It’s hard to believe it’s only a week away, and I’ve been planning what I will say, deeply musing on the cats I’ve known and those I know today, finding the connections that bring us all together.
I was flattered to be asked, and honored to accept, Deb Chebatoris’ invitation to speak at her annual Pet Memorial Sunday celebration on September 11.
I’ll be the third speaker with the topic of “The Joy of Pets”, about loving again after loss.
“You’ve certainly had your share of loss,” said Deb when she asked me if I’d consider speaking. “You write about this, your art is about this, and you work with people through your portraits in the midst of loss, and I certainly think you have valuable things to say on the topic.”
As part of the ceremony Deb has always had three speakers who discuss our relationships with our pets before, during and after their death. This year, Dr. Brad Carmichael of Pleasant Valley Veterinary Hospital in McMurray PA, will speak on “Our Last Moments Together”, covering how to determine it’s the end of your pet’s life and whether or not to choose euthanasia, and honoring that last time you have with your pet. Elizabeth Babcock, LCSW, will speak on “Our Initial Grief Response”, explaining that grief is totally normal in the loss of a pet and covering the different types of grief, how grief changes with time, and how to tell if you may need help with your grief.
I will then speak about loving another pet after loss. Certainly, having lost 13 cats over the years, I’ve experienced the change in my relationship with the ones who still share my home, and also found new love as new cats have come into my life.
And, as Deb said, I have not only my own experiences to draw from but others’ as well. Most often, my portraits are done as a remembrance, either in a stage of anticipatory grief, soon after losing the pet or some time afterward, and as I work with my customers to design the ideal portrait we discuss all the aspects of loss. I typically keep in touch with my clients, hearing news of the loss, of their healing, and of a new animal who enters their life.
In addition, in all the years I was rescuing cats I was also looking for homes for them, and shared many stories with people who had lost and were just getting ready to adopt again, hearing their hesitance and also, later, their joy at the new love.
I look forward to being able to discuss this joy with those attending the ceremony. I’ve attended nearly every year Deb has hosted her Pet Memorial Sunday celebration, in part because nearly every year I’ve lost another kitty, or two, and she has been the person to lovingly take care of their cremation, but I also want to be there even without a loss. And, more practically, I handle Deb’s publicity, advertising, website and social networking so I also photograph the event for her and just like to get a feel for how it goes. It will be interesting this year to be a part of the whole program.
Some of my writing
I have written extensively on the topic of “Pet Loss in the First Person”, and also chronicled the final treatments and loss of several of my own cats, such as Peaches last year as she turned “100” years old and we battled with kidney failure.
And in 2009, just before and after I lost Namir, I was honored to work on the illustrations for Karen Litzinger’s CD Heal Your Heart: Coping With the Loss of a Pet.
This year’s ceremony
The ceremony is on Sunday, September 11, 2011 from 2:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Melrose Cemetery in Bridgeville and everyone is welcome regardless of whether they are one of Deb’s families or when they lost, or will lose, their pet. Families are encouraged to bring a photo or memento of their pet to be displayed during the ceremony.
After we gather and greet and we speakers are finished is a reading of “Words of Tribute” written by pet owners who attend. Deb invites participants to write a 50-word tribute to commemorate and remember the lives they shared with their special pets, and has tips and examples on her website for composition.
“Keeping a tribute to your pet to only 50 words can be a challenge,” Deb says, “but limiting your remembrance to 50 words helps you to focus on the essential elements that made your pet special.” Also, attendance is usually between 30 and 40 persons, and Chebatoris wants to make sure everyone’s tribute is heard in the limited time scheduled for the gathering.
Next is the candle-lighting ceremony, and then the dove release as we watch the flock of white doves disappear into the tree tops and sky symbolizing our ability to let go of our precious companions.
The gathering is always held under a tent in the cemetery, and light refreshments are served afterward as families are invited to share their experiences with each other and speak to the presenters.
If you’re local, I hope you’ll join us. Even if you haven’t had a recent loss, the ceremony is cleansing and an opportunity to share special moments with others who love animals.