Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation 2011 Tribute Scroll

opening slide to tribute scroll

Tribute Scroll 2011

Deb Chebatoris and I are pleased to bring the second annual Tribute Scroll to you. I am personally pleased with the way the idea became reality.

The Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation Tribute Scroll includes photos and written tributes from families who have attended the annual Pet Memorial Sunday.

A slide from the Tribute Scroll

Every year Deb encourages Pet Memorial Sunday participants to provide photos of their pets and a written tribute of 50 words or fewer. In 2010 we decided to begin this new tradition and offer something families could visit even after Pet Memorial Sunday as a memory of the event and as a lasting tribute to their pet.

I enjoy the event as do all of Deb’s families who participate, but we’re always trying to think of other things to offer in between. I know how much I love to revisit events and people who brought me comfort after one of my losses, and how just seeing a favorite photo can make a pet seem so close.

I’ve been working with photo and presentation slideshows for myself and other customers, and as Pet Memorial Sunday drew near I remembered listening to the tributes from past events and looking at the photos, and just being there with everyone, I began envisioning a beautiful and reverent presentation of each family’s pet or pets and its tribute. This could be on the website, well, forever, or at least as long as the website is there. We’d do a new one every year, perhaps add music to make the experience feel loving and relaxing.

I proposed it to Deb and she liked the idea too, and asked families to provide a digital image of their photo if possible.

I had initially only visualized the photos and tributes fading into one another, a pet’s image followed by the written tribute, but the idea grew as I worked on it. Some families didn’t provide a photo so I used images from my own stock of nature, flowers, butterflies and beautiful skies in the place of the pet’s image, somehow relating the image to something about the pet mentioned in the tribute if possible. Then, rather than fade out the image of the pet and run the tribute over top of it, I also chose other images of nature to use as a backdrop. I felt having the words obscuring the pet’s image was somehow disrespectful and also distracting from the moving tributes people had written, and a lovely image of nature can only be more calming. I was just so excited to be able to use my images for this.

As her “publicist”, I photograph all of Deb’s major events, and the slideshow also includes parts of the introduction and closing remarks from Pet Memorial Sunday along with my photos of the memory tables and the dove release.

And I have to warn you, get some tissues ready. It’s not sad, simply very moving to see these everyday pet photos and read the words of the families, sharing this experience even virtually. After watching it repeatedly in the past few weeks you’d think I’d be a little bit immune to it, but when I take a little break and watch it again, off I go sprouting tears.

I don’t have any of my precious kitties in it this year…where would I start? I was a speaker at the event this year, though.

We were initially going to use a piece of music either Deb or I would create or something we could find on the internet, but Deb met a musician who agreed to compose original music for the production.

A slide from the Tribute Scroll.

When you visit the website and click on the link, the Tribute Scroll will open in a new window on top of the page you are viewing and will begin to play after about five seconds. If the page does not open, make sure you temporarily allow pop-ups.

The slideshow is about eight minutes long and pauses on each image and each tribute long enough for you to read be able to ponder and appreciate them. You can also pause and resume the slideshow and scroll through the thumbnails to one you’d like to see using the controls at the bottom of the screen.

Each year, we’ll add another slideshow from the next Pet Memorial Sunday, but all the shows will remain on the “Tribute Scroll” page, so bookmark it!

Please feel free to post any comments about the Tribute Scroll here. We’d love to hear what you think.


My Loss and Redemption: The Joy of Pets

photo of black cat on drawing table

Mimi on Drawing Table, with Lucy's Rainbows

This is my written notes for my talk at the 2011 Pet Memorial Sunday celebration hosted by Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation. I know I wandered a bit from what is here, but this is the basis of it. I’ve never had the opportunity to speak in this forum before, and I was more than gratified—and surprised—by the compliments I received afterward.

THE JOY OF PETS

I was very honored when Deb asked me to speak on this subject. I am one of Deb’s families, several times over, and am so glad I found her.

Among other things I do, I have the pleasure of creating commissioned portraits of others’ cherished pets, though often the choice is made to create the portrait when the loss is imminent or may have recently happened, or a family may decide a while after that a portrait is an appropriate remembrance.

