Something magical has been happening on Monday nights for the past 17 years. People from all over the globe gather in an online chat room and participate in a ceremony to honor their ailing or deceased pets. The website Petloss.com http://www.petloss.com supports those who are struggling with the loss of a pet, and the Monday night Rainbow Bridge ceremony is one of the tools used as a healing ritual to help people cope with their grief.
Ed Williams started the site in 1995 and it has provided counsel and support to thousands of people who are dealing with sickness and death. The Monday night service is open to all and sometimes there are hundreds of people sharing in the ceremony – all are connected by the loss of a loved one and the immediacy of the internet. The services is about 15 minutes long and is non-denominational. EdW hosts it and the content focuses upon expressing the love we felt and still feel for our animal friends, and that someday we will meet again in a joyous reunion.
Most pet owners have heard about the Rainbow Bridge. It is the metaphor for death and when an animal loses its life due to illness, accident or age, he/she is said to travel over and beyond the Rainbow Bridge. In the utopic place, all animals are restored to health and can again enjoy the things they love most. Dogs can sniff and roam and chase. Cats can purr and pounce. Birds will be able to lift their wings and soar freely in the sky. It’s a beautiful sentiment and one that can ease just a bit the ache in a heart that is missing a once beloved pet.
I had heard of the Rainbow Bridge but did not know about PetLoss.com, the healing ritual or Ed Williams until a friend shared the link with me. When Gelbert passed two weeks ago, I felt deep sadness and loss. I am not afraid to show my grief for him. After all, he was a constant part of my world for almost 16 years. But I do understand that some people may be shy about expressing their full emotions in regards to the loss of a pet. After all, some might say, it was only an animal…It’s not like you lost a child. But people who think like this have never felt toward an animal the way so many of us do. For so many people, a pet is family; a dog or cat is a surrogate child. We call them fur-babies and dote on them as much as any parent for his/her child. EdW gets it, as do most of the others who sign into the site, post tributes to their pets on the wall, and log on at the appropriate time on Monday night to take part in the Rainbow Bridge ceremony. It’s a beautiful, peaceful time to read through the poems and uplifting words posted by EdW and to know that so many others are doing the same. It is comforting to know you are not alone in your grief. So many other kind and generous souls are also hurting, wishing their pet was with them again.
At the end of the official ceremony, EdW signs off and reiterates that love, compassion and kindness are universal emotions and ones that can unite us all. We may come from different places in the world, hold different value and belief systems, or pray to different gods. These do not matter when it comes to the feelings of love or loss. We can find common ground in the fact that we deeply love our families, our animals and that when they pass, we deeply grieve them. The services, that is translated into 13 languages, attempts to highlight these simple themes, to create a space of community. When EdW says good-night and God Bless Us All, the chat room screen lights up. Everyone who has sat quietly and read through the service, lit 3 candles to honor their pet, can now begin to speak…well, to write.
The chat room becomes a noisy and boisterous place, with the screen scrolling line after line of comments. Most people thank EdW for his words, the generosity of his site. Many more post notes to their pets who have crossed over the bridge. Words of love, of longing….promises that the pet who has gone will never be forgotten…thank yous to the pets who so generously spent their brief time on earth with us, teaching us daily about caring, forgivenss and living in the moment. In this post-cermemony we can see the effects an animal can have on a human’s life. It doesn’t matter what kind of animal, what breed of cat or dog or rabbit. For those of us who open are hearts and homes to a furry or feathery companion, the connection is real.
I am missing my Gelbert terribly. I miss our long walks, our daily snuggles, the way he talked to me by sneezing and snuffling, or wiggling his little nub of a tail when he was excited. But I know he was hurting, his aging body giving out on him so that the daily activities we once took for granted – like eating, going potty or simply standing up – were too hard on him. I do not miss seeing him struggle or imagining that he is in pain. I know he is free now; he has rejoined that great force of love beyond our earthly plane. I imagine him sliding over a colorful rainbow bridge and landing in a field of spongy green grass. Lush trails and streams abound and he can run, explore, and play with all the friends he has found there. He is a robust, healthy boy again. I know he knows he is missed, he is grieved. There will never be another Gelbert and he will forever live in our hearts.
I do hope EdW is right and that one day we will all be reunited with our pets in a world that knows no sickness or aging, in a world where we can once again be side by side. I am grateful that I found the PetLoss site and the Rainbow Bridge ceremony. It is a gift from a stranger, someone who understands the deep and profound love that can exist between human and animal. It makes me feel good to feel connected to so many other people who value their pets as I do and to know that on Monday nights, if we log on at the right time, we can all share our grief and memories and gratitude together. I imagine the soft yet insistent light emitted by the 3 candles lit by every participant glowing quietly all over the earth, little lights of recognition and welcome to the pets who are waiting for us beyond the Rainbow Bridge.