on the 19-2-10, Pepper 2-11-93. We love and miss them both so much.
Love from Valerie, Michael & Lucky Lockwood
Farewell, MONEY PILBEAM
|Money Pilbeam ~ sable tabby, was a bit of an icon ~ a street charmer. Known to many, yet owned by none. As a young cat, he and his buddy – another tabby, wandered|
into a car repair garage in Lincoln ~ and there they putdown roots ~ for the next sixteen years!
Kind folk, who lived close by, fed them and fussed them as they sat upon the pavement, basking in the sun’s rays and searched for any shelter and comfort they could find on cold wintry days. As time passed, one cat disappeared leaving Money alone.
I first met Money some six years ago when homeless myself and wandering the streets. Most days I looked out for the little guy, who seemed so sad and forlorn, lifted him into my arms, hugging him close to me ~ we gave to one another a touch of solace and comfort.
People were kind and I made lasting friendships within the area and it came to be that when I found a place to live I visited these people most days and Money, for one, was pleased about this. We two had formed a special bond that was to grow stronger as the years passed.
Most nights I would think of him, worrying he would be out in the cold, foraging for a bite to eat.
Come the morning, I would set off early on the long journey to meet with him and take him his breakfast. Mostly he was there, waiting.
Knowing I would be coming to him, he would spy me from a distance, cross roads and make his way toward me.
We would then spend a little private time together during which he would sit high on a wall or the bonnet of a car, purring loudly and rolling around in his contentment. We indulged in conversation whilst I groomed and fussed him.
Often I would find him sitting upon a friend’s doorstep – as I entered he would cheekily follow me inside, knowing a treat awaited.
The Corner Shop was another of his places to visit.
Christmas 2008 Money became sick with Cat Flu and came home to stay with me and be nursed and kept warm and, most of all, cherished. He was not expected to live long but with round-the-clock care, he survived, though many trips to the vet were to come.
He had developed a heart condition and was to take medication for the rest of his life.
By now, he had reached the ripe old age of 17 years.
One day, a few months ago, a little miracle occurred – Money became like a kitten again – agile, running around his room, leaping on chairs and vocalising, not only loud purring but maeows and wows when food appeared or when anyone visited. He liked to play “Hide & Seek” and grew a touch mischievous. After all the years, Money Pilbeam had found a life – a happy one.
On the morning of 6th January 2012 I rose and took him his breakfast to find he wasn’t able to stand. My first thought was he had been leaping around and pulled a muscle.
Off to the vet we went and two hours of tests followed. The prognosis was grim. Money had severely hardened arteries and a mass was discovered close to his brain. No cure for this.
He came home for a final few hours – time to say our Goodbyes. The shock was enormous, unbelievable. It couldn’t be for real. Money ate a last meal and for two hours I nursed him – holding him extra tightly which he had always liked. His head lay against my chest and I blew warm air into his fur which made him purr all the louder and sweeter….. He lifted his head to look at me, he knew what was happening and did not wish to leave me.
I sang him his song one last time, and he kissed my nose. After what seemed to be a lifetime, it was time to take the long painful journey.
Tears streamed continuously down my face as I looked upon him ~ remembering ~ not wishing this to be the end. The bond of friendship we had formed was special, based upon a mutual love and care and respect.
Money Pilbeam had waited some 17 long years for me to enter his life, rescue him and bring him home.
Barely two weeks have passed since my beautiful buddy left and life is lonely, the room he inhabited is bleak. I miss his presence there beside me and know a long time must pass before the heartache begins to heal. He was the shining star in a period of my life which was often bleak and lonely.
“Goodnight & God Bless, Money Pilbeam”. Y X
Tribute to HONEY-BABY
This is a tribute to “Honey-Baby” – a golden Persian who belonged to my friend, 97 year old Mrs Winifred Wood.
Honey lived to be 17 years old and was a thoroughly chilled out – laid back kitty with the sweetest nature, except when she was being groomed. At that time, Heaven help the person who was grooming for Honey kicked up an unbelievable fuss!!
In later years she suffered an occasional fit and went blind during such an episode.
Now Honey had grown up alongside a family of dogs and cats who all loved to play and lounge in their big garden. The first time I met her she was sprawled in the greenhouse taking in the sun’s warmth streaming through the windows ~ purring loudly. She was big on purrs was our Honey.
And so it became a pleasant routine that on fine days I would carry her around the garden she loved and though she could no longer see, she enjoyed our times together and would cuddle into me as we took in the warm air or sat side by side upon the garden bench.
Even though blind she would often make her way down the Pampas grass and play with the long green leaves.
Come September 2011. Honey began showing signs of another type of illness which turned out to be cancerous tumours. There was no more the vet could do and so we bid our farewells within the garden she loved – heart-broken at having to let her go.
Our lovely friend now rests beneath the Pampas grass in the shade of the big old pear tree. White rose petals were scattered upon her grave, as a symbol of the love we felt for her.
Come the Springtime when the garden comes into bloom once again, Honey-Baby will not be here to enjoy it, though we remember her and feel her gentle presence every day.
The Gratitude Exercise
The Gratitude Exercise can be carried out where and when it feels right and comfortable to do so, whether that be sitting in the sun, by the fire or on a couch together – wherever you both feel relaxed and safe. The main thing is that it is in a quiet environment with no interruption, when you can feel free to speak aloud and where your pet is quietly sitting with you.
Start by simply calling over out aloud the many good qualities of your pet, and the great times you have shared together. This can be in the way of a storyline of your association, or in whatever way suits your situation and relationship. Speak of the many good things that have been shared between you, the value and love which you hold for your companion, their importance in your life, and how much you cherish them.
Bring in particular memories or stories if you feel moved to do so, and try to feel free enough to laugh or to cry as you need to. Thank your pet for what they have offered to you in these times, and feel and share with them how much you love them and the gratitude you hold for all that they offer and give to you.
Take the time this needs, whether this be ten minutes or an hour – each relationship and situation is unique. Once you have finished, allow yourself to be fully with the sense of love and gratitude, and imagine it filling up you, your pet and the place where you are.
This exercise can be done as often as feels necessary and beneficial, perhaps broken up into several smaller sessions or repeated at regular intervals, depending on what feels right for your own situation. It can be done at any time, although it may be needed particularly when the pet is ill, to help healing and to promote well being.
~ Reproduced with kind permission of EASE; this first appeared on the EASE website and can be found at: www.ease-animals.org.uk