When I create a portrait I not only use photos, I also use stories, and even if I get to meet an animal I want to hear about my subject’s personality from the people who love that animal. Part of what I do in creating a portrait is working with families around their loss and I am honored that they choose to share that with me, that they trust their thoughts and feelings in my care.

As a person who’s rescued and fostered cats and kittens for about 25 years I’ve also seen my own share of loss, both in sending fosters off to good and loving adoptive homes and in the losses of the cats who came to share my life.

Of those cats who shared my home and became a permanent part of my feline family for some period of time, I have lost 13. I say now that it is never easy, but I have learned to prepare myself for the experience and know what at least seems normal for myself.

I’m going to tell a little story of my own loss and redemption, of loving again after a loss. It has a happy ending.

Lucy With Rug 1

Lucy with Rug 1

In 2006 and 2007, I lost my four oldest cats, three of them among my longest-lasting friends. During that year of loss I fostered a litter of kittens born to a neighbor’s cat, found homes for three and one stayed with me. I didn’t want a kitten because caring for geriatric animals in their end stages is time-consuming and emotionally exhausting and I felt I had no time for a kitten. But the little black sweetheart seemed to understand my distraction, and after my Stanley, at age 25, finally let go of his love of this world, I turned my attention to my Lucy, my new life, and the remaining four of my feline family.

But when I had Lucy spayed three months later, she was diagnosed with feline infectious peritonitis, a form of it that is always fatal, and I lost her three months after that.

My heart was broken. I was beyond grief, I was simply numb after all that loss, so quickly, and in part unexpected. After a house regularly full of about nine cats, I had only four and for a house that rescues and fosters animals, that is empty.

And those four were between the ages of 12 and 17, and one of them had a serious heart condition and I was aware that I could lose him unexpectedly at any time. They suddenly looked to me like potential sources of pain, and I knew that I needed to do something quickly to save myself.

photo of garden with black cat

Garden With Maia

The day Lucy died, I saw her mother, who belonged to a neighbor who never bothered to have her fixed, in my yard, the petite black kitty laden with another litter of kittens in her belly. The thought flashed into my mind that I needed to take her in, her and her kittens.

No, I thought, the last thing I need is a litter of kittens, especially if one of them might also have FIP. But the idea persisted—get this kitty off the streets and get her fixed, especially if she might be carrying FIP. I called my veterinarian hoping she’d tell me “No, it’s too dangerous, you have enough cats, you’ve had enough loss, don’t do it.” Instead, she paused and then said, “I think that would be a good idea.”

I discussed with her and other veterinarians the risks and we determined I could safely do this. I asked the neighbor to just give me the mother cat this time instead of just the kittens. She said that would be fine.

cat nursing kittens

Mimi Nursing Kittens

By the time I had the space ready the kittens were three days old. I gingerly carried the box upstairs and opened the lid. The mother cat looked up at me and stepped out, calm and collected. I placed the kittens on the fleece bed in the cage and she went in to clean and nurse them.

I was afraid I’d be afraid of them too—looking for signs of illness, but after tentatively petting them a few times I picked up each one, then picked up all of them in one big handful and kissed them. I did that repeatedly several times a day, something that’s not really advised with newborn kittens, and that mother cats don’t really care for, but their mom watched me with understanding, and the kittens grew quickly, normally and strong.

I forgot to look for signs of illness, and there were none anyway. When it came time to spay and neuter them all, I had though I’d finally have my moment of fear because that was when Lucy was diagnosed, but by then I had forgotten all about FIP.

kittens in cat bed

From top, Mewsette, Jelly Bean, Giuseppe (with the green paint on his ear), Mr. Sunshine.

And in the process I invited their mom, Mimi to join my household, and all my seniors joined in watching the kittens and beginning to teach them how to be cats. Mimi and her babies are still with me, all involved in a study of FIP, and my newest subjects for art and writing.

That type of total immersion in loving again is an extreme case, but I know that for me, bringing that family into my life was the only thing that could heal my broken heart in the way it did. Now I could not imagine my life without them, just as I couldn’t imagine my life without any of the cats who came after other losses.

