Spiritually Speaking answers personal questions and concerns from a spiritual perspective. Local religious leaders taking part in the discussion include Mark Yeager/Chaplain YMCA of the Foothills; Jon Karn of Light on the Corner Church; Kimberlie Zakarian of Holy House Ministries; Pastor Terry Neven of Montrose Community Church; Skip Lindeman of La Cañada Congregational United Church of Christ; Rabbi Simcha Backman of Chabad of Glendale; Rabbi Janet Bieber of Jewish Community & Learning Center of the Foothills; Levent Akbarut of Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge; Betty Stapleford of Unitarian Universalist; Steve Marshall of CV United Methodist Church; Elaine Cho of La Cañada United Methodist Church; Holly Stauffer of St. Luke’s of the Mountains Episcopal Church; Beverly Craig of La Crescenta Center for Spiritual Living; Randy Foster of Christian Life Church; Centers for Spiritual Living Practitioners: Laney Clevenger-White, Sandra Shields, Anthony Kelson, Gary Bates; Marsalee Forrestar/Shamanic Practitioner; Mary Morgan of Redondo Beach Center for Spiritual Living; and Sharon Weisman, atheist/agnostic/secular humanist/free thinker. We welcome your questions and comments. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Responses are offered from the perspectives of individual clergy members, which may or may not be in agreement with other respondents of Spiritually Speaking nor the editor and staff of the Crescenta Valley Weekly.
Question: Ours is a loving family who loves our pets, who we consider part of our family. Last week, the back gate was left open accidentally by the gardener and our beloved terrier, Tippy, ran out into the street, was run over by a car and died. Our children, ages 4 and 6 want to blame the gardener and the driver of the car even though the driver stopped and called us. They also are asking if pets go to heaven.
Their father and I want to handle this in a way that is consoling and yet help them forgive what has happened. We’re asking for suggestions that will help our children (and ourselves) move through the grief in a loving, kind, effective way.
~ Pet Loving Family
Dear Pet Loving Family,
The loss of a loved one is hard on all members of a family. It doesn’t matter if the loved one is winged, four-legged or one of us. Loss is loss and pain is real. I think you and your husband are right to work towards forgiveness maybe even leading to reconciliation.
Too often people do not realize how traumatic and confusing death can be on a child. Children at different developmental stages of life understand loss very differently. 4-to-6 year olds and children in this age range have some understanding of death but it varies by household, religious culture and family norms. Typically kids relate to death in a way that seeks continued existence for the deceased. The pet in this case may be in heaven or considered to be living underground while continuing to eat, breathe and play.
Sometimes it may be considered asleep. A return to life may be expected if the child views death as temporary.
Some children also see death as contagious and begin to fear that their own death (or that of others) is imminent. They should be reassured that their death is not likely. Manifestations of grief often take the form of disturbances in bodily functions and eating and sleeping. This is best managed by parent-child discussions that allow the child to express feelings and concerns. Several brief discussions are generally more productive than one or two prolonged chats.
Children also tend to come back to the subject repeatedly so extreme patience is required when dealing with the grieving child.
Lastly we are so fortunate to have our spiritual teachings to inform us as well as many books and Internet sites that can offer assistance.
As a parent this is one of the most difficult and necessary aspects of life skill training we can share. The fact is we all will pass through these challenges.
Be gentle and loving, and keep loving your pets. Use your own faith to guide your talks and step forward in peace,
Rev. Gordon Clay Bailey
Dear Pet Loving Family,
I’m so sorry for the loss of your beloved Tippy, and for the sadness your children and you are feeling. It’s always so hard to lose a family pet. Your children have an opportunity at their young age to learn the power of forgiveness, and to understand that life is a series of losses and gains, ups and downs, and that you all will work through this moment in time. Sadly, there are accidents that cause loss and, gladly, life does go on. We are given time to heal the losses.
