Memorialising our pets: how poems can help us mourn and remember

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remembering a beloved pet - the poetry of mary oliver

Poetry – our own or others’, it doesn’t matter – is such a powerful way to express anguish and to mourn and remember the dead.

In the last post, I said we’d come back to the poet Mary Oliver. Afterwards, I remembered that she was a dog-lover. Here at the Trust website, we don’t intend to leave cats and other critters out of the mix! And we won’t. But Oliver was also an outstanding poet who wrote honestly and hopefully about the natural world and everything and everyone in it. If you’re interested, try her Wild Geese which she reads here

A ready-made family in Nature

Her point that we have a ready-made family in Nature makes such sense to me when it comes to our pets. The dear old black dog up the road was a prime example. He was such a joyful, welcoming soul. If he saw you on a walk, he’d come lolloping over stiffly from afar, with a windmilling tail. I just learned that he died recently. He had lived 12 years and had a fine dog’s life. I shall miss his happy presence, as his people surely do.

It turns out that a retired scholar writes memorials in Latin for deceased pets and gives the translations. Things like:

  • Weep for my misfortune all dog lovers, Russell has died, the darling of our home […]

And

  • […] Be happy among the shades, you well-loved cat […]

How’s that for flowery language – and why not? Immense loss sometimes calls for nothing less.

Heart-rending honesty and beauty

Other poets express their love of animals and sense of loss differently, but with heart-rending honesty and beauty. This poem by Gavin Ewart about his own cat says it all. And elsewhere on the Trust site, you may have seen the poem about a dog called Major written by his  grieving owner. You can read his tribute here.

The Rainbow Bridge piece is another winner and well-known to most of us. And, Mary Oliver also expressed her feelings about her dogs. Her collection Dog Songs says lots of lovely things. In The First Time Percy Came Back, she ponders the mystery of death, in a dream she had about a beloved dog, now dead. Here she is, reading it.

But, back to you…

These days of coronavirus are such strange and sad times for us humans. The demands of lockdown make the pains of any bereavement all the harsher.

To contain our grief for our pets out of respect for those bereaved by Covid-19 – and for the frontline workers who have died from it – shows great solidarity and generosity of heart. That does not make it easy. It is not, especially if we don’t have the space or privacy we need to express our own grief.

Caroline Hewson

 

Author: Caroline Hewson MRCVS
Caroline Hewson is a vet and has a PhD in animal behaviour. She writes and gives talks that translate research relevant to pets’ end of life into points to keep in mind. 

 

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If you are coping with the loss of your dog, cat or any animal companion, the Trust’s Bereavement pages are here to support you. And, if you have a poem or epitaph for a pet that you would like to share, don’t hesitate to post it on our Facebook page.