Pets, Grief and the ‘Bootsy and Angel Effect’

Many in our society do not recognize the impact that pet loss has on an individual. For many people, the loss of a beloved pet may be the first significant loss that is experienced in life. Pets see us through many significant milestones in life such as marriages, divorces, death and the birth of our children. They are and always will be sources of true unconditional love.  Many times pets may be predeceased by other significant family members. When that pet eventually dies, we not only grieve the loss of him/her but revisit our pain of loss from those deceased family members to whom they were connected.

My daughter, Jeannine Marie Roberts died on 3/1/03 at the age of 18 from a rare and aggressive type of cancer.  In addition to her family, she left behind her two beloved cats, Bootsy and Angel. Bootsy was given to her as a Christmas gift by her best friend thirteen years ago. Jeannine and I found Angel about a year later abandoned in a residential area.

After Jeannine’s death, Bootsy became more attached to me. He would follow me everywhere I went in the house, sleep with me and wake me up in the morning. During a particularly bad day for me, he climbed up on the couch, walked behind me and kissed (not licked) me right on the head. Angel is not as attached to me, but she will still demonstrate her affection mainly by nuzzling me.  Both cats have been a tremendous source of comfort and validation to me since Jeannine’s death and when they die I will grieve their deaths deeply. I will grieve not only because of their significance to me, but also because of their connection to Jeannine.

Bootsy and Angel’s death anniversary dates and possibly other milestones will be a double edged sword not only because of memories that I will have of them but also because of memories they will evoke of Jeannine.

If you are a professional who works with bereaved pet owners, remember to assess whether or not the deceased pet was predeceased by any family members that were connected to that pet and the surviving pet owner. By routinely assessing the “Bootsy and Angel Effect” with bereaved pet owners, you can become an effective grief companion by giving them the opportunity to talk about the loss of their pets and other losses associated with them.

Although it’s difficult today to see beyond the sorrow, may looking back in memory help comfort you tomorrow.
-Author Unknown

Copyright 2009, Mourning Discoveries, All Rights Reserved

David Roberts

More Articles Written by David

David J. Roberts, LMSW ,became a parent who experienced the death of a child, after his daughter Jeannine died of cancer on 3/1/03 at the age of 18. He is a retired addiction professional and is also an adjunct professor in the psychology department at Utica College, Utica, New York. Dave has presented workshops at national conferences of The Compassionate Friends and Bereaved Parents ,as well as local and regional venues. Dave was also the keynote speaker at both the 2011 and 2015 national gatherings of the Bereaved Parents of the USA. He is also a featured speaker,workshop presenter and coach for Aspire Place(www.aspireplace.com) Dave is a HuffPost contributor and has also written articles for several other grief and self-improvement publications. He has co-authored two books with Linda Findlay of Mourning Discoveries. One is on navigating grief during the holidays and the other is on pet loss. One of Dave's articles” My Daughter is Never Far Away" can also be found in Open to Hope: Inspirational Stories of Healing and Loss. Excerpts from Dave's article for The Open to Hope Foundation, called The Broken Places, were featured in the 2012 Paraclete Press DVD video, Grieving the Sudden Death of a Loved One. Dave has also appeared on Healing the Grieving Heart and the Advocacy Heals U radio shows , and the Open to Hope television show . Dave’s website: www.bootsyandangel.com is devoted to providing support and resources for individuals experiencing loss.

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  • Dave, I loved your article, I know it opened my eyes to the prejudice we as bereaved parents can get in finding ourselves judging those with pet loss as in consequential, less than and no comparison to child loss. There is no comparison of course, but you words clearly show that whereever there is love present in your life the loss of it is real and a painful grief to ednure. You also illustrate so well how ” in touch” in tune and compassionate an animal can be in our lives. There is a great Readers Digest article about a Cat who comforts the dying, even forecasting the death by her arrival at their nursing home bedside with uncanny accuracy.

    http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,290840,00.html

    http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/357/4/328

  • Dave Roberts says:

    Hi Mitch:
    Thank you for your wonderful comments on my most recent article. Jeannine’s cats have taught me that ongoing connection with our chidren comes in many forms. I also loved the links and the article on Oscar the Cat and his role in comforting the dying in their final hours. Thank you for sharing that with me as well.

