Contributed by: Allen and Linda Anderson, co-founders of Angel Animals Network, www.angelanimals.net
We receive many stories from people who have recently lost a pet. They want us to include their memories in the books we write and our “Angel Animals Story of the Week” newsletter. We often wonder why so many people wait until their pets die to write about them. It’s like hearing eulogies and thinking, “Did the speaker tell the person these special things?”
In our book about pet loss we included a story that demonstrates how important and meaningful a pet photo can be.
The following is an excerpt from Saying Goodbye to Your Angel Animals: Finding Comfort after Losing Your Pet by Allen and Linda Anderson, published by New World Library, 2005:
When Joanne Nobrega’s children were little, Joanne found what she calls the “dog of my heart.” Her family adopted a fluffy, energetic, nipping, and challenging five-month old yellow Lab named Brandy. This dog saw Joanne’s children through their growing-up years. When Joanne’s sons left home, Brandy remained to fill her and her husband’s empty nest.
After fifteen years of Brandy’s love and friendship, the dog developed kidney disease. One sad Thanksgiving Day, Joanne and her husband stayed home to cuddle on the floor with their dying pet, stroking his velvet ears, and praying for the strength to say goodbye to him. On the following Saturday, the family lit a candle, formed a circle around Brandy, and loved him as the dog passed away.
Brandy’s death unbalanced Joanne like nothing she had ever experienced. She began to wonder if the weight of her grief was normal. At last she had to, as she put it, “lean into the pain instead of fighting it any longer.”
Joanne’s sadness that year was deepened by an exceptionally wet, gray winter. She looked out her window at the places where Brandy used to play and prayed to see a rainbow. Thinking of the Rainbow Bridge story, she believed that such a rainbow would be the sign she needed to reassure her that Brandy was now part of the essence of life.
For days after her initial prayer, Joanne continued to stand at her bay window and search the skies in hope of finding a rainbow. An absence of the answer to her prayer only added to her pain.
One especially dreary afternoon I picked up a set of pictures that had just been developed, but these were not just any pictures. They were the last ones we had taken with our dear pet on the day before he died. I came home, sat at the kitchen table, and dropped the package in front of me. I wanted to see them, but at the same time, I trembled at the thought of viewing Brandy’s tired, worn face, alive then and gone now.
I peeled open the package. One by one, I drank in the sweet brown eyes staring back at me. Memories of him flooded my thoughts. I noticed that there were other pictures of Brandy I had not remembered taking. As I looked at them through my tears, I heard my own gasp break the silence of my empty house. Right there, across Brandy’s head and his velvet ear, was a rainbow. He had been lying under a skylight. The reflection of the glass painted my answered prayer across his brow.
This was the moment; this was my encounter with my Comforter. The glow of the rainbow warmed my heart with the promise that had been given. I knew that I was not, and never would be, left alone. I had my sign that all was well, that in the whole scheme of life, this was not out of God’s plan. This was the cycle of life, birth, death, and renewal.
Seeing a rainbow in the sky would not have had the same impact as the rainbow’s colors pressed like a halo over my precious dog’s head. I will always remember that day at my kitchen table. The day the promise was given, the day my yellow Lab became my “Rainbow Dog."
Writing a story about and having photographic portraits made for a beloved animal draws up feelings of love and gratitude. Don’t wait. Enjoy the process of celebrating a good animal friend while you can still hug him or her after you honor a life well lived.