Dr. Debbie Stoewen has more initials after her name than I have in mine! This veterinarian has a Masters in social work and perhaps one of the most unique jobs on the planet – she is the Care & Empathy Officer (CEO!) at Pets Plus Us. She helps people soften the pain and loss of their beloved pet.
She has this to say…
“When Stephanie extended the invitation to do an interview on pet loss, my first response was, “For sure! It’s such an important topic because the grief is so real, so profound, and yet not everyone appreciates that. Even pet owners may question themselves when they’re told ‘It’s just a pet. Get over it.’” Then I checked Stephanie’s website, and more than a little perplexed, I wondered, “How does pet loss fit into ‘Your Life, Unlimited’?” Then it hit me, “Part of living ‘a life unlimited’ is having a pet in your life. Pets add so much in so many ways.”
Personally, I can’t imagine a life without our dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, guinea pigs, mice, fish, and… Oh yes, the list goes on, even a hoofed creature called a horse (a dream-come-true on my daughter’s fifteenth birthday!). Between paws and claws and feathers and fins – and even hooves – all of these creatures have graced our lives through the good and the bad, and the happy and sad. Those of us with pets know what they mean to us and what they add to our lives. And when it’s time to say goodbye, we know the loss. But not everyone understands.
You see, not everyone is a pet lover. Those who have never experienced the wonder of really getting to know a ‘non-human’ animal up-close and personal – their quirks, their antics, their likes and dislikes, and what makes their world turn – may not fully understand how it feels to love – and lose – a pet. But the love is real; the loss is real; and the grief, yes, very real. Research shows that the grief associated with the loss of a pet is usually less than that with the loss of a human member of the family, but more than that of a relative or best friend. That’s how close we are to our animals. Love is love. It’s that simple. And the loss of someone we love, whomever that might be, hurts. But it needn’t hurt forever. There are things you can do to move through the loss.
Before the goodbye, do what you can to make the most of the time you have left. Soften the loss by giving and receiving, sharing, and celebrating togetherness in whatever way is meaningful. If it’s time set aside for cuddling, or an order of ice cream for two (!), create memorable moments. Live the love fully. Take the time to do the things that say, “I love you.”
After the goodbye, there are many ways in which you can memorialize and celebrate the life of your pet. Remember that love is love, and loving a pet can be as deep as loving a person. Here are thirteen things that you can do to honor and remember your pet, and in so doing, help you move through the loss:
Have a pet funeral or memorial service.
Place your pet’s ashes on a mantelpiece, or bury or scatter the ashes in a meaningful place.
Have a sprinkle of your pet’s ashes placed in a locket.
Keep a lock of hair in a locket or holiday ornament.
Keep your pet’s tags on your key chain.
Ask your vet to make a clay paw-print of your pet.
Create a scrapbook or photo album of your pet.
Write a poem, song, story, or obituary for your pet.
Share stories of your pet with loved ones and friends.
Plant flowers that bloom every year for your pet (tulips, daffodils, forget-me-nots).
Decorate your pet’s headstone if you bury him/her in a pet cemetery or memorial garden.
Light a candle in your pet’s memory.
Make a memorial contribution to a local rescue, Humane Society or SPCA.
Beyond this, if you’re still hurting, please reach out to someone who understands. One option is to talk with someone like myself at Pets Plus Us. In following our motto, Championing Pet Owner Happiness, Pets Plus Us is a pet health insurance company that cares for and supports pet owners throughout their pet’s life – and beyond. Pets Plus Us offers pet bereavement counselling through the Compassionate Care service. Stephanie had mentioned that Pets Plus Us was lucky to have me as their counsellor; I’ll add that I’m just as lucky to be a part of Pets Plus Us. Not only is Pets Plus Us a great company (sounds cliché, but it’s true!), I get to journey alongside people who love pets as much as I do, listening to the many stories of love, and, in helping them move through the loss, inspire them to continue to live ‘a life unlimited.’ And that’s what it’s all about, right? Love – and living your life unlimited!
