FLEET SPEAK

This month, I’m taking a quick departure from writing about spousal loss and instead, sharing about another loss that at some point in time, has affected approximately 96% of the general population. 

 

It is the loss of a beloved pet.

It might seem silly to discuss pet loss here; however those who now own or have ever owned pets will undoubtedly nod along when I say that the death of a pet can certainly be considered a terribly difficult loss. As the owner of numerous pets throughout my life, I can affirm that when the awful day comes that you must say good-bye to a little personality with its own idiosyncrasies, routines and infinite ways of making you laugh out loud or feel better when you need it most; when this adorable creature has loved you unconditionally and asked for nothing more than your love in return…it is indeed a dreadful day.

Photo by Pamela Marches Photography

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My Aunt Betty was a “broad” in the most fabulous sense. She loved to gamble, she loved her Scotch on the rocks, she swore like a sailor and made no apologies for smoking. She had an opinion and she was not afraid to use it; nor was she afraid of standing up to anyone or anything. She was one tough bird.

 

Except when it came to Princess.

 

Princess was Aunt Betty’s cat…and her entire world. She loved Princess as one would love a child; especially because Aunt Betty never had any children of her own. She talked about, proudly showed pictures of and doted on Princess constantly. Gift-giving was always easy when it came to Aunt Betty - either something for Princess or something that had anything whatsoever to do with cats.

 

Princess lived to be eighteen years old and passed peacefully in her sleep. After her passing, I noticed a distinct change in Aunt Betty; almost as if the spark in her spirit had dimmed. She was far less boisterous at family functions and there was a quiet, haunting sorrow about her. When another family member asked if she was going to get another cat, she would change the subject. One could tell that losing Princess was every bit as profound for Aunt Betty as the loss of a human being would have been.

 

Not long after Princess’ death, Aunt Betty too passed away.

 

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Anyone who has pets also has a routine that goes along with those pets…and most of the time, that routine is established by the pet. For example, our cat Sassy (5/3/2000 – 12/28/2017) had a specific time of day that she designated as “Love-Me Time.” Regrettably for her humans, that time generally occurred somewhere between 4:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. She had been this way since she was eight weeks old and woe to the soul who didn’t respond to her requests for affection. I never knew where she hid her watch, but danged if that cat didn’t know exactly what time it was and went loudly hunting for one of her (sleeping) two-legged family members.

 

Beyond routines set by pets, there are also the other daily routines: the times to go for a walk, play, eat, explore, chat, cuddle…the list goes on. There are also those wonderful “little things”—being greeted at the door after returning home from a long day, that special place on the couch or on the bed that belonged to them, the birdcage in the kitchen from where happy songs and chatter emerge.

 

When your pet is no longer here, those lovely routines are jarringly eliminated, leaving a huge hole in both your daily life and in your heart. As with any grieving process, you must let the immediate aftermath unfold organically, according to your time frame and comfort level. If you want to take your time in putting away or disposing of the vestiges of your pet (food dishes, beds, toys, cages, aquariums, etc.) feel free to do so. There is no rule that says it all has to be done immediately. You might also include ways to honor the memory of your pet. For example, it has become quite common for pet owners to have a small memorial. You may wish to light a candle and place a small picture next to it or put together a collage of pictures for display. You do whatever it is that brings you comfort and a measure of peace, regardless of what anyone else may say or think.

 

The Common Dilemma: Getting a “Replacement”

 

I am one of those people who believe that pets cannot be instantly “replaced.” You cannot simply slot another pet into the place that the last pet held in the household and in your heart. Every single pet that I have ever owned came with their own personalities, habits, charms - and irritations. Using our own "catgirls" as examples:

 

  • Pepper (3/29/99 – 9/5/19) established her primary residence on my office desk. She lounged happily on top while I worked alongside - and when she decided that it was time to quit working, she would stop me from typing by placing her paw on my hand. She turned up her nose at virtually all cat food, yet descended from the heavens if heard the toaster being used. Paper clips and emery boards were her “prey” and if she got hold of one, she would howl as if she had caught a vulture.

 

  • Bandit F. Squirrel (4/5/1999 – 1/3/18) was a full-figured twenty-two pounds and would rather have teethed on a plastic bag than visit her food dish. She gladly approached visitors and promptly displayed her back end, begging for it to be scratched (eliciting many confused looks from those visitors). She also had a distinct talent for effecting the most balefully sorrowful look, while softly stroking you with her paw.

