It’s always an honor to feature contributing writers.
Thank you to Jim Vought for taking time to pen these thoughts, and helpful reflections.
Bridget was a red, long haired Dachshund, and Phillip was a black, white, and tan short haired Dachshund. They lived with Casey who was a tricolored Australian Shepherd. All the dogs were getting on in age. Bridget and Phillip were fifteen years old, and Casey was 12 years old. In human years, Bridget and Phillip would be about 80 years old, and Casey about 70 years.
One night when Jimmy, their human, called Bridget, Phillip, and Casey to come in from the back yard to eat dinner, Jimmy noticed that Bridget seemed to be having some trouble breathing. Bridget’s breath seemed a little shallow, rapid, and labored. And, because she did not feel like eating, Jimmy called her veterinarian, Dr, Bill. Jimmy told him about what he noticed. “If Bridget is not having too much trouble breathing,” doctor Bill said, “Then I would recommend that you bring Bridget into my office in the morning for a check-up. On the other hand, if Bridget is having too much difficulty breathing, you should take Bridget to the emergency room”. Jimmy liked the idea of waiting to see Dr. Bill because he thought that Bridget did not seem to be having too much trouble breathing, and Dr. Bill was familiar with her. Also, Jimmy knew that Bridget trusted Dr. Bill and would feel more comfortable seeing him rather than an unfamiliar doctor in the emergency room. In addition, if Bridget slept in her own bed tonight, Jimmy felt she would feel safer, more comfortable, and more supported around family members (not scared and alone in a hospital overnight). The thing Jimmy did not like about waiting was that Bridget’s illness might get worse, and she would have to wait for help. After considering the choice, Jimmy felt that Bridget could wait to see Dr. Bill until the morning; so, he made her an appointment for the very next morning to see Dr. Bill. Jimmy kept an eye on Bridget that evening. At bedtime, Jimmy made sure that all the dogs were comfortably in their beds. And, he stayed with Bridget till she drifted off to sleep. Then, Jimmy set the alarm clock and went to bed too.
At 6:30 a.m., the alarm clock sounded, and Jimmy quickly reached over to turn it off. The dogs always ate breakfast at this time, so Jimmy got up to feed them. When he called them for breakfast, they all came running except Bridget. This was very unusual, so Jimmy called her again and went to check on her. Although Jimmy called her name a second time, she did not come running. As Jimmy approached her bed, Bridget looked like she was still sleeping, so Jimmy reached out to awaken her. As he touched her, he noticed that she felt still, lifeless, and her eyes were closed. She had died in her sleep. Jimmy was in shock. He screamed for Jo-Ellen (his wife) to come quickly. “What’s the matter,” Jo-Ellen said as she quickly ran to Bridget’s bed to see what had happened. Jimmy cried out, “She is dead! I can’t believe it. She is dead!” In sadness and grief, Jimmy and Jo-Ellen wrapped Bridget in a small plaid cotton blanket. Then Jo-Ellen asked, “So, what do we do now?”.
Jimmy looked confused- “What do you mean ‘what do we do now’? I think we should put Bridget in her pet carrier and just take her to the cemetery to be cremated.” Having heard that, Jo-Ellen paused for a minute to consider what Jimmy had said, and replied, “No. I mean should we get her cremated or should we bury her?” Jimmy, who had gone through life acting as though Bridget would live forever, said sadly, “I think we should get her cremated.” Jo-Ellen, who did not immediately feel comfortable with this decision, asked Jimmy, “Why do you want to get Bridget cremated? What’s wrong with just burying her in a pet cemetery?” So, Jimmy explained that if Bridget were cremated that they would be able to take her ashes home, and that they would not need to rush the decision about when or where to bury her. Jo-Ellen thought about what Jimmy told her and said that her family had always buried their pets. “I am just not familiar with cremation,” she said. So Jimmy explained the process.
Jimmy said that Bridget would be put in a special oven which gets so hot that it would burn up her body and turn her body into dust and ashes. Traditionally when buried, Jimmy explained that a body turns into dust too. However, with cremation, the body turns to dust much quicker. Then, when the animal’s ashes and dust are put back into the earth, the body is just absorbed into the ground and helps the other plants to grow. Also, when Bridget’s heart stopped and she died that Bridget’s spirit left her body. She would not feel any pain whether buried or cremated. Once Jo-Ellen thought about cremation this way, she agreed to have Bridget cremated. So, they took Bridget’s body to the cemetery. Jimmy felt tired from finding Bridget dead, having to discuss the process of cremation, then taking her body to the pet cemetery. So, when Jimmy and Jo-Ellen got back home, they lay down to rest.
Question: In the story, Jimmy and Jo-Ellen felt very tired after the passing of Bridget. Is it normal to feel tired after making funeral arrangements?
Question: What are your spiritual, cultural, family, or other beliefs about funeral arrangement made for your loved ones?
After about a week, Jimmy got a call that Bridget’s ashes were ready to be picked up, so Jimmy went to get them. When he got home, Jimmy placed Bridget’s ashes on a shelf in the living room. Jimmy did not feel like burying Bridget yet because burying her meant saying good bye for good, and Jimmy was not ready to let go.