And that’s because, like everyone here, I find it necessary to share my life with animals, and once we do, we always do, though our time of healing is different for each of us.

If we even consider adopting again, we may feel we are betraying the pet we’ve lost, that we may be trying to replace the cherished companion who is gone or worst of all that if we move on that they will be forgotten.

And while the loss is fresh, the memory of the pain of loss is just too real.

But our bonds of love are never the same in any two relationships, and our hearts are big enough to hold a lifetime of loves. As I look through all those years of photos and see all the ones I’ve lost, I don’t remember their loss, I remember their love, I remember the years they spent with me.

I’ve known people who’ve gone right out and adopted another pet, others who waited months or years, or simply waited until another animal in need showed up on their doorstep, and still others who have never adopted again, preferring instead to remember and cherish the pets they’d lost. For each of them, the decision was right.

The important thing was that it was their decision, they were comfortable with the situation and they felt it best honored their pet.

As your period of grieving progresses, you may find your home feels empty, and you miss not only the pet you’ve lost but the companionship in general, the sharing of your routines and your space.

But mostly, we choose to live with pets because of that bond we have with them that we can’t even have with another human, that total devotion and unconditional love that is the gift we share with an animal.

And our precious animal companions remember how we filled their life when we adopted them—surely they’d want that for another animal. And, in life, they always wanted, and often worked hard for, our happiness as part of their love for us, and they would be the best to know that the love of a pet is essential for their human, and would not want us to be sad and lonely.

As much as you loved, so deeply do you grieve, but the grief wears away and leaves only the love, like a diamond. Look back through your photos and see your lifetime of pets, and what do you remember? Not the grief, only the love.

————————-

You know the kittens and mother cat in this story as Mimi and the Fantastic Four. This is how we began, and probably one of the reasons I didn’t work too hard to find a home for them when the time came—though a family of adult black cats is not the easiest to place, but in truth, I’m glad for that. I will always remember that time of intense grief and the joy of healing and loving again, every time I look at them.


Pet Memorial Sunday 2011

white doves

The Dove Release

Pet Memorial Sunday 2011

The rain moved all around us but never fell on our tent as nearly 50 people found a place to share their grief and joy, remembering their pets.

Deb Chebatoris, owner of Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation and host of the event for the seventh year, opened with a welcome, and a moment of silence in recognition of the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001.

She continued with a thank you to those who attended the pet memorial on this special day. “And this being Pittsburgh,” she continued, “I want to thank you for choosing to attend this ceremony while the Steelers are playing the first game of the season,” eliciting a murmur of chuckles as attendees smiled at each other and relaxed.

table with photos

Table with photos and mementos.

“Let’s hope the rain holds off for us,” she said explaining where we would go if we needed to take shelter other than the tent, “but if it does rain, it will just be like our tears. This is a safe place to cry.”

Those attending are usually families of Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation who have lost a pet in the past year, or even in years past. Families gather and are encouraged to bring a photo or memento of their pet to place on the table and display board at the front of the tent during the ceremony.

The program includes two speakers, a reading of brief tributes sent by the families in attendance, the release of doves and then a final speaker.

Our Last Moments Together

The first speaker was Dr. Brad Carmichael of Pleasant Valley Veterinary Clinic who spoke about “Our Last Moments Together” with our pet.

“I’m sorry you even have a reason to be here,” he began, and then went on to discuss being with your pet before or during its death, and the decision of euthanasia.

dr carmichael

Dr. Brad Carmichael

“If anyone here has any doubts, regrets or guilt about that decision, put them aside,” Dr. Brad said. “Think about this—when we get together and talk about how we’d prefer to die, what do we say? We’d like to go in our sleep. And isn’t this what we’ve done for our beloved pets? If you made that decision, you’ve given a gift,” he continued.

He then presented a framed, hand-lettered verse entitled, “The Veterinarian’s Prayer”.

“A client gave me this in thanks, and it pretty much sums up how I feel about what I do,” he said, then read the text to us.

A VETERINARIAN’S PRAYER

Heavenly Father, I offer myself as an instrument of kindness and shelter
to the wondrous animals that You’ve entrusted to my care.
I ask you to enlighten and strengthen me
and to keep me as gentle as Thou would be.

