It’s hard to believe it’s only a week away, and I’ve been planning what I will say, deeply musing on the cats I’ve known and those I know today, finding the connections that bring us all together.
I was flattered to be asked, and honored to accept, Deb Chebatoris’ invitation to speak at her annual Pet Memorial Sunday celebration on September 11.
I’ll be the third speaker with the topic of “The Joy of Pets”, about loving again after loss.
“You’ve certainly had your share of loss,” said Deb when she asked me if I’d consider speaking. “You write about this, your art is about this, and you work with people through your portraits in the midst of loss, and I certainly think you have valuable things to say on the topic.”
As part of the ceremony Deb has always had three speakers who discuss our relationships with our pets before, during and after their death. This year, Dr. Brad Carmichael of Pleasant Valley Veterinary Hospital in McMurray PA, will speak on “Our Last Moments Together”, covering how to determine it’s the end of your pet’s life and whether or not to choose euthanasia, and honoring that last time you have with your pet. Elizabeth Babcock, LCSW, will speak on “Our Initial Grief Response”, explaining that grief is totally normal in the loss of a pet and covering the different types of grief, how grief changes with time, and how to tell if you may need help with your grief.
I will then speak about loving another pet after loss. Certainly, having lost 13 cats over the years, I’ve experienced the change in my relationship with the ones who still share my home, and also found new love as new cats have come into my life.
And, as Deb said, I have not only my own experiences to draw from but others’ as well. Most often, my portraits are done as a remembrance, either in a stage of anticipatory grief, soon after losing the pet or some time afterward, and as I work with my customers to design the ideal portrait we discuss all the aspects of loss. I typically keep in touch with my clients, hearing news of the loss, of their healing, and of a new animal who enters their life.
In addition, in all the years I was rescuing cats I was also looking for homes for them, and shared many stories with people who had lost and were just getting ready to adopt again, hearing their hesitance and also, later, their joy at the new love.
I look forward to being able to discuss this joy with those attending the ceremony. I’ve attended nearly every year Deb has hosted her Pet Memorial Sunday celebration, in part because nearly every year I’ve lost another kitty, or two, and she has been the person to lovingly take care of their cremation, but I also want to be there even without a loss. And, more practically, I handle Deb’s publicity, advertising, website and social networking so I also photograph the event for her and just like to get a feel for how it goes. It will be interesting this year to be a part of the whole program.
Some of my writing
I have written extensively on the topic of “Pet Loss in the First Person”, and also chronicled the final treatments and loss of several of my own cats, such as Peaches last year as she turned “100” years old and we battled with kidney failure.
And in 2009, just before and after I lost Namir, I was honored to work on the illustrations for Karen Litzinger’s CD Heal Your Heart: Coping With the Loss of a Pet.
This year’s ceremony
The ceremony is on Sunday, September 11, 2011 from 2:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Melrose Cemetery in Bridgeville and everyone is welcome regardless of whether they are one of Deb’s families or when they lost, or will lose, their pet. Families are encouraged to bring a photo or memento of their pet to be displayed during the ceremony.
After we gather and greet and we speakers are finished is a reading of “Words of Tribute” written by pet owners who attend. Deb invites participants to write a 50-word tribute to commemorate and remember the lives they shared with their special pets, and has tips and examples on her website for composition.
“Keeping a tribute to your pet to only 50 words can be a challenge,” Deb says, “but limiting your remembrance to 50 words helps you to focus on the essential elements that made your pet special.” Also, attendance is usually between 30 and 40 persons, and Chebatoris wants to make sure everyone’s tribute is heard in the limited time scheduled for the gathering.
Next is the candle-lighting ceremony, and then the dove release as we watch the flock of white doves disappear into the tree tops and sky symbolizing our ability to let go of our precious companions.
The gathering is always held under a tent in the cemetery, and light refreshments are served afterward as families are invited to share their experiences with each other and speak to the presenters.
If you’re local, I hope you’ll join us. Even if you haven’t had a recent loss, the ceremony is cleansing and an opportunity to share special moments with others who love animals.
I received a happy e-mail this morning about Dreamy and Whispurr:
As you know we have found a WONDERFUL home for Dreamy & Whispurr with two great people who are local (which is good ..we can see them any time we want) .. They have been involved in rescue for many years..they have had the girls for two weeks and have already gained their trust and they love them. We were so fortunate to find such wonderful new owners and the girls have been blessed to be in a warm and loving 2nd home.
Thank you for all you did to get the word out we are truly grateful to you and Rose Weber and your contacts.
God Bless you all for all you do.
Bob & Pattie Stanko
I thanked them for letting me know! I don’t always get to hear the follow-up, but I truly love a happy ending like this.
And I also thanked Bob and Pattie for taking in the girls unexpectedly, understanding their needs and being very careful with their new adoptive home, especially after their own loss of the human loved one who was Dreamy and Whispurr’s person.
As I said then, don’t dismiss a kitty because she’s older! I had five wonderful years with Peaches that felt like a lifetime, and these girls are two years younger than that.