 

  • Solid black with huge green eyes, Sassy (whom you met earlier) was a breed unto herself. She believed herself to be a dog: she came when called by name, wagged her tail in excitement and played fetch. She was afraid of no one and intimidated by absolutely nothing. Our cats were indoor cats, as we live in an area where coyotes also reside…and Pepper and Bandit were perfectly content to remain indoors. In stark contrast, Sassy’s singular mission throughout almost eighteen years of her life, was to get outside and run rampant. Whenever she escaped, she led us on merry chases through the neighborhood - and I am quite confident that if she ever were to have happened upon a coyote, she would have marched up and hit him in the nose.

         

You now have a better idea of why I rail against the notion that a pet can be easily replaced by another animal. For that reason, I highly recommend giving yourself as much time as you need to mourn your loss prior to making decisions concerning another pet.

 

Acknowledge Your Loss as Important

 

The kindest thing you can do for yourself after the loss of your pet is acknowledging that this is a huge loss. It seems counterintuitive to have to say something this obvious; however, there are people in the world who do not understand how animals infiltrate our hearts and affect our lives (most of these same people also do not own animals) . Consequently, they also do not understand the grief involved when a pet passes away; reducing their importance with words like, “just” or “only”. What these people fail to realize is that our pets were family members. They were company on lonely nights; an experience that the widowed know all too well. They brought smiles, laughter and provided unconditional love.

 

What a pet wasn’t… was an “only” or a “just.”

 

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As many of you know, my late husband was an award-winning canine (K9) handler on his police department for most of his twenty-eight year career. The dog who helped put “award-winning” in that title was Carlos, a Belgian Malinois. Together, he and Mike were responsible for setting national records in the seizure of drugs and drug money; many of which still stand to this day.

 

One day, Carlos suddenly stopped eating. He could not stand. Mike needed help from other officers in loading Carlos into the police van to take him to the veterinarian. After an undergoing a series of tests, the vet determined that Carlos had lung cancer and that his lungs were filling up and shutting down.

 

The decision was clear - and it was a heartbreaking decision for Mike to make.

 

For Carlos was not just Mike’s law enforcement partner. He was also our family pet.

 

Within the hour, all of the officers in the K9 unit who were not on duty arrived at the vet’s office and joined other officers, all of whom were there to provide support. We crowded into a small room and waited while Mike took Carlos out on a nearby greenbelt for one last time. They returned and tears streamed down Mike’s face as he and Carlos entered the room.

 

The silence in the room was deafening, broken only by sounds of soft crying. As Mike held Carlos and the rest of us held one another, the vet helped Carlos cross the Rainbow Bridge to a place of peace.

 

As is ritual with most police departments, a public memorial was held a few days later, as police canines are also considered officers (complete with official police badges). I was still in the legal profession at the time - and when I informed the attorney with whom I worked that I was leaving early that day in order to attend Carlos’ memorial, I was met with:

 

“What’s the big deal? It was only a dog.”

 

Did I hit him? No…but I definitely fantasized about it.

 

I personally never understood people who felt that they could dictate how other people should be feeling. It would be like saying “You need to be right-handed” if you are left-handed. You are who you are. How you feel is how you feel. I would never tell someone to quit crying or quit being angry or quit feeling what they are feeling - because you cannot “quit” a feeling, anymore than you can quit being left-handed.

 

Side note: Two years later, almost to the day – Mike crossed over too.  I envision them both restored to perfect health, with Carlos no doubt driving Mike crazy and begging for treats.

 

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In addition to Carlos, our family has also bid good-bye to all three of our precious catgirls - and after having owned each of them since the age of eight weeks, it was a beyond-awful experience; particularly as we lost Sassy and Bandit within six days of one another. However, I would not trade one moment of the comfort, love, laughter or peace that each one of those crazies brought to our family over a twenty-year period.

 

The bottom line is this: Do not deny yourself the right to mourn the loss of your pet, even if others would try to diminish or eliminate that right.  Do not hesitate to keep the memories of your pet alive.  Remember them and the love that they gave you without condition—and if and when the time becomes right for you, do not think twice about welcoming another precious pet into your home and into your heart. I always quickly reassure anyone mourning the loss of a pet, that going through all of the typical grief processes is completely normal. However and unfortunately, there will likely be at least one person in your orbit that will say something to the effect of “It was ‘just’ a dog” or “It was ‘only’ a cat.”  Please hold on to the reminder that your grief cannot be measured by who or what was lost. Your grief is exactly that...

 

Yours.

                                              Mike and Carlos                                                               Pepper

                                          

                                                Bandit F. Squirrel                                                  Sassy

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FLEET-ING THOUGHTS

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Take just a moment right now for yourself.

Now...to serve as a reminder that you need never preface any question beginning with the words, “Is it OK if I…” (sometimes disguised as “When is it appropriate to…”) and realizing that sometimes all we need is for just one person who has walked a similar path to quietly and gently say, "It really is OK", following is a partial list of what it is absolutely, positively OK for you to do after becoming widowed:

It is OK to smile.
It is OK to laugh.
It is OK to laugh really hard.
It is OK to cry.
It is OK if your children see you cry.
It is OK to feel weak.
It is OK to feel angry.
It is OK to say, "I need help"
It is OK to feel relief.
It is OK to feel peace.

