Summit Veterinary Referral Center provides a drop-in, weekly support group for humans grieving beloved companions. Rachel Wright, a licensed clinical social worker, facilitates these sessions with grace and compassion.
I recently visited Summit to attend this group for the first time. I wasn't sure what to expect because I hadn't been to this kind of group before, and the last death in our family was March 2016. Weeks ago I met with Rachel for a gorgeous discussion of all things grief and furry (or hairy), and I knew the group would be a worthy visit.
Grief professionals frequently describe the grief humans feel regarding beloved animals as "disenfranchised." It's like it doesn't belong. The rest of the world says, "I'm sorry your dog died. Dinner on Thursday?" For those who grieve, for us, the mourning and sense of loss is as intense and sometimes more intense than what we feel when human family or friends become ill or die. Sadly, people who have not experienced the kind of relationships we have with these amazingly intuitive, gracious, loving creatures can't relate to this devastation.
The house is eerily quiet.
When you come home, there is no ceremony.
There is no partner to snuggle against you and rest her head in your lap.
What I heard from every member who attended the group on the evening I was there was, "I feel understood here."
In a world that expects me to be "over it," here I can feel, share stories and pictures, laugh, and realize I am not alone. I have a community with people who understand.
I heard incredible stories about the love people have for their companions. I listened to stories of illness and treatment. I cried as others cried. People shared stories of the last day and the first return home to an emptier home - that unbelievable stillness that feels like the surface of an eggshell.
These wholehearted, courageous individuals passed around their phones to share images of their loves. We all ooohed and aahhhed. We commented on eyes and smiles, fluffiness and spirit. We came together to see each other in that moment, with no judgment or pretense. We came to be raw, vulnerable, and accepted.
There were many moments that happened in that room that were worth sharing, and one of the ones that stuck for me was about photography. More than one person mentioned the importance of printing the images on her phone so she could get those photographs in front of her to enjoy every day.
I couldn't agree more. It may take a while for a person to be ready to see that every day. When the time comes, there is nothing like it.
Rachel Wright provides client support at Summit Veterinary Referral Center, including grief counseling; facilitating the weekly drop-in support group; helping with making and processing difficult decisions; acting as a liaison between the family and veterinarian team; being present before during, and after euthanasia; providing referrals to community support services; and providing educational resources, memorial, and ritual ideas.
The Pet Loss Support Group meets each Thursday from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Summit Veterinary Referral Center is located at 2505 S 80th St in Tacoma and online at www.summitvet.com. The phone number is (253) 983-1114.
I'm Shannon, and I love and am loved by four Great Danes, four cats, and one horse (four Danes, one cat, and one horse are no longer walking this earth). Here I'll share stories of my adventures in grief photography for companion animals, my own grief journey, and thoughts on caregiving.