February 2014 Review–Saying Goodbye to Your Angel Animals: Finding Comfort After Losing Your Pet by Allen & Linda Anderson

~by Michele Gregoire

Advent was a time of loss for me, with our oldest cat suddenly dying on November 30th and then the next oldest passing on December 23rd after a short period of illness from a very recently diagnosed cancer. With a lifetime of cats this is the only time two have died in such close succession and it was very painful emotionally. The season of Advent was overshadowed by these unexpected losses, but I found this book by Allen and Linda Anderson to be helpful and thought it would be a good selection to share. The authors are clergy members who founded the Angel Animals Network and I reviewed another of their books (Angel Cats: Divine Messengers of Comfort) in January 2013. Saying Goodbye to Your Angel Animals is a little different in that its purpose is to help pet owners grieve and say goodbye to their beloved animals, with particular attention to those who find the process very difficult. It is a short book consisting of an introduction, seven chapters, an afterword, references, and considerable resources.

The book consists of two sections that present similar content – Rainbows: The Colors of Saying Goodbye (three chapters), and Bridges: Crossing Over the River of Grief Together (four chapters). It is designed for broad consumption regardless of spiritual or religious orientation or none at all, providing meditations and readings that offer comfort through grieving. The authors give many exercises and suggestions for grieving at all the levels, through rituals that help us mourn. Rituals include writing about the pet, holding memorials, and remembering through sharing with friends, for example.

Of special interest in the second section of the book are memorial services for angel animals. Services are given for the various religious traditions and those targeted for Christians and Jews include readings from the Old Testament. The rituals include the scripture readings, lighting of candles, sharing a happy memory of the pet by each participant, music, and reading of a poem (provided in the text). This is an inclusive book that addresses all faith traditions without judgment, and therefore includes mourning rites for religious traditions that believe in reincarnation, for instance. The book is designed to direct the reader to those sections that conform to his or her personal spiritual practice or religious orientation. So, while it is interesting to read others’ orientations and to observe that all are more similar than different, one can easily skip everything except the parts of the book that focus on the preferred religious tradition. Hence, this is somewhat of an ecumenical book in that it provides acceptance and a friendly perspective between differing religions. Because of the organization of this text it is easy to navigate and find only those portions that relate to one’s religious customs and beliefs and focus one’s reading attention on those sections.

Personally, for our pets’ burial and memorial services we used (along with other Catholic prayers and readings) the authors’ All God’s Creatures Memorial Service that opens with a scripture reading, Job 12:7-10 (King James Version, given that this is not a Catholic book). “But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee. Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee; and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee. Who knoweth not in all these that the hand of the Lord hath wrought this? In Whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind.” For easier flow in reading I would prefer our Catholic New American Bible version, in which verse 8 is clearly different – “Or the reptiles on earth to instruct you, and the fish of the sea to inform you.” Nevertheless, both versions capture the sentiment and the reading is followed by two prayer selections, both of which are quite lovely. The first begins thusly: “[Pets’ name], you have returned to God, the Creator of earth and sky, humans and animals, and I will miss you. But I know that heaven would not be heaven without you there. So I believe that God will reunite us in body and spirit…” The second prayer selection captures feelings equally well and expresses sentiments that are particularly synchronous with my experience. “[Pet’s name], God gave me the gifts of your presence, your loyalty, and your courage, and I am grateful. With your faithfulness and compassion you reminded me how God loves – unconditionally. I miss you, my friend, but I know that God comforts us through our deepest sorrows. As He does with me, God comforts all of His creatures. He watched over and cared for you in life. When you walked through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, you feared no evil, for He is always with you.”

Chapter 5 includes a topic that is quite unique, ‘How to Handle a Disagreement with Your Religion’s Beliefs.’ (For your discernment) The authors begin this section with the statement that you decide what you believe, while understanding that the supports received from a religion might not be enough to reconcile the fact that the theology of a particular faith negates any possibility that animals and all of nonhuman creation have an afterlife. This can cause profound discontent and the Andersons give very sensitive and careful counsel to the reader who might be facing this situation and finding himself feeling alone and angry at God, unable to resolve disagreement on this important point.

Saying Goodbye to Your Angel Animals is a sensitively written and helpful guide to working through the grief and pain of losing a pet. It is filled with affirmations that resonate with all of us who have loving relationships with animals, our pets. And it provides very heartfelt rituals and practices to help the grieving person through mourning the loss of such a close companion and family member. I highly recommend this book, but offer a bit of a caveat. Read it along with Susi Pittman’s Animals in Heaven and Fr. Jack Wintz’s Will I See My Dog in Heaven? These two books, which I have read multiple times and will continue to re-read whenever I am called to it by the Holy Spirit, provide for Catholics the connection to our theological foundation and give us the points of agreement with our religious beliefs. Both also provide additional meditations that help deal with the loss and bring us close to the saints whose lives had defining points with the natural world, especially a love of and closeness with animals. Taken together these three little volumes reinforce each other’s message and provide major literary support for those experiencing loss of a pet, plus provide important mourning rituals as shared by the Andersons.

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Dr. Michele Gregoire has been Chair of the Education Department at Flagler College since 2004 and a member of the faculty since 1988. She came to Flagler College from Georgia College in Milledgeville where she had been Director of Music Therapy for four years and prior to that she spent one year in the same capacity at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. Dr. Gregoire earned her bachelor’s degree in Music Therapy at Florida State University, her master’s degree in Music at California State University at Long Beach, and her doctoral degree in Special Education at the University of Florida. She has conducted research and published articles related to music therapy and special music education, consistently maintains a strong record of professional conference presentations, and her current interests are historical research in music education, special education, and music therapy.

Dr. Gregoire has been involved in several professional organizations throughout her career, and has served in leadership capacities in most of them. She worked for ten years as a clinical music therapist and director of internship, specializing in developmental disabilities, at the beginning of her career and continues to provide consultation in both music therapy and special education to individuals and organizations.

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