Fourth in a series of “pet loss and grief told from personal experience”
I remember in the last days of each of my cats’ lives looking at people who I knew had lost pets and thinking, “Oh, they’ve crossed over, and they survived …”, so of course I could, too, though I knew it would not be without pain.
Now you and your animal companion have both crossed over, one to the other side of the Rainbow Bridge, and one to a sort of purgatory of pain and sorrow. No matter how you may have prepared yourself, nothing spares you in those last hours of life and the first few hours after your companion’s death. Get yourself in a comfortable, protected place and just let yourself feel what you feel and do what you need to for a few hours at least. Understand and be gentle with yourself.
And it can be especially difficult if there was an accident, a mistake, or if you have any regrets. You will resolve those in time.
You may feel the need to avoid things that remind you of your pet, a certain room in the house, your backyard, even a favorite activity suddenly brings you heartbreak.
For me, it was the first meal given to the rest of the household after the loss, a few of them confused but most of them happy for the routine, me crying so hard I could barely see, thinking that just the last meal, a few hours ago, they were here. It was always difficult to walk in the door after being away as well, especially when I worked a day job.
Take your grief to a safe place
Grieving the death of your pet is no longer something to hide, though you’ll still find people who snicker or get impatient and make rude or painful remarks. No matter what others may say, loss is loss and must be grieved in your own way or it leaves a scar.
Take some time each day to sit quietly and remember your pet, play music that soothes you or go somewhere that you find relaxing. Make this your special time with your pet’s memory, and start trying to remember the happy memories. Even if your pet only lived a short time, there are always more happy memories than sad.
And when you are at home, or where you spent most of your time with your pet, do something that distracts you from your thoughts but doesn’t upset you.
When I lost Kublai, I lost Allegro exactly two weeks later, not knowing that he had developed lymphoma and there was nothing for it but to wait and be with him. I was torn and confused that I couldn’t properly grieve Kublai at the time because of caring for Allegro and just spending those last days with him. After Allegro died, I was in some state of shock and didn’t even want to be in my house. Worst for me, I wanted nothing to do with the one thing that brought me most fulfillment, painting my cats.
That was when I discovered recorded books, checking out all the stories written by James Herriot that my local public library had on the shelf; the librarians knew of my situation and ordered more in for me. The soothing sound of someone reading me a story, and those stories especially, brought me back home and I began to paint again. I still listen to recorded books while I paint, and thank those two boys for opening my life to this.
So create a safe space for yourself and go there where you need to, work it out day by day. You never stop missing them, but it does stop hurting after a while.
When you have the energy, plan a little project, a scrapbook, or a story, something that uses your pet as a subject. You may have never done anything particularly “creative” before, but creative activity can be therapeutic—occupational therapy works—and you end up with something tangible you created from your grief and from your memories.
A very special CD and book
After the loss of so many cats it was healing to be a part of a loving and sincere effort on the part of someone who is a licensed counselor and has prepared a recording and book of inspirational readings and information and affirmations for those who have also lost a pet.
This is the CD and booklet Heal Your Heart: Coping With the Loss of a Pet by Karen A. Litzinger.
A customer of mine had helped her to record the CD, and then referred her to me as a possible illustrator.
Ironically enough, I began the project just as I knew I would soon lose my Namir after four years of working with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) and congestive heart failure (CHF). Namir was loss number 12 on July 1, 2009, just as I finished the illustrations and the design of the CD cover and face.
I can attest to the CD’s effectiveness. His loss followed the loss of five others a few years before.
I first listened to the recording while Namir was still quite with me, but we knew his time was limited and so I felt quite emotional as the traditional Irish harp played “Carrickfergus” between tracks of Karen’s gentle, comforting voice encouraging me to follow her on a guided meditation, read me affirmations telling me to respect my grief, and reading me a brief story of goodbye from a book she had found comforting.
Being a part of this project brought me so much joy. Again, my freelance design business is built on the ideal of working with individuals, businesses and organizations I support and use, and I was literally looking for a project like this after all my loss. I couldn’t have asked for a more appropriate recording, or a nicer person than Karen, and it’s also been my pleasure to help her promote her CD as well. As I’ve said, I can attest to its effectiveness.
Public respect for our bonds with our animal companions
Our animal companions have become more respected members of our society. From recognizing that people will not evacuate even a life-threatening situation if they can’t take their animals to realizing that a close bond with an animal can help people heal from both physical and emotional traumas, we’ve come to accept animals not simply as possessions but as friends or even members of our families.
