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COMPASSION HAS NO LIMITS

 The man did not speak. Alone at his table, away from the other participants, he listened intensely - it was obvious. In his advanced sixties, coat and hat despite the heat, he stared at the presenter but not a word, not a tear, radio silence. Offered by the Ottawa Funeral Cooperative, the discussion was about grief. The recent loss of a spouse, the death of a child with cancer, the inability to cope with loneliness...it was all there, distress in the face of the unknown...But why was he there? What secret lay hidden in his restrained speech?

 Suddenly, at the very end, the man raises his hand timidly, coughing, hesitating and with an almost imperceptible voice, declares: "I didn't dare to speak because the grief that pushed me to register for this meeting is not like yours. You see, two weeks ago I lost my dog, my companion for 15 years, my confidant, my friend, the only one. I had to have him euthanized and since then, the guilt has been eating away at my heart, my soul, my body. I am ravaged by sadness. I don't see how I will be able to fill the void he left in my life.

 The meeting continued for a few minutes, with expressions of sympathy, sincere but a little awkward, words of support, shared sadness, confirmation of his understandable and very real pain. Then we left at the appointed time, as we had to.

 Yes, but...There is no time for healing, no date on the calendar. There is no pill to counter the loneliness, nor to erase the feeling of shame felt by the person whose grief seems inordinate compared to that of a widower who has just lost his loved one and who does not know how to express his emotions. His dog died, for real! And now he is alone. The house is empty, the silence intolerable.

 We've heard and read that the pandemic has prompted thousands of people to get a pet. As early as April, animal shelters have seen a significant increase in the number of clients eager to get themselves a pet, big or small, exotic or "Heinz 57", something to feel loved, accompanied, busy and wanted. A being who needs us, who offers his touching gaze and his bursts of joy just like that, simply, without question or judgment. All of us, more than ever, have felt this need for a flesh and blood presence. For some, a few virtual encounters with dear friends are enough, for others, it is an animal that will come to fill the need. Less abandonment of cats and dogs, more adoption, we wrote last August.

 So imagine the catastrophe for those who had to say goodbye to their faithful and adorable pet of the last 8, 12, 16 years! Wow...puppy or python or kitty or sparrow or gerbil...grief strikes hard. You don't understand? I didn't understand too much either until this man, neither seen nor known, crossed my path.

 A colleague told me that no one has lived with her as long as her dog. Caesar wiped the tears of divorce with her. He cried with her over the death of her father, then her mother, and the children's departure for university. More recently, a new friend had to earn his approval before he could become the new spouse! She told this story with great emotion on the first anniversary of Caesar's death. One year...and the sadness persisted. That's it, I now understood. Pain, mourning, the intolerable emptiness that persists..., it's real when your pet dies.

 How do you support the person who is grieving? As if it were the death of a human being? Yes, because they are suffering! Are you as afraid as I am of being clumsy... of being insincere? Let's keep it simple: kindness, listening, empathy, openness to others, sincerity...that's all. And probably the saddened person is not asking for more.

 We humans have the ability to reflect on our end-of-life wishes and to share them. Our animal companions do not. Without knowing it, they entrust us with the decisions to be taken: hospitalization? Expensive intervention with no guarantee of recovery? Euthanasia, and if so, at the clinic or in their living room in the presence of children? Phew...

 Let's not let our loved ones live these moments in solitude. Let us help them to remember the joys and challenges, the tricks and surprises - the life of the missing animal! Let them talk, cry, laugh, rage...let us welcome them and recognize that even if we do not fully understand, it is not about ourselves but about the other, the friend, the elderly lady, the widower...the person who is suffering, who is heartbroken.

 What if it was you? Maybe it is you! Let's talk about it.

 

 Jacqueline Pelletier, from the projet « Parlons-en » of the Funeral Co-Operative of Ottawa