I was flattered to be asked once again, and honored to accept, Deb Chebatoris’ invitation to speak at her annual Pet Memorial Sunday celebration on September 9, 2012.
I’ll be the third speaker with the topic of “The Joy of Pets”, about loving again after loss. Deb seems to think I've had a bit of experience in this area.
The ceremony is on Sunday, September 9, 2012 from 2:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Melrose Cemetery in South Fayette.
“You’ve certainly had your share of loss,” said Deb last year when she asked me if I’d consider speaking. “You write about this, your art is about this, and you work with people through your portraits in the midst of loss, and I certainly think you have valuable things to say on the topic.”
This year it was just days before I lost Kelly that she asked me again to speak, then gently told me she'd understand if I felt I couldn't speak on the day Kelly died and I met with Deb that evening. But for Kelly's sake, and Cookie's, and all the others gone before, I would never miss the opportunity to share with others the healing power of a pet's love.
As part of the ceremony Deb has always had three speakers who discuss our relationships with our pets before, during and after their death. This year, Dr. Brad Carmichael of Pleasant Valley Veterinary Hospital in McMurray PA, will speak on “Our Last Moments Together”, covering how to determine it’s the end of your pet’s life and whether or not to choose euthanasia, and honoring that last time you have with your pet. Elizabeth Babcock, LCSW, will speak on "Our Initial Grief Response", explaining that grief is totally normal in the loss of a pet and covering the different types of grief, how grief changes with time, and how to tell if you may need help with your grief.
I will then speak about loving another pet after loss. Certainly, having lost 15 cats over the years, I’ve experienced the change in my relationship with the ones who still share my home, and also found new love as new cats have come into my life.
And, as Deb said, I have not only my own experiences to draw from but others’ as well. Most often, my portraits are done as a remembrance, either in a stage of anticipatory grief, soon after losing the pet or some time afterward, and as I work with my customers to design the ideal portrait we discuss all the aspects of loss. I typically keep in touch with my clients, hearing news of the loss, of their healing, and of a new animal who enters their life.
In addition, in all the years I was rescuing cats I was also looking for homes for them, and shared many stories with people who had lost and were just getting ready to adopt again, hearing their hesitance and also, later, their joy at the new love.
I look forward to being able to discuss this joy with those attending the ceremony. I’ve attended nearly every year Deb has hosted her Pet Memorial Sunday celebration, in part because nearly every year I’ve lost another kitty, or two, and she has been the person to lovingly take care of their cremation, but I also want to be there even without a loss. And, more practically, I handle Deb’s publicity, advertising, website and social networking so I also photograph the event for her, get a feel for how it goes, and to help promote Deb's compassionate service both professionally and socially.
Some of my writing
Last year, I spoke about how my life changed when I lost my four oldest cats, then my kitten Lucy, which in turn brought Mimi and her wonderful babies, the Fantastic Four, into my life in "My Loss and Redemption: The Joy of Pets". I already knew that this year I'd be speaking about losing old friends, and making new ones.
I have written extensively on the topic of “Pet Loss in the First Person”, and also chronicled the final treatments and loss of several of my own cats, such as Peaches as she turned "100" years old and we battled with kidney failure.
And in 2009, just before and after I lost Namir, I was honored to work on the illustrations for Karen Litzinger’s CD Heal Your Heart: Coping With the Loss of a Pet.
This year’s ceremony
The ceremony is on Sunday, September 9, 2012 from 2:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Melrose Cemetery in Bridgeville.
The gathering will be held under a tent in the cemetery with light refreshments served afterward as families are invited to share their experiences with each other and speak to the presenters.
As part of the ceremony, three speakers will discuss our relationships with our pets before, during and after their death. Dr. Brad Carmichael of Pleasant Valley Veterinary Hospital in McMurray PA, will speak on “Our Last Moments Together”, Elizabeth Babcock, LCSW, will speak on "Our Initial Grief Response", and I will be speaking about “The Joy of Pets”, adopting again after loss.
These speakers are followed by a reading of “Words of Tribute” written by pet owners who attend; last year I had the honor of reading tributes along with Deb. She encourages participants to write a 50-word tribute to commemorate and remember the lives they shared with their special pets, and has tips and examples on her website for composition.
“Keeping a tribute to your pet to only 50 words can be a challenge,” Deb says, “but limiting your remembrance to 50 words helps you to focus on the essential elements that made your pet special.”
Also, attendance is usually between 30 and 40 persons, and Deb wants to make sure everyone’s tribute is heard in the limited time scheduled for the gathering.
Families are also encouraged to bring a photo or memento of their pet to be displayed during the ceremony.
After all the speakers and the readings and the candle-lighting ceremony a flock of white doves is released to symbolize our ability to let go of our precious companions.
The Tribute Scroll
As a follow-up to the event, in 2010 Chebatoris introduced the “Tribute Scroll”, a slideshow of photos and tributes electronically submitted by her families and composed after Pet Memorial Sunday with a original musical accompaniment which she commissioned from professional musician and friend Jonathan Wooding. The slideshow is posted on her website for families to view as a memorial whenever they choose; the 2010 and 2011 slideshows are there now. A new Scroll will be composed each year including photos and tributes submitted by families that year.
For more information on the Tribute Scroll and to see past Scrolls, please visit www.ccpc.ws.
Please RSVP and to Deb by Friday, September 7. For more information or to RSVP, please visit www.ccpc.ws or call Deb at 412-220-7800. The public is invited to attend, but Deb needs an RSVP to know the number who wish to attend.
If you wish to compose a tribute, please send that by Friday, September 7 as well. The Pet Memorial Sunday page on the site includes an e-mail address and fax for Deb as well as instructions for composing and sending your Words of Tribute.
Also, in order to provide a peaceful environment for all, it is not appropriate to bring live pets to this event.
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