*****

It is OK to travel places, be they new and exciting or comfortably familiar.
It is OK to be content at home.
It is OK to pay attention to yourself and your needs WITHOUT feeling guilty.
It is OK to socialize.
It is OK to say, "Perhaps another time".
It is OK to try new things.
It is OK to rest securely in the comfort of daily routine.
It is OK to remain in the home where you shared a life and created memories.
It is OK to move into a new home and create new memories.
It is OK to continue wearing your engagement and / or your wedding rings.
It is OK to wear your rings on your right hand.
It is OK to take your rings off.
It is OK to create a new piece of jewelry from your rings and wear it proudly.
It is OK to say, "Yes".
It is OK to say, "No."
It is OK to honor traditions in memory of your beloved.
It is OK to mix it up a bit, whatever your "it" may be.
It is OK to display selected mementos of your previous life.
It is OK to store mementos as heirlooms for loved ones or future generations.

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It is OK to seek companionship again.
It is OK to fall in love again.
It is OK to fall out back out of love, yet continue seeking it.
It is OK to choose to be on your own and cherishing every single minute of it.

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It is OK to forever love your past life and the person with whom you shared it.
It is OK to find “forever” with another, to whom you will refer as the love of your new life.
It is OK to move happily forward into that life
and the new experiences and memories that it will bring you.
It will always and forever be OK…to LIVE.

*****

It really is OK
It really is GOING to be OK

And so will you.

WHAT'S HAPPENING??

COMING UP

(all times shows are in the Pacific Time Zone)

8/9: 2:00 p.m. “How to Live a Fantastic Life” nationally syndicated radio show and podcast with Dr. Allen Lycka (CANADA; nationally syndicated). 

 

8/12: 2:00 p.m. “Filled with Gold Widow Podcast” with Melissa Pierce. Pre-record; will provide link to broadcast once received.

****One of Carole's pieces that was previously optioned by Blue Mountain Greeting Cards/Blue Mountain Arts will be published in an anthology entitled, "Life Isn't Always Easy"; releasing later this year. We will share publication details once received

​IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: Check out a few of Carole's appearances:

** "Open to Hope's International Day of Hope and Healing Conference. Click here to watch Carole's presentation, "When It Comes to Your Grief...Watch Your Reach!".

** "Angel Quest" with Karen Noe'. Click here to listen

** "The 30-Minute Hour Podcast" with Eric Twiggs and Ted Fels. Click here to listen or watch

** "The Crazy over 40's Life" with Caroline Brown" Click here to listen

** TO LISTEN TO ALL AVAILABLE PODCASTS FEATURING CAROLE, GO TO SPOTIFY, APPLE, iHEART OR YOUR FAVORITE STREAMER AND SEARCH "CAROLE BRODY FLEET". SELECT RADIO AND TELEVISION APPEARANCES ARE AVAILABLE BY CLICKING ON "MEDIA ROOM" ABOVE

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RESOURCES

 

Included below are resources that you may find helpful in pursuing your healing journey.*** 

 

CRISIS INTERVENTION AND PROGRAMS

 

* National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: DIAL 988. Help is available by telephone twenty-four hours a day; seven days a week. www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org 

* National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): Providing, support, education and advocacy for those suffering from mental illness and for those who support them. If you or someone you know is in need of help, contact NAMI at (800) 950-6264 or at info@nami.org

 

* Alcoholics Anonymous:  www.aa.org

 

* Narcotics Anonymous:  www.na.org

 

* National Eating Disorders Association: (800) 931-2237 www.nationaleatingdisorders.org.

 

* Gamblers Anonymous: www.gamblersanonymous.org

 

* Debtors Anonymous (compulsive shopping / spending): www.debtorsanonymous.org 

 

* Sexual Compulsives Anonymous (SCA): www.sca-recovery.org.  

 

* Mental Health America (“Cutting” or other means of self-harm): www.mentalhealthamerica.net

 

SERVING THE WIDOWED COMMUNITY

 

* The American Widow Project: www.americanwidowproject.org:

 

* TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) www.taps.org 

 

* Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation at www.sslf.org and www.campwidow.org

 

* Social Security Administration www.ssa.gov

 

* Department of Veterans Affairs (for military widowed and surviving family members): www.va.gov

 

***Please note that no suggestion and/or recommendation is meant to replace expert medical or legal assistance. Carole Brody Fleet, her representatives and / or employees or assigns do not receive any remuneration whatsoever for any recommendations made herein.