    Take care

    Dave

  • Brenda Horne says:

    Dear Dave,
    Firstly thank you for all the time you invest in sowing into the lives of other bereaved parents from seeds out of your own experience!
    Now almost 5 years after the tragic accident of my darling daughter Bernice, shortly after her 21st birthday – in spite of being an executive and spending many hours on the internet – is the first time I ever really used it to look at bereavement and the fact that Istill have so many pictures and memories around me of Bernice and wondering how it impacts on those who come into my house that do not have the same “soul tie” with Benice as I do?

    I read with interest your coment on the loss of a pet – my story – “Benrice and I both had little miniture toypoms – travelled to Europe with them and although when she went to university, both remained with me – Ruby was always Bernice’s and I just noticed last night in viewing a DVD of her life – how frequently she had little Ruby Rose on her lap in pictures.

    The 3rd of March 2006 was a double tragedy in our lives. I am the CEO of a NPO working on a transport corridor supporting regional integration between SA and Mozambique, and after a 3 month period of being very sick after surgery – (a time when Bernice came and nursed me and gave me the blessing of seeing the pearl in my child’s heart – moments and memories I will cherish forever)- on my first trip back from Mozambique, during very heavy rain, my Xtrail aquaplaned, with four oncoming cars in the opposite direction, shot accross the highway and over-turned – landing in a brooke with water rising in the over-turned vehcile – what I recall as it happened was calling aloud – God Help Us – miraculously no other cars were involved and I was able to crawl out of the uver turned car, shocked but not seriously injured – since I still had a device to stimulate my surgery healing – a passing docter recommended that I go to the hospital 100 km away for a checkup – both my phones and laptop was soaked and out of order – while I was taken to hospital, I rememberred Bernice’s number and called her from the driver’s phone – she was so concerned and wanted to come and fetch me – at that stage she and her boy friend were also 100 KM from our hometown in the opposite direction (coming home from varsity for the week-end)- so we agreed that they would meet me at the hospital and her last words to me was Love you Mwah!

