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Reflections on Pet Tombstones & Love

Recently as part of a global volunteer initiative at the day job, I had to schedule three volunteer events for our Global Operating Center in Berwyn, PA. One of the places I chose for us to volunteer with was the Francisvale Home for Smaller Animals, a volunteer-driven no kill animal shelter in Wayne PA. Our job that day was to help clear the large pet cemetery of fallen branches and limbs from trees that had been cut down. It was physically challenging work but didn’t require much thought. To distract myself and because I’m a reader I will read anything including cereal boxes at the grocery store if the checkout line is longI began to read the inscriptions on the pet tombstones.

Some spoke of profound loss:

Forever in my Heart
Chief Erny
Mother’s Pal
Button Goldstein
1986 – 1998
We love you sweet girl
Tyler – Dude
“The Best”

Some were starkly simple, remembering a dear friend, a companion, laid to rest with honor:

Pet Sparks
Dear Dolly
The Best Dog
Others spoke of untimely death:

He will Never be Forgotten
My Little Laddie He Never Gave Up
Sweet Dylan Too Young

Many spoke of a devotion that was just heartbreaking:

In Loving Memory
Bear “Buddy” Fineberg
Our Gift from The Almighty God
Our Best Friend & Love of Our Life
He Taught Us to Love
You will Live Forever in Our Spirit

One triple tombstone spoke of multiple loss:

Bailey Safe with Angel Maxie Once Again
Cherished Lamb. Devoted Brother
Cody Nugget
Loved Too Late

I kept reading until, eyes stinging, vision blurred, snot bubbling out my nose, I had to stop.

As I dragged branches and twigs up and down that hill, stepping over tombstones, I was struck by
the raw emotion, the love and devotion shared so openly, so unabashedly. It seemed so different to love between humans so reluctantly expressed, so stingily shared and spoken of. Often in reel life (Tv, movies) and real life, I’ve heard people express a determined refusal to say “I love you” first. I am always baffled by that. People fall in love at different paces, sometimes love is not returned but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Love isn’t selfish, that is you don’t need to be loved by another before you love another. That’s not how it works. For me one of truest lines in What Binds Us, my first novel, was when Thomas, sure he is not loved in return, cries, “I love you. Okay? I. Love.You…I love you so much I don’t even care that you don’t love me.”

Most baffling to me is when someone explains their love for another person by saying “He/she loves me so much.” That’s not a reason to love. To me, only when one can love without the condition that love be returned in kind, can one truly say he/she loves.

Knowing my own experiences with dogs, and reading these tombstones on which grieving owners poured forth and owned their love for creatures, who outside of a wagging tail, a wet tongue and a certain devotion, are unable to express that returned love in words. Yet it is love and understood and it is enough.

Perhaps our human relationships and experiences with love can be better because we have loved a dog or a cat.

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