Strangers reach out to share in sadness

Andrea Joseph

If I’ve learned anything through the years, I’ve learned that sometimes, when you’re in a tough spot, you have to let others in, let others shine a light on your dark path. Although I’m not one to rely heavily on others, even in difficult times, I know that my family and close friends are willing to help in any way and anytime they’re needed.

However, I never anticipated that my last column – on the May 8 death of my dog Pumpkin – would evoke so many emotional responses from readers. I was absolutely overwhelmed by the emails, phone calls and, in some cases, the face-to-face conversations I had with those who wanted to share their stories and simply let me know I’m not alone.

Every single story brought tears to my eyes – not just because five weeks after her death I’m still feeling great sadness, but because I was touched that so many felt compelled enough by my tribute to Pumpkin to reach out to me and honor her.

Each story reminded me how important animals are in our lives, and how the love I felt for Pumpkin and the connection I had with her is what so many others have also experienced.

I heard about the lives of hunting dogs and lap cats, indoor dogs and dogs who guarded families and protected children – and even a bunny. The stories revolved around pets who have been gone for years, some for months and a few that are still around and bringing joy to their humans.

People shared with me the ways they coped following the deaths of their own beloved pets. A few found their spark again shortly after – in the eyes of a new companion. Others mourned the loss and, even years later, have yet to find another pet to love the same way. And some of those decided that the loss was too much, and have no plans to ever get another.

Others wrote poetry and journaled about what they were feeling, found websites where they could join in forums and share their loss with others going through the same thing. Some readers suggested I take walks along paths familiar to Pumpkin, talk to her regularly or write her a letter and tell her what she meant to me (although there’s no doubt she knew).

Most claimed to believe that pets have souls, or at least some type of spirit, and that they find comfort in knowing that someday they will see their furry children again.

Some shared – much like I imagine my sadness will eventually play out – that after a lengthy and difficult period of grieving, they simply waited. Waited for the right pair of eyes to look their way. Waited for their soul to feel a connection to that of another animal in need of a loving home.

But five weeks into my grief, with Pumpkin’s noseprints still on the inside of “her” car window, I don’t think that will happen anytime soon. It has gotten easier, and the pain continues to ease, but I’m just not ready yet. I will be someday, I know. And when I am, and when I find a new dog to welcome into my home, I’ll be sure to write a column and let all of you know.

Although tears came while listening to and reading your stories, simply knowing I’m not alone in the immense love I felt for Pumpkin and the immense pain her death caused, has brought much-needed solace. I’ve noticed that the hurt comes in waves: one day I’ll be doing OK and the next it feels as though I’ve taken two steps backward.

But I’ve taken all of your stories, each pet’s life, and used them to continue patching up my broken heart. Someday, perhaps I’ll be able to pass along Pumpkin’s story to someone else whose own heart is aching from the loss of a companion.

So thank you to those who reached out: The “moms” and “dads” of pets who were – and are – as important to each of you as Pumpkin was to me. And to those animals who jumped lovingly and rambunctiously into our hearts, to those who have passed and those still living. Here’s to Tucker; Rumpy and Pebbles; Ruckus; Shadow; Ashley, Missy, Cammi and Lady; Jubilee; Bertie June, Bear, K.C., J.R. and Paw Paw; Larry; Zena; Corky and Melissa; Katy, Freckles, Moose and Buck; Sierra; Tonka; Sasha; Lucky and Puddin’.

And, of course, here’s to Pumpkin.

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