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.
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