This was a very sad time for Jimmy, Jo-Ellen, Casey, and Phillip. Jimmy kept playing the last moments of Bridget’s death over and over again in his mind like a video tape which kept playing the same scene over and over again. Jimmy was very distracted by this. He remembered that Claire, his yoga teacher, used to tell him that relaxed breathing could help him to become more aware of what was happening in his body and mind. Before working on relaxed breathing, she used to help Jimmy tune into his awareness of what he was thinking and feeling by asking him on a scale from 1 to 5 how distracted he was at that moment (thinking of other things besides relaxing)? When Jimmy asked himself this question, he rated himself as a 4 or very distracted. He felt that he was having difficulty listening to others because of the thoughts on his mind. And, he felt tired by continually thinking about how much he missed Bridget. So, by reminding himself of Claire’s teaching, he became aware of just how much he needed to relax and let go of his distracting thoughts and feelings.
After that, Jimmy found himself a quiet place and a comfortable chair, and sat down to practice relaxed breathing. He sat in a comfortable position with his hands relaxed on his lap. He gently closed his eyes. He took a big breath through his nose and felt his belly rise, and released his breath through his nose and felt his belly fall. It was like he was using his natural breath, but his exhale was a little longer than his inhale. After focusing his attention on the air going in and out of him with each breath, he noticed that he still had a hard time just focusing his attention on his breath. When his attention wandered, he accepted himself for trying to do his best and named the thoughts and feelings on his mind which were distracting him. As he named his thoughts and feeling, he noticed that he felt guilty about what he should have done differently the night before Bridget died. Instead of waiting till the next morning to get Bridget examined by doctor Bill- why didn’t he just bring Bridget to the emergency room that night to be checked out? He knew Bridget trusted him as her human to make the best decision for her health. “Maybe if I had done this, she would still be alive,” Jimmy thought to himself. After acknowledging and naming his thoughts and feelings, Jimmy did a reality check. He realized that the outcome may have been the same no matter if he brought Bridget to the emergency room or not. Bridget may have died anyway. Jimmy reminded himself that he was only human and no one is perfect. Although all living things die, Bridget’s loss was irreplaceable. But Jimmy felt some relief as he realized he probably had no control over the situation…
Question: After the passing of a loved one, is it normal to feel guilt and second guess what you could have, should have, would have done differently?
Question: If you suppress your grief (say to yourself, “No! I don’t want to think about it), can it prolong the grieving process?
Meanwhile, Phillip the Dachshund had taken the loss of his little buddy very hard as well. Because the house seemed much too quiet without Bridget, Phillip tried to distract himself from thinking about her. One day when he was let out of the house into the backyard, he felt the need to keep his mind from thinking about how much he missed Bridget, so he thought he would just count the fence posts which outlined the backyard (he often did this to keep his mind off things). However, every time he started counting, 1,2, 3…, he would get distracted, and started thinking about Bridget again. As a result, he would lose his count and have to start the counting all over again. After this happened several times in a row, he started to get tense and frustrated. So, he decided to relax, take a break, and go and sit in the freshly mowed summer grass.
After finding a nice patch of grass, Phillip lay down on his back. He relaxed by pretending the ground was doing all of the work holding him up. Next, he inhaled by taking three bunny breath- sniff, sniff, sniff, followed by an exhale made up of six bumble bee breaths out: z, z, z, z, z, z (his exhale was slightly longer than his inhale). As he tried to focus on his breath, he still kept getting distracted and his mind would think about different things. So, instead of saying to himself, “No! I will not think about other things,” he just noticed what he was thinking about and named it out loud. Then, he would let his thoughts and feelings go, and he returned his attention back to the awareness of his breathing. By doing that, he was able to give voice to his thoughts and feelings and admit that he felt sad while working on relaxing. Whenever he felt sad over the coming days and weeks, he was able to keep himself on track (doing activities while coping with his grief) by doing this kind of check-in with himself, and by reminding himself that all things change and end and that death is a part of life….
A month or two had gone by since Bridget had passed away, when Casey walked into the kitchen, and found Phillip looking at his reflection in the oven window. He was lost in thought. “What are you thinking about?” Casey asked Phillip. “I was just thinking about how old I looked, about Bridget’s passing, and about how hard Jimmy had taken her loss. If I had one wish,” said Phillip, “it would be to find a way to let Jimmy know that it was okay to let go of his grief and move on as I have begun to do.”
“Everyone grieves in their own way,” Casey said. “There is no schedule or time table. Grief is a normal and healthy response to loss.”
Question: Although grief is a normal feeling, is there any ‘normal’ way to grieve? Is there any timetable or schedule that is the same for all people?
Casey acknowledged that if Jimmy suppressed his feelings (told himself not to think about his feelings), that he might prolong his grief. “However,” Casey said, “I heard Jimmy telling Jo-Ellen that he was going to collect all of Bridget’s belonging and put them in a box. I saw him picking up her toys, bowl, leash, brush, coat, and getting them ready to give them away or get rid of them. In fact, I saw him put Bridget’s collar on the table, so I think Jimmy is starting to let her go, and move on.” Casey said, “I have an idea about how you can send him a subtle message, that it is okay for him to let Bridget go and to move on.”
