Editor’s Note: This is Part 2 of a 2-part series on the “Rainbow Bridge.” Yesterday, Allison Gray explained why the mention of it frustrates her. Today, Melissa Smith defends the idea. We would love to hear your thoughts about the Rainbow Bridge in the comments section below.
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I lost my German Shepherd, Gypsy, 3 years ago to both medical problems and plain old age. I sat beside her as she died, and to this day I still can’t think of that moment without tearing up. She was my best friend.
Many of us struggle to come to terms with the loss of a pet. Our pets are so much a part of our hearts that losing them — even, as in Gypsy’s case, when it’s expected — is devastating. When Gypsy died, a lot of people sent their condolences, and most referred to the Rainbow Bridge when they did so. I found it to be a source of great comfort.
What Is the Rainbow Bridge?
As Allison explained yesterday, the Rainbow Bridge refers to a place on the way to heaven where deceased pets go to wait for you. Your pets are free of pain and fear and spend their time running across meadows and hills in the sunshine.
When you die, you rejoin your pet and cross to heaven together.
Why It Comforts Me
I am not overly religious. I tend to adopt a “We’re all going to find out someday” attitude and go through life just trying to be a good person. I doubt there is a cloud-filled environment we all share after death, strumming harps and polishing halos.
What I do believe in is the endurance of the spirit — or the soul, if you will. The spirit is so strong and so imbued with our energy that it’s difficult to believe it would just blow out like a candle upon death.
I believe the same goes for our pets, and that brings me comfort. In many ways, pets are better than people in their innocence and capacity for forgiveness. They deserve to go on.
When there is a loss, it’s hard for people to know what to say to you. Some adopt an uncomfortably hard stance: “It’s not like you lost your kid or something.” Actually, it kind of is.
In a heartfelt article in the Washington Post, journalist Joe Yonan says:
“I’m no stranger to death. I was a mess of anger and confusion when my father, suffering the aftermath of a stroke, took his last gasps one day in 1995, his children gathered around his hospital bed. And 3 years later, the death of my sweet, beloved sister Bonny after a withering battle with brain cancer was nothing short of heartbreaking. Yet somehow, and much to my distress, the death of my dog seems even harder.”
Some people simply don’t bring it up out of awkward insecurity. That’s worse than anything else. Not bringing up a loss is — to my mind — invalidating not only the person’s feelings but also the life of that pet and the impact she made on those around her.
Those who console by referring to the Rainbow Bridge are saying, “I understand you are suffering a loss, and I’m trying to help you feel better.”
Some people don’t believe in or appreciate references to the Rainbow Bridge, and that’s their prerogative. They say that referring to the Rainbow Bridge invalidates the life of the pet and is nothing but an empty platitude — that it means we should just suck it up and be glad because this pet has gone on to a better place.
In all fairness, some people do mean it that way because of their own religious beliefs. I would implore those people to remember that loss is not about their own religion but about the feelings of the person to whom they are speaking. If that person doesn’t believe in the Rainbow Bridge or the great beyond, don’t force it. Simple honesty will do: “I am sorry for your loss and wish I could help.”
Everyone has to struggle through grief in his or her own way.
For me, believing I will see my Gypsy again one day doesn’t invalidate her life — it reveres it. I appreciated her presence in my life so much that I won’t consider not seeing her again.