Grieving over the death of your pet used to have people rolling their eyes or seriously suggesting a mental health evaluation because “it” was “just a dog” or “only a cat”, a horribly disrespectful and painful comment to a person already in pain over a loss.
Not so today. Our companion animals are recognized not only for what they can do for us, but also for their own individual needs, personality and style, and so their loss is also recognized as the loss of a distinct individual.
About the recording
Heal Your Heart: Coping with the Loss of a Pet by Karen A. Litzinger , MA, LPC, helps to guide the pet owner through the process of grieving their lost pet. The CD includes Karen, a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Certified Bereavement Facilitator, reading comforting messages, pet-focused affirmations, and even a guided meditation along with comforting accompanying harp music. The booklet provides supportive suggestions, information explaining the stages of grief and resources such as books and hotlines to assist the grieving person.
Karen’s product is unique in pet loss support offerings. Many books have been written on the subject of pet loss, but few are published in audio form. And while other recorded products offer support in the form of affirmations to carry away or a guided meditation for grieving generally, Heal Your Heart focuses on the loss of a pet.
How the CD came to be
Karen wrote all the text for the booklet and the readings and designed the entire concept as part of her grief response from her own loss.
“The CD is dedicated to my beloved dog children, Pepper and Zep,” Karen says without hesitation.
“My inspiration for the Heal Your Heart CD came while driving home from the veterinarian with the cremains of my 15 year old dog, Pepper, who I had had since a puppy from a local rescue league,” Karen explains. “I was further motivated on my journey to create this CD when my 13 year old dog, Zep, died just four months after Pepper.”
She had originally wanted to create something for veterinarians to give grieving clients right after the euthanasia procedure to supplement the personal support and follow-up sympathy card.
“I created a pet loss booklet for veterinarians, but the CD is what I hope will serve grieving pet owners in a more profound way,” she continues. “Just as I found comfort in listening to a special music CD as I grieved for Pepper, I hope that some part of this CD will help in the healing process for you or the person to whom you give the CD.”
Her loss has not only become the gain of others who will find comfort from her CD and booklet, but also her own gain in finding this new professional outlet.
The CD and book were positively reviewed by Nancy Peterson of the Humane Society of the United States, noted pet loss authors Lorri A. Green, Moira Allen, and Sherry B. True and animal journalists and writers Darlene Arden and Michelle West. In addition, during the two years Karen worked on creating the set, she asked friends and associates to review the product to ensure that the content universally appealed to the greatest number of people.
“Heal Your Heart is one of only a handful of audiobooks in the pet loss publishing market,” states Lorri A. Green, psychologist and author of Saying Good-bye to the Pet You Love. “The unique contribution of the CD is that it goes beyond giving educational information or a personal story. It contains powerful affirmation statements rooted in cognitive psychology.”
Following are a few reviews:
“Karen Litzinger’s Heal Your Heart CD is actually more than an audio book…it is an experiential journey of healing. It touches insightfully upon the great loss many of us experience when we lose our pets. I highly recommend it, especially if you would rather listen to a calm healing voice, than read a pet loss book.” — Lorri A. Green, Ph.D. Pychologist, Author of Saying Good-bye to the Pet You Love
“Heal Your Heart is a support group on a CD that you can listen to over and over. Litzinger has really captured the grieving experience. Her soothing voice and wonderful affirmations, along with the peaceful harp music will strike a deep chord in your heart.” — Nancy Peterson, The Humane Society of the United States
“Even though it’s been 5 years since I lost my precious soul-kitty Pooh Bear, I still cry for him a couple times a week. But I found immediate comfort in this special CD. I started to cry the minute Karen started talking, and I cried all the way through it, but I felt much better afterwards. Karen’s voice is so caring, and the music is gorgeous. I highly recommend this CD to anyone who is missing their special little friend. It will definitely help you.” — Michelle West, Toronto, Canada
“Karen’s CD is a tremendously soothing experience…the author’s compassionate tone, combined with the gentle background music, encourage one to listen to a track over and over as needed during the healing process. The affirmations on the CD provide a powerful tool to help you understand the importance of your loss and take steps to resolve the pain of your feelings.” — Moira Allen, author of Coping with Sorrow on the Loss of Your Pet
“Heal Your Heart is a calming voice in the turbulent sea of grief. For those who don’t have a good support system, and even for those who do, this calming, supportive CD will help fill those empty times when grief becomes overwhelming.” — Darlene Arden, CABC, author of Rover, Get Off Her Leg!