In forgiveness, we learn that not only does it release the emotions and energy about what happened in a situation, but also it releases the anger towards the “wrongdoer” and the sadness. It is not healthy to hold in anger. Science has proven that it is unhealthy for the body, mind and spirit. The gardener did not leave the gate open on purpose, and the driver did not intend to hit the dog. Both of them must feel very sad and somewhat responsible for what happened. Nothing can bring Tippy back physically, but now you all have sweet memories of your time together. You could even plant the seed that dogs and animals are always forgiving to their owners, and Tippy would want them to be forgiving towards the gardener and the driver.
There is a website, www.petloss.com, that is devoted to leaving messages for a departed pet. That would help your children feel like they are saying goodbye, and, mostly, honor their time with Tippy. There are also books for children in helping them understand loss. Regarding going to heaven, Tippy’s energy has moved on to a loving special place, and he/she is watching over them. And at some point, you may choose to get another dog. Maybe tell them that Tippy is helping them make the choice for a new pet. That way, they can feel that Tippy is always with them.
My thoughts are with you and your family in dealing with this life experience. My wish is that your children grow to understand and accept that loss is a part of life.
Laney Clevenger White, RScP
Question: I’ve known a couple of girls, who are sisters, since we were 10 years old. We are as close as biological sisters. One of them moved to another state and the other still lives near me and we see each other often. The problem is the one who lives here used to go to a certain nightclub and one night she drank too much, became very rowdy and was yelling crude remarks at the musicians. Because of that, she’s not allowed in that nightclub anymore. She mentioned to the out-of-state sister that she can’t go to that nightclub “ever” but didn’t tell her the reason. Now the out-of-state sister is asking me if I know and I don’t want to tell her because it will only make her feel bad. I just don’t think she needs that information.
Am I wrong in not telling her?
~ In a Pickle
Dear In a Pickle,
It is sweet that you are trying to protect your friend – both of them, actually. But by being quiet about the tipsy behavior (notice that I didn’t say “drunken” which sounds worse!), you may be hurting one or both. My first move would be to tell the sister who is out-of-state to ask her sister about what happened. If that doesn’t work, I would try to suggest to Miss Tipsy that she tell her sister the whole truth. You know, the out-of-state sister may have an inkling about her sister’s drinking problem, and you may not even know that she knows!
Anyway, if none of that works, I think I’d say to Miss Out-of-state something like, “I’m a little worried about your sister. She was tossed out of that club for some crude remarks she made to the musicians. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know for certain, but I think she may have overdone it a little with the booze, and therefore what she said wasn’t really her talking but the alcohol talking. I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but what are friends for if we can’t be honest with each other?”
Good luck. The truth hurts sometimes. But by your speaking up, you may even save your friend’s life, even if she and her sister may no longer regard you as their friend. But really, what are friends for if we can’t tell each other the truth? And if truth-telling ends the relationship, was that relationship really worth having? My answer is no.
The Rev. Skip Lindeman
Dear In a Pickle,
As I know you have already experienced, each of us will have many friendships in our lifetimes. God created us to be in companionship and in friendship with others. As you have shared, not only have you had two very special friends, but those relationships deepened in care, support and trust, and blessed your life with a connection that became an extended family. You have honored them in calling them and considering them your “sisters!” As you find yourself “In a Pickle” in wanting to maintain the level of connection that you all have shared in your friendship, I offer you these thoughts.
As much as all of you have mutually confided in and offered love and support to one another over the years of your “sisterhood,” in this event it is important to consider that at the foundation of your relationships are “individual” friendships. It would be my assumption that the strong bond of friendship that you have shared with these two women has been built on loyalty and trust. I understand your dilemma and appreciate that you have kept in confidence your friend’s circumstances. I believe that your loyalty to your local “sister” says a lot about you as a friend, a sister and a person. Proverbs 18:24 says, “Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family.” I pray for you that your long distance “sister” will value and support you in your decision as you have shown your continued loyalty, trust and genuine friendship to both of your sisters.
Montrose Community Church