“BUT….IT’S JUST A DOG”
I wonder how many times you have heard someone say this? I know I have heard it many times in the past in the context of pet bereavement.
As all pet owners know, we love our animals as family. So when that sad day comes, as we know it must, and we have to say goodbye to our beloved pet, we lose a member of our family. One who we might have loved for 15 or 16 years, sometimes even longer. A pet who may have been with us through major life events, both happy and sad. They may have been our only friend through our darkest days, and been with us through challenges and difficulties and other losses in our lives. They may have also shared happier occasions with us, and become part of our memory making. All done through their unconditional love for us.
How do I support someone through the loss of a pet?
The loss of a much-loved pet can be devastating, and for a child may be the first loss they have ever experienced. This needs to be acknowledged, and children not made to feel they shouldn’t be so upset because after all “it’s just a dog”.
The grief felt at losing a pet is one example of Disenfranchised Grief. This is grief that is not openly socially acknowledged, or publicly mourned. This can lead to people feeling alone and isolated with their feelings, with nowhere to go to explore them and be heard. Sometimes the normal grief process becomes complicated by this lack of social support and the cathartic experience of being able to share our grief. Psychology Professor Kenneth J. Doka (1989) talks about this in his book “Disenfranchised Grief: Recognising Hidden Sorrow”.
What is Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day?
Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day has been celebrated every year on August 28th since 2015. It was originally founded by author Deborah Barnes, as a tribute to her beloved cat “Mr Jazz” who died at the age of 15 years on this day in 2013. She suggested this annual day of reflection for people to remember those pets they have loved and lost, and share their stories with others. The “Rainbow Bridge” is the theme of a poem that speaks of a wonderful “meadow” where our pets go when they die. They play there with all the other animals while they wait for their human friends to join them. Animal and human then cross the “Rainbow Bridge” together, never to be parted again. The poem’s original author remains uncertain, but it’s believed to have been written in the mid 1970’s to early 1980’s.
How do I celebrate the life of my pet?
Some people honour their pets on Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day by reminiscing with friends and family, or by posting memories or photographs on social media. Some people get out all their photos and remember the good times they had with their pets. Some donate to their favourite animal charity or make a Christmas ornament for the tree. Whatever people decide, it’s just a lovely day to remember our beloved pets, and keep their memory alive.
For me, one of the most positive aspects of this, is that it gives everyone the opportunity to celebrate their love for their animals, their lost family members, without the need to “explain” or somehow justify their feelings to others. This is so special.
I am hopeful that this official day of reflection will enable pet owners and people who “get it” to feel more comfortable sharing their feelings with others, and not feel they might be deemed “overly sentimental” or weak in some way. This has too often been the experience of many clients I have spoken to, and has indeed often been my experience as well. Because to us, after all, they are not JUST a dog (or cat, or guinea pig)… they are family.
Happy Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day… however you spend it!
Written by Beverley, August 2021. If you’re affected by the themes in this blog and would like to chat to a bereavement counsellor, please visit GriefChat.co.uk/Chat