A very special endorsement
Karen has had wonderful comments from persons who have made use of her CD, and the author of one comment didn’t mind Karen using it in public.
“One of my most interesting and rewarding customer contacts was when my past therapist, Carol Reid from Ligonier, called me an evening shortly after New Year’s. She and her husband had just had a vet come to their house that day for the euthanasia of their sweet dog, Maggie. Shortly after that she unpacked her stack of Point of Light magazines and read the review of the CD. Since she was coming into Pittsburgh the next day with her niece to go to Phipps she was able to pick up the CD right away. It was so gratifying to receive her email a day later sharing the quote (below). Creating the CD and offering my ideas to the world has felt so much like a spiritual journey to me…and that continued from the synchronicity of a couple weeks later being invited to be a regular guest on KQV’s Pittsburgh’s Talking Pets through a pet loss inquiry that the host, made of Carol at a chance meeting.”
And Carol had said,
“I want you to know how very helpful your CD has been. Tom and I have both listened to it and found it to be very grounding and stabilizing. We both felt off balance, ungrounded and lost after we put Maggie down even though we knew it really was the best decision. Your CD restored our equilibrium and has helped us feel more peaceful. We are still sad and miss her terribly but that is grief and time will help. In the meantime we know that we have your CD to help when we need it. That is comforting.
“Thank you for the work you have done. The CD is very professional and obviously well prepared. But mostly, for me, your caring heart is so present to give comfort. Thank you. Thank you.”
Karen is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Pennsylvania, and although her specialty is career counseling, after her loss and through of the idea of being able to help others she chose to attend a weeklong training through the American Academy of Bereavement to become a Certified Bereavement Facilitator. As part of renewing the certification, she did an internship under the direction of a psychologist through the Association of Pet Loss and Bereavement, an organization that hosts on-line chat rooms about the euthanasia decision and pet loss.
“I have a special interest in ritual as part of the healing process and conducted numerous non-denominational animal blessings and memorial services on a personal and professional basis,” Karen adds. “In addition to career counseling, I also offer pet bereavement counseling in the Pittsburgh area.”
More information on the CD including reviews and excerpts as well as further resources for healing from pet loss can be found at www.healfrompetloss.com.
Next in this series: Turning Loss into Creativity with Ingrid King and Buckley’s Story: how grief can become the catalyst for change, turning grief into a creative effort
Pet loss and grief told from personal experience
When I was losing a pet and making decisions, and after I had lost a pet and was dealing with grief, I was most comforted by hearing stories from others about their experiences. Sitting with one of my cats in the middle of the night, trying to determine if they were suffering in any way, if they were ready to let go, struggling to make the decision about euthanasia and what to do after they died, I felt so alone and only hearing what others had experienced and what they had decided helped me put my own situation and decisions into perspective, and let me know that I was not the only person to experience the anguish I was suffering. I’ve composed this series of articles in the hopes that others find comfort in my experiences and those of the others mentioned here, and that information included about services and products may help them in their decisions.
Read the other articles in this series:
To love that well, which thou must leave ‘ere long: my first and worst lesson in pet loss
Starting with pet loss—before the loss: begin preparing yourself for loss by being proactive about care and providing palliative care yourself at home
Options for “After Care”, featuring Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation: aftercare, and a profile of a business and a person I find exceptional, and exceptionally comforting
Heal Your Heart After Pet Loss, a Remarkable CD and Guidebook: your grieving process, and a very special CD and guidebook for those times when you need a comforting voice
Turning Loss into Creativity with Ingrid King and Buckley’s Story: how grief can become the catalyst for change, turning grief into a creative effort
Pet Loss Support Information: ideas and resources for where to find comfort and support in your loss, including books about and inspired by the author’s personal experience
Pet Love and Pet Loss, and How it Gave Me My Art: my own experience turning multiple losses loss into multiple creative endeavors
About the images used in this post
With the exception of Karen’s photo, all of the images used here are of my cats, my inspirations and muses, or art I’ve created, such as the illustrations used for this CD. I sell prints and notecards of all of them. It’s one of the things that helps me with losing them, to know that their image goes out in the world and they are thereby, in a way, immortal. To see the art visit my website and look under “Fine Art and Portraiture” for the gallery, “My Cats“. Also look under “Photography” for the five galleries of “My Cats“. You can browse prints and notecards in my “Marketplace“.