Our animal companions are members of our family. Sometimes they may be our only family, or at least the only family member who loves us unconditionally. The loss of a pet is like the loss of a child, but while we expect our children will outlive us, we know that our pets probably won’t. Moreover, it’s a loss we will experience multiple times.
“Building Resilience at the Rainbow Bridge” was a workshop conducted at the Hartford Street Zen Center in San Francisco this past November. The workshop was part of the Reimagine End of Life festival, a week-long exploration of death and celebration of life through creativity and conversation. I was there representing Tales of the Kitty. One of my longtime kitty clients had just died, and I took it pretty hard. It wasn’t surprising that most people in our workshop circle worked in animal hospitals or volunteered at shelters. Our group leader, Sheryl Soshin Leaf, is a Buddhist chaplain who’s pioneering the concept of extending chaplain services to pets’ human families. She sat with a small pudgy white dog in her lap, Potato.
How do we build resilience as we face the inevitable losses of love in our lives? That day it was by conversation and contemplation, a walk in a garden and tea. We also built a bridge together—a rainbow bridge made of flower petals and pet mementos. I’d brought a brush from a long-ago cat, Blackie, that I keep in my nightstand. Every so often, when I’m having trouble staying asleep, I take it out and place it next to my pillow, where she used to curl up at night. It helps. How do we build resilience? The answer, as always, is personal.