Chaplain initiates pet grief therapy
Loma Linda University Medical Center chaplain Beth Gilbert (top, center) is pictured with members of the first pet grief group held at the Medical Center.
A dying patient at Loma Linda University Medical Center once asked Medical Center chaplain Beth Gilbert if she thought he would see his best friend again in heaven. His best friend was his dog. And if he couldn’t be there with his dog, he didn’t want to go.
That conversation and many others like it prompted Chaplain Gilbert to initiate a support group devoted to individuals who suffered the lost of a beloved pet.
“I work with individuals every day on many grief areas. There are support groups for people who lose a family member, but not for individuals who lose pets—and those individuals can grieve just as deeply.
“Mourning the loss of a beloved pet can be a difficult process,” Chaplain Gilbert says, “and finding support through this vulnerable time can sometimes be just as challenging as losing a human loved one. Pet grief therapy can be helpful in providing support through the healing process.”
Loma Linda University Medical Center chaplain services facilitates a quarterly pet grief seminar specializing in the loss of a pet.
“This seven-part seminar provides insight and support for grieving people. It also provides adults with ways to help their children who are grieving the loss of a pet,” Chaplain Gilbert continues.
Group time is made up of short videos and explanations of how grief affects individuals and offers attendees the opportunity to share, discuss, and ask questions. Chaplain Gilbert follows up with each participant after the seven-week session has concluded.
Why do people become attached to their pets? They are part of the family, according to local veterinarians. Many pets don’t sleep outside—the sleep inside with the family and often share beds with family members.
“Often times in today’s culture, a lot of people feel, ‘It’s only a dog or cat. Get over it!’ People who’ve lost a pet don’t feel they can go to a grief recovery group where someone is talking about losing their 3-year-old child when they lost their 3-year-old dog. Our culture doesn’t see it as equal. But it still hurts,” Chaplain Gilbert notes.
Chaplain Gilbert says she knows of individuals who have committed suicide over the death of a pet because they can’t cope with their grief.
In addition to watching videos and sharing and discussing the loss of pets, attendees are given several writing assignments.
Local veterinarians are participating in the project, according to Chaplain Gilbert. Forty veterinarians in the local area are assisting in making pet grief group brochures available to their clients.
“One of the writing assignments is for the participant to write a short essay on how he or she met their pet. Another is to write a letter from the pet’s viewpoint to his or her owner. And finally, participants are encouraged to write a letter to their departed pet.”
Following is a letter from Chaplain Gilbert’s first pet grief support group.
“Dear Twain: I’ve been putting this off all day. I don’t know what to write except I miss you every day. I’m sorry I yanked on your collar that Thursday. I didn’t know you were so sick. I’m sorry if there was more I could have done to help you not be so thirsty.
“I just can’t get any other dog. I know I said ‘I’d never not have a poodle ever again,’ but I don’t want any except you. I did get a little cat which I really don’t want, but Franklin needed a playmate. And he does love to play with her.
“I took Franklin to Camp Canine last weekend. He really liked it. I always wanted you to go there. Hopefully now you can go there whenever you want to.
“I miss you and love you more than anything.”
For more information on the pet grief group, call chaplain services at (909) 558-4367.
By Richard Weismeyer