Here’s a link to the original post: Two Senior Scottish Folds, Owner Died, Need Home
One night in early April, 1988, still with patches of snow on the frozen earth, a very small, very pregnant cat sang a little song to me out in the alley, politely but confidently asking if she could come into my home to give birth to her kittens. Of course, I said “yes”, and ten days later I witnessed the entrance to life of four independent and individualistic progeny. The last one born stayed with me after the others were adopted; the “runt of the litter”, the little cat with the big attitude, a torbie who loved only me, my Fawn.
This was my first full-color portrait of one of my cats, and she led the way to all the other commissioned portraits of animal companions I’ve done in the past 20 years.
This is Fawn’s story in Great Rescues Calendar and Gift Book
Creating the portrait, this first one just for me
And so it was, though I had no idea at the time that I was launching a new career. And looking at this painting even today, I have no idea how I did it then. I didn’t have the skill, insight, ability to visualize or any of the ephemeral abilities I have now, but I managed to see the essential details and put them on paper.
But I didn’t set out to create a portrait—that was all in the future—and, for this last time, with the knowledge that I never needed to show it to anyone, ever, if I didn’t think it was acceptable.
I painted this in 1989, just about three years after I began seriously working my way through learning to draw simply by drawing all the time, after work at night and on the weekend. It is painted in pastel, but when I began I hadn’t even purchased real pastels yet, I was still working largely in colored chalk. I purchased an inexpensive student set of pastels and continued working with the new colors, then purchased individual pastels and pastel pencils, then just got a part time job at the art store because everything was so darned expensive and I was hooked.
I remember looking at the photo I’d taken the year before when Fawn was a kitten and thinking “that would make a nice painting”—so funny to think of now as I look at other photos every day and think the same thing, 23 years later, and then I’d hardly even call myself a beginner. The nerve of me! Of course, I adored Fawn being excessively cute when she ran under the bed and peeked out, waiting for me to walk by so she could pop out and grab my ankle, and my inspiration was just as much to share her and her antics as it was to produce a good painting. Really, that hasn’t changed in all these years.
But I was also intrigued by the “white” dust ruffle, seeing for perhaps the first time all the colors that make up a true white object in a painting. I really, really wanted to paint this, fairly large, and in color. I wasn’t visualizing it as realistic as it is, more impressionistic was the style I had in mind. I can see the influence of Mimi Vang Olsen, and Lowell Herrero, two artists whose feline images were very popular then, appearing on many gift items I received, and I was influenced by the flattening of some angles and simplification of pattern.
At that time I found it difficult to loosen up my style. I had worked on my skills just in basic drawing to the point where I felt I had a good bit of control over what my hands were doing, but the image I produced no longer looked stiff or forced, at least most of the time. But I loved the Impressionists, and I wanted to paint like that!
It wasn’t to be for this painting, and in many ways I’m glad. This painting took me months, in part because I was intent on matching the shade of yellow in the gingham bedspread and also quibbling with myself about all the details that weren’t “perfect”, such as the nicks and scratches on the bedpost, the wrinkle in the rug, and, of course, the wrinkles in the dust ruffle and bedspread. I was embarrassed at my housekeeping, but an artist friend of mine convinced me that those were the things that added interest and character to the painting. I learned so much more in the art of painting what I actually visualize rather than what I know, and adding what I feel.
After all the time spent on other details, Fawn the kitten was sketched in there in probably just a few hours! And while I do like the simplicity of her face I sometimes wish I had made Fawn’s eye as round as it actually is because it adds that essence of excitement to her look that truly makes it a cute kitten, and Fawn.
In the end, this was the painting I looked at and said to myself, “I think I can really do this,” and the painting others looked at and asked, “Can you paint my cat too?” The rest is all in my portfolio, and for this reason, Fawn’s portrait is the first portrait in my first Great Rescues calendar, a tribute to the kitten who led me to that part of myself that could find the essence of my animal portrait subject and bring my portraits to life.
Fawn was a real live wire as a kitten—always swinging from something and talking about it—and was very attached to me; I had known her from her first moment of life and I was always honored at being the the only living being in the world Fawn liked.
And even though, years later, we’d moved and changed the bedspread and dust ruffle, at least once a day when I went upstairs Fawn still dove under the bed and peeked out, waiting for me to walk past so that she could leap out and grab my foot. Little did I know when I chose to paint this when Fawn was about one year old that this moment would be one I would seriously want to remember.
And especially so, when a mere ten years later I lost her to lymphoma, though through the pain of my grief she sent me a wonderful sign that she accepted what had happened; read The Balloon.
And Fawn has inspired other works, most notably “Fawnball” and the series of block prints entitled “Tabbies“.
I will always be thankful to Fawn for giving me this gift. She is one of the family of cats in the dedication to this calendar:
Thank you, Kublai, Sally, Stanley, Allegro, Moses and Fawn,
my first feline family, for patiently showing me the way;
only gone from this mortal life, you are immortal in everything I create.
Here is Fawn’s page in Great Rescues:
Read other stories about cats and their rescuers from Great Rescues.
Learn more about Great Rescues Calendar and Gift Book