O Lord, may you always hear this prayer–
Please be with me and be my helping hand
and when it seems I sometimes fail,
please help me to understand.
For even though You’ve given us our animals
for pleasure and to serve,
we thank You for Your gift to us through
the care they richly deserve.

Heavenly Father, please be merciful
to the animals who are in pain and to those who are ill
and hear my pledge as a veterinarian to serve and
always obey Your will.

©92 Patty Temple

Our Initial Grief Response

The next speaker was Elizabeth Babcock, LCSW, who also moderates the “Healing Hearts” pet loss session CCPC holds every February and also numbers among CCPC families, spoke about “Our Initial Grief Response”.

“If you’re feeling awful right now, you can’t sleep, you don’t want to eat, you don’t want to talk to anyone, all you want to do is cry, then you’re in a pretty normal state for grief,” she said.

Elizabeth Babcock, LCSW

“Grief is a normal, healthy response to the life-altering loss you’ve suffered,” she said, and went on to remind us that our loss has touched every part of our life physically and emotionally and so we feel grief just as much physically in energy, sleep habits and appetite, as emotionally, in our tears and simply in our thought processes.

“Grief can be frightening in its intensity, and it seems to go on and on, as if it will never end,” Elizabeth continued. “We tend to try to hide it, and our society wants us to feel better right away so we don’t have to see that grief,” she said, “but that’s often the worst thing you can do. You have to let it run its course, in a way that is right for you.”

She reviewed what to expect as we mourn a loss, that we may relive the loss again at anniversaries and we may find ourselves wanting to perform or repeat activities that make no sense, but are part of a normal response.

“If you find yourself wanting to put down the food bowl at mealtimes, even though your pet is gone, just go ahead and do it, let yourself go through that ritual for a few days afterward,” Elizabeth said. “You’ve done that every day for how long? And it was a happy part of your day? And you expect yourself to stop wanting to do that? It’s okay, you need to do that,” she continued.

Allow your feelings to happen, she advised, and do whatever feels right for yourself within reason, and give yourself a break from grieving now and then so that you don’t exhaust yourself. Let your grief unfold in its own way and for as long as you need, and both seek the company of others who “get it” and avoid those who don’t. Lower your expectations of yourself for a while, she continued, and take good care of yourself.

But grief is a process and does eventually come to an end. If you feel that your grieving process is getting out of your control, or if a person you love and trust tells you they feel you may not be healing from your grief, then this has become “complicated grief” and it’s perfectly appropriate to seek help.

Family Tributes

Deb encourages families to compose tributes of up to 50 words for their pets to be read aloud as part of the ceremony and includes guidelines and samples on her website. These were read alternately by Deb and Bernadette Kazmarski, another speaker, turning the rain stick between each one.

A sample tribute: “Lindy, Calvin and Hobbes, you were some of my best friends in this life and I am forever a better person for the years I spent with each of you.  Thank you for all you gave, for all you made possible, and for the countless memories that will always make me smile.  You were – each of you in your own unique way – the very best. –Elizabeth”

The Dove Release

Everyone stepped outside the tent for the release of doves, symbolizing the ability to let go of cherished pets and let them fly free while still loving them, watching the graceful white birds wheel and swirl among the trees, disappearing into the sky, listening to Celine Dion’s “Fly”.

The Joy of Pets

Then there was me to speak about the joy of pets, and loving another pet after a loss.

“I am one of Deb’s families, several times over,” she began, “and I am so glad I found her.”

I paint commissioned portraits of pets, and often they are commissioned around a pet’s loss so I work with grieving families as part of my artwork, hoping to help ease their grief with a portrait that commemorates what they loved about their pet or family of pets.

I have also rescued and fostered cats for about 25 years, and in that time have had my own share of losses, 13 to be exact, and while it’s never easy I do have an idea what to expect and use that to help others.

“But I’ve weaseled out of adopting again by simply letting nature bring me more fosters and never making the choice because I never felt comfortable in choosing,” I said, and began a story of my own “loss and redemption”.

I related the story of the loss of my four oldest cats all within one year, then the loss of Lucy to FIP, a kitten I’d fostered during that year who ended up staying with me.

