Enough With the Rainbow Bridge: Why It Didn’t Ease My Grief

After the death of our dog, the idea of the Rainbow Bridge trivialized his life more than it comforted our grief.

The idea of the Rainbow Bridge, where deceased pets are reunited with their humans, came from a poem. By: aidras

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a 2-part series on the “Rainbow Bridge.” Today, Allison Gray explains why the mention of it frustrates her. Tomorrow, in Part 2, Melissa Smith offers a counterargument — she says the idea of the Rainbow Bridge offers great comfort to her. We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

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It has been 8 months since our dog Ajax died in my arms. My husband and I still talk about Ajax often, and I find myself frequently staring sadly at the large photo of him above our fireplace.

After Ajax’s death, we received an outpouring of support and kind words from friends, family and the veterinary staff. Mostly there were comforting words of what a great life Ajax had and that we’d done all we could.

The people who responded to Ajax’s death with a reference to the Rainbow Bridge were mostly those who didn’t know Ajax or me. They were acquaintances — people we had met only briefly at the dog park or on the street. They mentioned the Rainbow Bridge to be kind, but all it did was frustrate me.

The Rainbow Bridge

Based on a poem written in the 1980s by an anonymous author, the Rainbow Bridge is the ethereal place where deceased pets wait for their humans before entering heaven together.

In this limbo, the pets are happy and healthy. The old are young again, and injured animals are made whole. When humans die, our spirits are transported to this place, and we are reunited with our pets. Together we cross the Rainbow Bridge into heaven.

Why It Bothers Me

The Rainbow Bridge should have been the best solution to my grief after losing Ajax. It was a promise of reunion for me and restored health for him. Truly, at the Rainbow Bridge, Ajax would be in a better place.

But it wasn’t a comfort at all. Instead, the whole idea seemed to trivialize my dog.

Ajax had a large 2-pound tumor removed in a risky but seemingly successful surgery in January 2014. But within a few months, the cancer metastasized. For a year, he battled for his life while his eyesight and hearing deteriorated, his muscles wasted away and his confidence was obliterated.

He displayed true strength and courage in his will to live, and when we made the decision to euthanize him, it was an act of mercy.

When we were told afterward that he was finally happy and healthy at the Rainbow Bridge, it felt like Ajax’s struggle to live was a waste. The suggestion of a Rainbow Bridge disparaged his yearlong courageous fight. And it would have been more merciful to euthanize him before his fight even began.

Losing a pet means dealing with the grief the best way you can. By: Carl Milner

The Comfort It Offers

I would be remiss to not address the comfort that so many bereaved families take away from believing in the Rainbow Bridge.

According to BBC News magazine writer Finlo Rohrer, “It may be argued that [the Rainbow Bridge] fills a gap left by the treatment of animals in some mainstream religions.”

In a society where animals are regularly overlooked in religion or whose importance is marginalized, pet lovers need some way to validate their pet’s significance after their death. The Rainbow Bridge provides that and gives hope of a reunion in the afterlife.

Families grieving this loss aren’t the only ones in need of the comfort and reassurance that a pet heaven can offer.

During my years working for an animal shelter, I had friends who euthanized tens to hundreds of animals every month. They prayed for the dead animals, cried for them and needed (more than anyone) to know that there was a better place waiting for society’s 4-legged castoffs.

For those people, I’m happy that the Rainbow Bridge was created.

How I Cope Without It

In a recent article on Dogster, Chris Hall says, “The Rainbow Bridge concept sounds more like a dismissal of grief than a way of easing it.”

When Ajax died, I needed to grieve. I was an ugly, weepy mess for days, but I didn’t rely on the promise of his good health and our spiritual reunion to pull myself prematurely from that grief. Instead, I embraced his departure as permanent and irreversible.

After losing his dog, Roy Hattersley wrote in the Daily Mail, “I do not pretend that my grief was unique. Many families, I know, have been devastated by the death of a dog. I merely state, as a matter of fact, that nothing has ever caused me as much pain as Buster’s death.”

So many people share the same terrible pain of losing a pet. How we cope with it, though, is not always the same.

Others wait for a distant reunion and a life together forever. We have chosen to keep Ajax with us in our memories and, through them, relive his life for the rest of ours.

Allison Gray

View posts by Allison Gray
Allison Gray gained a wealth of knowledge about animal welfare issues and responsible pet care during her nearly 5 years of work for an animal shelter. She is a writer, photographer, artist, runner and tattooed remedial knitter. Allison also has been researching, testing out and perfecting nutritious pet treat recipes in her kitchen for Petful since spring 2017.

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