Pet Memorial Sunday 2011
The rain moved all around us but never fell on our tent as nearly 50 people found a place to share their grief and joy, remembering their pets.
Deb Chebatoris, owner of Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation and host of the event for the seventh year, opened with a welcome, and a moment of silence in recognition of the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001.
She continued with a thank you to those who attended the pet memorial on this special day. “And this being Pittsburgh,” she continued, “I want to thank you for choosing to attend this ceremony while the Steelers are playing the first game of the season,” eliciting a murmur of chuckles as attendees smiled at each other and relaxed.
“Let’s hope the rain holds off for us,” she said explaining where we would go if we needed to take shelter other than the tent, “but if it does rain, it will just be like our tears. This is a safe place to cry.”
Those attending are usually families of Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation who have lost a pet in the past year, or even in years past. Families gather and are encouraged to bring a photo or memento of their pet to place on the table and display board at the front of the tent during the ceremony.
The program includes two speakers, a reading of brief tributes sent by the families in attendance, the release of doves and then a final speaker.
Our Last Moments Together
The first speaker was Dr. Brad Carmichael of Pleasant Valley Veterinary Clinic who spoke about “Our Last Moments Together” with our pet.
“I’m sorry you even have a reason to be here,” he began, and then went on to discuss being with your pet before or during its death, and the decision of euthanasia.
“If anyone here has any doubts, regrets or guilt about that decision, put them aside,” Dr. Brad said. “Think about this—when we get together and talk about how we’d prefer to die, what do we say? We’d like to go in our sleep. And isn’t this what we’ve done for our beloved pets? If you made that decision, you’ve given a gift,” he continued.
He then presented a framed, hand-lettered verse entitled, “The Veterinarian’s Prayer”.
“A client gave me this in thanks, and it pretty much sums up how I feel about what I do,” he said, then read the text to us.
A VETERINARIAN’S PRAYER
Heavenly Father, I offer myself as an instrument of kindness and shelter
to the wondrous animals that You’ve entrusted to my care.
I ask you to enlighten and strengthen me
and to keep me as gentle as Thou would be.
O Lord, may you always hear this prayer–
Please be with me and be my helping hand
and when it seems I sometimes fail,
please help me to understand.
For even though You’ve given us our animals
for pleasure and to serve,
we thank You for Your gift to us through
the care they richly deserve.
Heavenly Father, please be merciful
to the animals who are in pain and to those who are ill
and hear my pledge as a veterinarian to serve and
always obey Your will.
©92 Patty Temple
Our Initial Grief Response
The next speaker was Elizabeth Babcock, LCSW, who also moderates the “Healing Hearts” pet loss session CCPC holds every February and also numbers among CCPC families, spoke about “Our Initial Grief Response”.
“If you’re feeling awful right now, you can’t sleep, you don’t want to eat, you don’t want to talk to anyone, all you want to do is cry, then you’re in a pretty normal state for grief,” she said.
“Grief is a normal, healthy response to the life-altering loss you’ve suffered,” she said, and went on to remind us that our loss has touched every part of our life physically and emotionally and so we feel grief just as much physically in energy, sleep habits and appetite, as emotionally, in our tears and simply in our thought processes.
“Grief can be frightening in its intensity, and it seems to go on and on, as if it will never end,” Elizabeth continued. “We tend to try to hide it, and our society wants us to feel better right away so we don’t have to see that grief,” she said, “but that’s often the worst thing you can do. You have to let it run its course, in a way that is right for you.”
She reviewed what to expect as we mourn a loss, that we may relive the loss again at anniversaries and we may find ourselves wanting to perform or repeat activities that make no sense, but are part of a normal response.
“If you find yourself wanting to put down the food bowl at mealtimes, even though your pet is gone, just go ahead and do it, let yourself go through that ritual for a few days afterward,” Elizabeth said. “You’ve done that every day for how long? And it was a happy part of your day? And you expect yourself to stop wanting to do that? It’s okay, you need to do that,” she continued.
Allow your feelings to happen, she advised, and do whatever feels right for yourself within reason, and give yourself a break from grieving now and then so that you don’t exhaust yourself. Let your grief unfold in its own way and for as long as you need, and both seek the company of others who “get it” and avoid those who don’t. Lower your expectations of yourself for a while, she continued, and take good care of yourself.
But grief is a process and does eventually come to an end. If you feel that your grieving process is getting out of your control, or if a person you love and trust tells you they feel you may not be healing from your grief, then this has become “complicated grief” and it’s perfectly appropriate to seek help.
Deb encourages families to compose tributes of up to 50 words for their pets to be read aloud as part of the ceremony and includes guidelines and samples on her website. These were read alternately by Deb and Bernadette Kazmarski, another speaker, turning the rain stick between each one.
A sample tribute: “Lindy, Calvin and Hobbes, you were some of my best friends in this life and I am forever a better person for the years I spent with each of you. Thank you for all you gave, for all you made possible, and for the countless memories that will always make me smile. You were – each of you in your own unique way – the very best. –Elizabeth”
The Dove Release
Everyone stepped outside the tent for the release of doves, symbolizing the ability to let go of cherished pets and let them fly free while still loving them, watching the graceful white birds wheel and swirl among the trees, disappearing into the sky, listening to Celine Dion’s “Fly”.
The Joy of Pets
Bernadette E. Kazmarski, local artist and writer, spoke about the joy of pets, and loving another pet after a loss.
“I am one of Deb’s families, several times over,” she began, “and I am so glad I found her.”
Kazmarski paints commissioned portraits of pets, and often they are commissioned around a pet’s loss so she works with grieving families as part of her artwork, hoping to help ease their grief with a portrait that commemorates what they loved about their pet or family of pets.
She has also rescued and fostered cats for about 25 years, and in that time has had her own share of losses, 13 to be exact, and while it’s never easy she does have an idea what to expect and uses that to help others.
“But I’ve weaseled out of adopting again by simply letting nature bring me more fosters and never making the choice because I never felt comfortable in choosing,” she said, and began a story of her own “loss and redemption”.
The story related the loss of her four oldest cats all within one year, then the loss to FIP of a kitten she’d fostered during that year who ended up staying with her.
“My heart was broken,” she said, “I was beyond pain, simply numb. My house, usually full of cats, felt empty with only the four still with me, all seniors, one with a serious heart condition, and in my state of mind they simply looked like sources of more pain,” she continued. “I had to do something serious to keep myself from going down that path.”
The kitten’s mother lived across the street, ready to deliver another litter of kittens and appeared in her yard and Kazmarski decided she should take her in, so she asked her veterinarian how safe that would be, asked the neighbor for the cat and prepared a room.
Cuddling, kissing and loving that litter of newborns and their mother was the perfect healing for the pain of that loss. “I picked up all four of them in one big handful and kissed them all repeatedly, several times a day, every day, and forgot all about FIP and illness and loss, and just loved them, and their patient little mom understood,” Kazmarski explained.
She told the audience, “As deeply as you loved, so do you grieve, but after the grief wears away it leaves the only love, shining like a diamond. Look back through your photos and see your lifetime of pets, and what do you remember? Not the grief, only the love,” she finished.
The photos and tributes gathered during the ceremony will be produced into a slideshow with musical accompaniment, “Tribute Scroll 2011”. This will be found on the Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation website, www.ccpc.ws along with the 2010 Tribute Scroll from last year’s Pet Memorial Sunday ceremony.