“My heart was broken,” I said, “I was beyond pain, simply numb. My house, usually full of cats, felt empty with only the four still with me, all seniors, one with a serious heart condition, and in my state of mind they simply looked like sources of more pain,” I continued. “I had to do something serious to keep myself from going down that path.”

Lucy’s mother lived across the street, ready to deliver another litter of kittens and appeared in my yard and I decided I should take her in, so I asked my veterinarian how safe that would be, asked the neighbor for the cat and prepared a room.

Cuddling, kissing and loving that litter of newborns and their mother was the perfect healing for the pain of all that loss. “I picked up all four of them in one big handful and kissed them all repeatedly, several times a day, every day, and forgot all about FIP and illness and loss, and just loved them, and their patient little mom understood,” I explained.

I told the audience, “As deeply as you loved, so do you grieve, but after the grief wears away it leaves the only love, shining like a diamond. Look back through your photos and see your lifetime of pets, and what do you remember? Not the grief, only the love,” I finished.

Tribute Scroll

The photos and tributes gathered during the ceremony will be produced into a slideshow with musical accompaniment, “Tribute Scroll 2011”. This will be found on the Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation website, www.ccpc.ws along with the 2010 Tribute Scroll from last year’s Pet Memorial Sunday ceremony.

slideshow of doves

We learn to let go.

Another story about this time in my household:

Perhaps the Storm is Finally Over

Other articles about Lucy, Mimi and the Fantastic Four:

Lucy and I Fought the Good Fight

Lucy Inspires a Book

Meet Lucy!

Other articles about Pet Memorial Sunday:

Pet Memorial Sunday: I’ll be Speaking of “The Joy of Pets”

Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation 2010 Tribute Scroll

All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used in any way without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.


On Pet Memorial Sunday, “The Joy of Pets”

bleeding hearts

Remembering our cherished pets.

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.”

rainbow

The Rainbow

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.

pet memorial sunday tent

Pet Memorial Sunday celebration.

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.

In addition, my line of Animal Sympathy Cards grew from my own grief after the loss of several of my household in a short time, ending with Namir.

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

doves

The Dove Release

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’ll Be Speaking of “The Joy of Pets”

bleeding hearts

Remembering our cherished pets.

I am 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.”

rainbow

The Rainbow

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.

pet memorial sunday tent

Pet Memorial Sunday celebration.

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.

In addition, my line of Animal Sympathy Cards grew from my own grief after the loss of several of my household in a short time, ending with Namir.

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

doves

The Dove Release

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.


Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation 2010 Tribute Scroll

tribute scroll opening slide

Deb and I are so excited to bring this idea to fruition and eager to hear what you think. I am personally pleased with the way the idea became reality.

The Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation 2010 Tribute Scroll includes photos and written tributes from families who attended Pet Memorial Sunday 2010.

Every year Deb encourages Pet Memorial Sunday participants to provide photos of their pets and a written tribute of 50 words or fewer. This year, we decided to begin this new tradition and offer something families could visit even after Pet Memorial Sunday as a memory of the event and as a lasting tribute to their pet.

I enjoy the event as do all of Deb’s families who participate, but we’re always trying to think of other things to offer in between. I know how much I love to revisit events and people who brought me comfort after one of my losses, and how just seeing a favorite photo can make a pet seem so close.

I’ve been working with photo and presentation slideshows for myself and other customers, and as Pet Memorial Sunday drew near I remembered listening to the tributes from past events and looking at the photos, and just being there with everyone, I began envisioning a beautiful and reverent presentation of each family’s pet or pets and its tribute. This could be on the website, well, forever, or at least as long as the website is there. We’d do a new one every year, perhaps add music to make the experience feel loving and relaxing.

I proposed it to Deb and she liked the idea too, and asked families to provide a digital image of their photo if possible.

I had initially only visualized the photos and tributes fading into one another, a pet’s image followed by the written tribute, but the idea grew as I worked on it. Some families didn’t provide a photo so I used images from my own stock of nature, flowers, butterflies and beautiful skies in the place of the pet’s image, somehow relating the image to something about the pet mentioned in the tribute if possible. Then, rather than fade out the image of the pet and run the tribute over top of it, I also chose other images of nature to use as a backdrop. I felt having the words obscuring the pet’s image was somehow disrespectful and also distracting from the moving tributes people had written, and a lovely image of nature can only be more calming. I was just so excited to be able to use my images for this.