    Arriving at the hospital I did not see her friend’s little Golf – my attempts to phone her was unsuccesful – standing in my Docters room, phoning her boyfriend’s number a police officer answered and infomred me that there was a serious head on collision and that my daughter did not survive – at that very moment it was like – I am fifty and should be dead but is alive – so my work is not yet finished – she 21 but passed on – meaning her work was done – my immediate reaction was to take the hand of my docter and those around and pray – thanking God for knowing that Benice was in a better place (she very recently spoke to me about being in heaven and loving me forever- so I just knew – and then praying for her Giles, whom the police said may loose his leg since they struggled to release him with the jaws of life – her dad and Gile’s dad – then calming startted to phone my son in Canda and the other family, asking them to pray for Giles – still in my wet state, bare footed, wet handbag over the shoulder awaiting the stream of ambulances coming into the hospital without my Bernice – speaking to Giles, begging me for forgiveness and praying over him (the ambulance coming in with him eventually also left the road with all the equipment in the ambulance landing on his mutilated leggs – so he was concious but in extreme pain – him saying to me “MOM I am so sorry it was not my fault – and then that he was in too much pain to cry” putting Bernice’s little ring in my hand which he took off her and clutched in his hand till he saw me – then passed out – , before going into surgery.
    Then there was going to the funeral parlour, where my sunflower child was taken – looking down at her – her broken body – it came to me that God had such a sense of humour – she recently told me that she wanted to be buried and not cremated and that I had to personally ensure she was really dead – her broken little body gave me the assurance that she was killed on impact and that her fears were taken care of – and that she could peacefully be buried – after this a friend went home with me – I took a blanket from her baby days, and after praying fell asleep half crying half cluthcing to this with my life friend Dianne next to me – waking the next morning knowing that since I was on my own – her brother and his wife only flying in much later from Canada and her dad and his wife being in Swaziland, I had to be strong, back to my docter to remove the granulator, and step into action, since I had to get a car and start with all the arrangements – as you know came the continious stream of visitors and the official identification of her body and funeral arrangements and making a power point presentation of all her beautiful pictures for the service and then pack up of her apartment in Johannesburg and Giles being on a ventilator and the daily trips to the hospital to support his family (his recovery and healing process took over two years – I even managed to read an eulogy at the church service and then moving from our lifelong family home into a cluster home the day after the funeral (which was planned months ago) – when I was on my own all I did was to sit and read through the 100’s of poems she has left and 10 days later I was in Zambia doing a presentation at a conference on regional integration and corridor development – however shortly after my return from there – I had a call from home saying that little Ruby Rose (bernice’s lettle toy pom) was found on the lawn – dead – I rushed home, fortunately also called my friend DI who supported me the night at the hospital and when I picked Ruby Rose’s ltlle lifeless body up it was like a whale of sorrow that escaped from me – I am sure it could be heard blocks away since I was told the neigbours came rushing wanting to know if they could help my friend- the hurt I cannot explain – I just spayed ther on the lawn with little Ruby i my arms and all I asked from God was how much more He wanted me to bear – she was wise – she realised that not only was I mourning little Ruby Rose who was also in fact like a little baby in the house, but in holding her I was altually bewhaling the tragic loss of Bennice, which simply could not come out while I held my composure and doing everything that I had to do – afterwards I somehow thought that Bernice actually called little Ruby Rose home, sothat it could trigger the start of my real mourning process for her – my family and especially my son was very concerned for me being so “strong” and kept oin saying, Mom, you have a certain volume of tears you have to cry and does not matter how long it takes, but come it will come.
    When I eventually felt empty from the whaling and crying we took little Ruby Rose to the vet to have her cremated – and I still hold on to her little bag of ashes – a true simbol of how the tie between Bernice and Ruby has actualy save me from in-sanity – I know it does not sound biblical or what but I believe Ruby is with Bernice and that on our life hereafter we will have our favourite pets with us.
    When the other little toypom died, being trampled by a zebra at hour holiday home in a nature reserve – two years ago – I was sad – yes – but at peace knowing it was an intervention of nature and since there was not the tie to Bernice – so much easier to work through.
    SInce that day in the garden with little Ruby in my arms, I have had my regular memory days where I light the candles, and do something special, either at the grave, the accident scene or for some one else – but in reality I feel her spiritually always close to me and when I cry it is simply becuase I miss that phisical presence so much – I had three beautifull collages of her pictures and poems framed as well as two beautifil paintings commisioned, one where she hugged me on her 21st birthday party and the other one with her brother and his wife “my family” and with all this she simply is always around – I believe when I see her again it will be in the looks of the recent pictures, becuase eternity has no time, so she will be forever 21 and when I remember the special days it is really celebrating her 21 years of beautiful life, knowing she also had her fair share of lows, but that she has conquerred it all through her passing on.
    I just sometimes wonder how other people coming into my two homes and office with all her pitctures around, feel about it – I know two teenage girls visiting from Switserland did not want to sleep in a room with the pictures – but considering their age I could understand their non-understanding the pictures importance for me.

    What is your view in this regard – does there come a time that one simply put all the collages away and have a simple picture somethwere indiscreetly stuck away – when I still regard her as part of the family and the other family pictures are donned all around?
    I look frward to the day when I have enough time to retype her 100’s of poems and to have it bound in a printed bundle – I know it is soething I can give to a typist to do, but some how feel I have to do it in order to work also through those memories, since most of them were writtien when she was either very sad or every happy through here teenage love episodes – so that is still a bridge I have to cross – but in general – contrary to the loss of my sister and mom – she remains alive in my heart – the pain of having a part of me not being phisically around is real and sois her memory in my heart
    Apologies for the un-structured scribbles – nto edited – simply as it flowsout fo y heart today – I know you will understand having to also live with the same reality of having your darling daughter around yet not phisically there – to us it is real – to the world out there they are gone!
    Brenda Horne-Ferreira

  • Dave Roberts says:

    Hi Brenda:
    First of all ,please accept my heartfelt condolences on the death of your daughter Bernice and thank you for sharing her story. Being able to tell Jeannine’s story in a community that supports my ongoing connection with her has been extremely validating and powerful in helping me progress on my journey.

    In response to your question, everyone grieves as they see fit, but one thing that I have found is that parents who have experienced the death of their children want to stay connected. Our relationships remain intact even though they are not physically present. Jeannine’s life and death continue to guide me on this journey and will continue to do so until i cross over. I have also discovered that our grief journeys are life long, and that in time our pain becomes softer and we find joy and meaning again.

    Continue to celebrate your connection with Bernice. I have pictures of Jeannine prominently displayed at home and at work . She will always be a part of me and my family.

    Take care Brenda