The journey of loss needn't be traveled alone

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A little over a year ago, my world crumbled when I lost my dog, Jake. The joy in my days was suddenly gone. The void left was huge, empty and bleak.

Being involved in the animal community, the outpouring of sympathy was incredible.  The support in those first rough weeks helped me get out of bed each morning and lifted me slightly from a dark place, though the ache in my heart remained.  I felt lost and alone in my single-person household, even with the presence of my other pets.  Venturing through the days and nights without my constant best friend who had been by and on my side for 13½ years, I seriously did not know how to take the baby steps to heal.

Everyone experiences loss in his or her own way, and every journey through grief is unique, both in terms of time, and the process itself.

Luckily for me, and this community, the DoveLewis Pet Loss Support Program exists.  This wonderful local resource offers great tools free of charge for navigating the turbulent feelings after losing a beloved companion animal.  Enid Traisman, a certified grief counselor, is a treasure as a facilitator, therapist and friend during pet loss support groups held four times a month, and memorial art therapy workshops held monthly.

Being able to share “my Jake” and my emotions openly in a support group with others who understood my journey was validating.  Enid’s Pet Remembrance Journal helped me express and explore my thoughts and pain.  Still a work in progress, the journal has now morphed into the reflections and memories of a great dog — something I pick up and read when I feel the need for comfort, or to add to when special recollections arise.

Scene from the Service of Remembrance

Scene from the Service of Remembrance

While my attempt at creating a beautiful piece of art during a Memorial Art Therapy Workshop fell short, the comfort and understanding from strangers who seemed not so strange as we shared stories of our best friends, was calming and reassuring.  I plan to return, as a clearer view of a keepsake made with Jake’s ashes has come to mind.

Surrounded by others who understood my loss and the power of the human-animal bond, my spirit was lightened at the annual Service of Remembrance, presented by Dignified Pet Services in partnership with the DoveLewis Pet Loss Support program.  A delightful statue of a boy bending to kiss his dog’s head stood forefront, representing this most precious of bonds.  From the heartfelt words of the speakers to the beautiful music filling the space, the love in the room is embracing.  Lighting a candle for Jake, I said a silent prayer of thanks.  I watched his candle flicker alongside all the others for beloved animals lost (whom he was no doubt cavorting with) and felt my heart start to heal some.  This year, I will attend again.  Not only to honor Jake, but to celebrate him and all those no longer with us.

My eyes still fill and my voice breaks when I talk about Jake.  But having made it through this “year of firsts” there are more smiles than tears at his memory, forever embedded in my heart.


Vonnie with Jake

Vonnie with Jake

Vonnie Harris is a freelance writer, and operator of Pet Stop Pit Stop pet sitting services in SW Washington.  She resides in Vancouver with Jessie (a yellow Lab), Pedro & Lorali (parrots), three chickens, and memories of Jake, her heart dog who recently passed on.  Vonnie is “the face of Spot” at many Portland-area pet-related events, and the voice of Spot in social media outlets.