The slideshow also includes parts of the introduction and closing remarks from Pet Memorial Sunday 2010 along with photos of the memory tables and the dove release.

And I have to warn you, get some tissues ready. It’s not sad, simply very moving to see these everyday pet photos and read the words of the families, sharing this experience even virtually. After watching it repeatedly in the past few weeks you’d think I’d be a little bit immune to it, but when I take a little break and watch it again, off I go sprouting tears.

I don’t have any of my precious kitties in it this year…where would I start? I thought I’d leave it to the other families.

I had a few problems with my slideshow program, of all things, so it’s been completed a little later than expected, but I’ve worked out the issues for future Scrolls and other projects. We were initially going to use a piece of music either Deb or I would create or something we could find on the internet, but Deb met a musician who agreed to compose original music for the production. This music is currently in composition, but we didn’t want to make families wait any longer to see the images. We hope it will just make the experience that much better after the music has been added.

When you visit the website and click on the link, the Tribute Scroll will open in a new window on top of the page you are viewing and will begin to play after about five seconds. If the page does not open, make sure you temporarily allow pop-ups.

The slideshow is about eight minutes long and pauses on each image and each tribute long enough for you to read be able to ponder and appreciate them. You can also pause and resume the slideshow and scroll through the thumbnails to one you’d like to see using the controls at the bottom of the screen.

Each year, we’ll add another slideshow from the next Pet Memorial Sunday, but all the shows will remain on the “Tribute Scroll” page, so bookmark it!

Please feel free to post any comments about the Tribute Scroll here. We’d love to hear what you think.


My Work is Featured by Karen Litzinger

karen with customer

Karen discusses her CD with a customer.

I’m so flattered—Karen Litzinger, author of Heal Your Heart: Coping with the Loss of a Pet, included mention of my animal sympathy cards and commissioned portraits in her latest e-newsletter.

She’s also local and we often attend the same events, so we recently saw each other at Hot Dogs in the Strip with the Animal Rescue League.

She’ll be facilitating an animal memorial and blessing on Pet Memorial Sunday, September 12 at Peaceful Pastures Pet Cemetery. I’ll be at the Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation remembrance at the same time, so I won’t get to join her there. (A few years ago, who would have thought there’d be this many pet remembrance events?!)

I will be able to see her again in October when she is available for animal blessings on October 3 at Journeys of Life In Shadyside, as a benefit for the Animal Rescue League of Western Pennsylvania.

animal sympathy card with dogShe mentioned one animal sympathy card in particular, the only one I currently have featuring a dog photo—it’s her dog Tika!

I take committing an animal’s image to any merchandise seriously. I can ask humans if they mind being the representative of something I create, but animals can’t directly answer that question so I need to intuit their answer. Of course, this works best with my own cats (as if they have a choice).

I don’t feel that I know most other animals well enough, but when I visited Karen and met Tika, who is a therapy dog, I knew instantly that she’d be happy to help heal someone’s grief on the cover of a sympathy card.

animal sympathy card watercolorThe other card she mentioned is the only non-pictorial card. I created the image using the abstract watercolor pattern I created for the back of her CD, working into the electronic version of the original art with PhotoShop and InDesign to create the path of hearts and paws.

She also has some exciting news about four radio interviews she’s had around the country in the last month.

I’m so glad to see Karen’s success with her CD. I’ve given it as a gift to friends who’ve lost their precious companions, and I know it certainly was comforting as I listened to it while I designed the illustrations, knowing Namir and I didn’t have too much more time together; I lost him a month after I finished the illustrations.

You can read Karen’s e-newsletter at her community site on iContact.


Pet Memorial Sunday

Rainbow After the Storm

Rainbow After the Storm

One of my customers is someone who I met through my own need, Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation. Deb Chebatoris, the owner, hosts a remembrance ceremony every year on Pet Memorial Sunday, open to the public. Immediately below is my press release about the event, and below that is the story of how I met Deb, how she was with me through six losses, and how subsequently she became my customer and friend.