“What do you mean?” said Phillip.
Casey told him his idea. “I heard Jimmy was going to sew a hole in Bridget’s dog bed. Fixing it up and getting it ready to give it to some other dog is a way of giving her dog bed a new purpose. I think we should take Bridget’s dog collar off the table and place in under her pillow. That way, when he goes to sew her dog bed that he will discover it.”
Phillip looked confused. “How will that help?”
Casey said, “Remember, Bridget’s dog tag on her collar is shaped like a Dachshund, and the inscription reads, ‘Get along little doggie.’ I think when he reads this inscription it will lighten his spirt and make him laugh, and make him remember some of the good memories and times he spent with Bridget. It will encourage Jimmy to think that just as he needs to let go of Bridget’s dog bed, he also needs to let go of his grief over Bridget’s loss too. I think it will be a way of encouraging him to let Bridget go and to ‘get along’.”
“Well, Jimmy does have a sense of humor” said Phillip. “But, I think if he asks Jo-Ellen and she tells him that she did not put the collar in the dog bed, then he will know it was us.”
Casey laughed and said, “Either that or the universe is telling him something…”
Well it just so happened that not too soon after Phillip and Casey had hid Bridget’s collar in her dog bed, that Jimmy went to get her dog bed to repair it. And, as he removed the top cushion, he found Bridget’s dog collar just where Casey and Phillip had placed it. “How did this collar get inside her dog bed?” he wondered. Although he asked Jo-Ellen, she said that she did not know how it got there, but suggested that it’s time to let go of Bridget and to bury Bridget’s ashes. “Letting go of your grief does not mean you are dishonoring Bridget’s memory,” said Jo-Ellen. Jimmy thought about it and said, “I think you are right. Holding on to my grief is really not the best way of cherishing Bridget’s memory. Trying to be fully present during each moment of each day and living each day to its fullest while making room for whatever I am feeling would be the best way to give significance to her death.”
So, the very next day, Jimmy went out to the flower bed just outside the kitchen window. He dug a big long hole about 3 feet down and 2 feet across. Then, he gathered Jo-Ellen, Phillip, and Casey for the burial. He sprinkled Bridget’s ashes, and then covered them up with dirt, and said a little prayer: “Bridget, I will miss your presence very much. You are irreplaceable. From the moment you chose me at the pet store when you were but weeks old until the day you took your last breath, I thank you for believing in me as your human. Best friend-it’s time to say goodbye for now, but I will never forget you.” As Jimmy fought back the tears, he said, “God’s speed.” After the prayer, he planted some purple and white morning glories on top of Bridget. He thought that Bridget would like the flowers because they were her favorite color. By burying Bridget, praying, and planting the flowers, Jimmy felt that he was able to face what he did not want to face- that Bridget was gone.
That night as Jimmy looked out the kitchen window, he was happy that he could see the flowers which he had planted. As he was looking at the flowers, he pulled Bridget’s identification dog tag out of his pocket. As he wiped the tears from his eyes, he made a promise to himself that he would always keep it polished. Every time he felt sad, he reminded himself that he could hold it and the tag could remind him to let her go, to let her “get along”, and to recall his good memories of their times together. It would allow him to feel that he would never forget her. Over the next weeks and months, Jimmy found it easier and easier to get over his grief.
Question: After a few months if your grief does not diminish and you find that it is interfering with your interest in playing, doing school work, relationships with others, is seeking help normal and encouraged?
Question: Is it true that more cowboys have Dachshunds than any other type of dog? Hint this may be true because cowboys are always saying to ‘get a long little doggie’.
Question: What are a few of your favorite things you loved about your pet?
Cremate: Burning a body to ashes after a person or animal dies.
Dachshund (also called a wiener dog, hot-dog): A dog with short legs and a long body. They may have short-hair or long-hair or wired-hair. A long little doggie.
Distracted: Paying attention to something other than what you need, want, were told to pay attention to.
Grief: Sadness caused by some person’s or animal’s death.
Guilt: Feeling bad when you did something wrong
Irreplaceable: Unable to find another person or animal or thing like it if lost or damaged or destroyed.
Relaxed: Resting your muscles, movement, and thinking so you become still and you feel calm and are your able to pay attention to one activity or thought (not tense). For example, if you squeeze your hand tightly, that is tense. And, when you release the squeezed hand and tension goes completely away, that is ‘relaxed’.
Relaxed Breathing: Paying attention to your natural breath as your breath in air through your nose and your belly rises, and then breath out through your nose as your belly falls. It is like using your natural breath only the exhale is a little longer than the inhale.
Self-acceptance: Admitting the truth about your strengths and weakness, and being okay or all right with that truth.
Subtle: When you have to look closely to notice something different or a change or a sign. When something is less than obvious.
Suppressed: Avoid thinking about unpleasant thoughts or memories.
Tricolored Australian Shepherd: A sheep dog with three colors like white, black, and brown