Debbie Stoewen, DVM, MSW, RSW, PhD
Not only did was have Debbie sharing her insights today, we also enjoyed a virtual visit from Allen Klein. Allen is the author of a pile of books including Having the Time of Your Life and he shared with us some unique ways to use common quotes to add a little spark to your life.
You have enjoy the entire radio show here…
And Allen’s guest post below…
Enjoy Yourself, No Matter What
Children remind us to treasure the smallest of gifts, even in the most difficult of times. Erma Bombeck found this out when she was doing research for her book about kids with cancer, I Want to Grow Hair, I Want to Grow Up, I Want to Go to Boise. Dealing with cancer herself, Bombeck remembers one eight-year-old diagnosed with cancer of the nervous system. When asked what she wanted for her birthday, Christina answered after much thought, “I don’t know. I have two sticker books and a Cabbage Patch doll. I have every-thing!”
In spite of the difficulties life has handed them, kids manage to have fun. Bombeck says, “If they have one leg, they will jump into a puddle of water with it. If they pass a mirror reflecting their bald head, they will stick out their tongue in defiance. If you put ’em in a wheelchair, they’ll find another one to race.”
No matter what has happened, you too have the power to enjoy yourself. One woman told me how her young son helped her do this and to relish life again after her husband was killed in an accident. Thinking his mother could not see him, the ten-month-old child hid, stark naked, behind an open-meshed chain link fence. At that moment, it became clear to her that she could not raise her son with solemnity. She says, “I resolved that I was going to find things to enjoy in life. The playful child was a turning point for me to realize that no matter what we have lost or gone through we can still find joy.”
Getting more enjoyment and pleasure in your life is the key to not only staying happier but healthier as well. “The healthiest people,” say researchers, “seem to be pleasure-loving, pleasure-seeking, pleasure-creating individuals.” Another researcher verified this. While investigating seven miracle cancer-cure cases, he found that all revised their lives to include more pleasure.
Since our minds can only focus on one thing at a time, these findings make sense. When we are doing something we enjoy, we are taking our minds off of things we don’t, things that stress us out and perhaps lead to illness. Isn’t it interesting how we schedule nearly everything—business meetings, medical appointments, luncheon engagements, etc.—but we neglect to plan time for our own enjoyment?
Take a lesson from a child. Find something you really enjoy and go do it. Eda LeShan, an author and family counsellor, says, “I’ve been riding the carousel in Central Park since I was five years old. Back then there were silver and gold rings. You had to get five silver rings or one gold ring to get a free ride. . . .” Now, “If I’m very depressed or if something’s bothering me today,” notes LeShan, “my husband, Larry, and I go back to the park. We get on the carousel horse and we start riding…it is pure and absolute joy and happiness.” (Originally published in Examiner.com 10/24/14. Used by permission of the author.)
See you next week and until then, keep living Your Life, Unlimited! Steph 🙂
Stephanie Staples, CSP* is the author of When Enlightening Strikes – Creating a Mindset for Uncommon Success, an internationally acclaimed motivational speaker, and the recipient of the 2014 Manitoba Woman Entrepreneur Award for Contributions to Community. Stephanie empowers audiences & clients across North America to bring their ‘A’ game to work and to life. Stephanie has a special interest in working with and empowering nurses and healthcare providers. She happily calls Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada home. You can get loads of complimentary resources to help with issues such as work/life balance, wellness, stress management and happiness in general, as well as find out more information about her coaching and speaking services at http://www.YourLifeUnlimited.ca.
* Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), conferred by the National Speakers Association is the speaking profession’s international measure of professional platform proficiency. Less than 10 percent of speakers have earned this credential and are recognized as some of the best in their fields. Stephanie was one of only five professional speakers in Canada (and the only woman) to attain this designation in 2013.