Remembering Our Animal Companions on Pet Memorial Sunday

For anyone who has loved and lost an animal companion, the need for respectful grieving and memorials is clear. Animals fill a deep place in our lives; for children they are sometimes the closest friend and confidant, for seniors they are often a singular daily companion. All who share their lives with an animal find a unique personality and a bond that’s hard to replace when gone.

The second Sunday of September is designated as Pet Memorial Sunday by the International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories, and for every year in which she has been in business, Deb Chebatoris of Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation has hosted a ceremony on this day dedicated to remembering our animal companions for anyone who has lost a pet.

This year the ceremony is on Sunday, September 13, 2009 from 2:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Melrose Cemetery in Bridgeville.

“Rituals build community, creating a meeting ground where people can share deep feelings or…keep a solemn silence,” Chebatoris says. “This event is for anyone who may have experienced the loss of a beloved pet, no matter when the loss occurred.”

Chebatoris invites speakers to 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”, Allison Holst, Bereavement Specialist, will talk about “Our Initial Grief Response”, and Barbara Golden, Animal Behaviorist, will discuss “The Joys of Pet Companionship”.

These speakers are followed by a reading of “Words of Tribute” written by pet owners who attend. Chebatoris encourages 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,” Chebatoris remarks, “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.

Families are also encouraged to bring a photo of their pet to be displayed during the ceremony.
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Possibly the most moving part of the event is the dove release. After all the speakers and the readings and the candle-lighting ceremony, “we release a flock of white doves to symbolize our ability to let go of our precious companions,” Chebatoris explains.

“I’m so glad to be in my fifth year of hosting this ceremony,” Chebatoris says. “When I read through my thank you notes, I can see how grateful people are, and many people return year after year even if they haven’t lost a pet.”

The gathering will be held under a tent in the cemetery with light refreshments served afterward as families are invited to share their experiences with each other and speak to the presenters. The public is invited to attend, but Chebatoris needs an RSVP to know the number who wish to attend. Also, in order to provide a peaceful environment for all, it is not appropriate to bring live pets to this event.

For more information or to RSVP, please visit the website at http://www.ccpc.ws or call Deb at 412-220-7800. The Pet Memorial Sunday page on the site includes an e-mail address for Deb as well as instructions for composing and sending your Words of Tribute.

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Forget-me-nots

Forget-me-nots

How I first began working with Deb…

I’m so glad Deb is the person I can turn to when I’ve lost one of my cats, something that has happened all too frequently in the past three years.

At the beginning of 2005 I knew that I was going to lose Moses in the next month or so. I have my cats cremated and scatter their cremains in the yard they enjoyed. I remembered having read an article about a new business in Bridgeville, close enough to me, so I did a little search for the article and found it. When I had Moses put to sleep at the end of February I called to make an appointment to take her to CCPC afterward. Deb, the owner, knew my name from my animal portraits, which she had seen in the homes of people she had visited to receive and deliver pets.

Just a month later, I had Cream put to sleep. Cream was 15 and had died of kidney failure just 10 months after joining my household. She had come to me because her person had died, and even though I knew Cream liked me and she had integrated well into the house, she was holding on because she was afraid she’d never see her person again. I told Deb that keeping Cream’s cremains just didn’t feel right because Cream didn’t want to stay with me. Deb suggested I find the woman’s grave and scatter Cream’s eventual cremains on it. I was immediately relieved, and it seemed Cream was, too, because she relaxed and gave in to her condition. I was too upset to come up with this on my own, but Deb was insightful enough to suggest it.

I’ve lost six cats since I’ve known Deb and her business, and I would recommend her compassionate and respectful attitude toward both you and your pet, and her understanding of your grief. At that sensitive time, I couldn’t imagine anyone else.

I am careful of the customers I take on because I want to make sure I am fully committed to their need for design and public relations. Who better, then, than a person and a business I have used and would recommend? I’ve maintained Deb’s website since then, and this year we redesigned her logo and built a new website, which we’ll upload any day. Visit the site at www.ccpc.ws.