Eas­ing the pain of loss

Los Angeles Times - - THE PETS ISSUE - BY WES BAU­SMITH wes.bau­smith@latimes.com

When a pet dies, the hu­man sur­vivors face a se­ries of prac­ti­cal de­ci­sions: how to dis­pose of the re­mains, how (and whether) to in­form friends and col­leagues. Many of us will pon­der a me­mo­rial or a trib­ute on so­cial media. And some of us will seek as­sis­tance in deal­ing with grief, which can’t be put away as easily as a wa­ter dish and a chew toy. A place to rest

Nes­tled in a leafy glade along the 215 Free­way, San Bernardino’s Gate­way Pet Ceme­tery & Cre­ma­tory in­cludes tidy rows of small head­stones that break up a great ex­panse of grass. On a Mon­day af­ter­noon, even with the con­stant thrum of life on the nearby high­way, Gate­way felt like a tran­quil place.

The ceme­tery, which opened in 1959, long be­fore the free­way came through, is one of sev­eral in Cal­i­for­nia (there are hun­dreds na­tion­wide). Dur­ing a tour of the grounds, Justin Crum­lish, who runs the ceme­tery with his wife, Danielle, listed their ser­vices: stan­dard cre­ma­tions, buri­als, view­ings, paw prints, po­ems and me­mo­ri­als tai­lored to each client’s wishes.

“I’m in the busi­ness for peo­ple deal­ing with grief,” Crum­lish said.

The cost for burial ser­vices at Gate­way av­er­ages $400 to $500. Cre­ma­tions with­out burial are much less ex­pen­sive, start­ing at $80. The fees in­clude per­pet­ual care and main­te­nance of the grounds, and a key that al­lows un­lim­ited ac­cess to the ceme­tery. “I have a lot of clients, a lot of peo­ple to take care of, and that’s my main goal,” Crum­lish said.

Tomb­stones are en­graved with ac­knowl­edg­ments of de­vo­tion: “Best friend,” “Al­ways in our hearts,” “For­ever my girl.” They’re gone but not for­got­ten here. Bou­quets of flow­ers dot the land­scape, some of them mark­ing graves that are decades old.

Sur­vival train­ing

San­dra Grossman, who has a doc­tor­ate in or­ga­ni­za­tional psy­chol­ogy, be­came a cer­ti­fied pet loss and be­reave­ment coun­selor af­ter a par­tic­u­larly painful ex­pe­ri­ence in deal­ing with the loss of her cat, which hap­pened not long af­ter the deaths of her par­ents. Grossman’s prac­tice, Pet­Loss Part­ners, is part of a grow­ing trend.

In­deed, South­ern Cal­i­for­nia is home to many sup­port groups for peo­ple deal­ing with such loss. Grief coun­selors part­ner with some vet­eri­nar­i­ans’ prac­tices, the Amer­i­can So­ci­ety for the Preven­tion of Cru­elty to An­i­mals pro­vides pro­grams for fam­i­lies with chil­dren whose pets have died or are dy­ing, and most pet fu­neral fa­cil­i­ties af­fil­i­ate them­selves with sup­port net­works.

Grossman re­ceived her train­ing in this area through the non­profit Assn. for Pet Loss and Be­reave­ment (www.aplb.org), an online re­source for peo­ple fac­ing end-of-life is­sues with their pets. Chats, sup­port groups, prac­ti­cal re­sources such as ser­vices that pro­vide in-home eu­thana­sia, and op­tions for one-on-one coun­sel­ing are avail­able through the web­site.

“Our groups are not ther­apy; they’re sup­port groups,” said Grossman, whose Pet­Loss Part­ners of­fers sup­port groups in Glendale and on the West­side and in­di­vid­ual and fam­ily coun­sel­ing by phone or in per­son. “Our so­ci­ety is hor­ri­ble in deal­ing with grief in gen­eral and es­pe­cially so with pet loss.”

It is, she added, “a re­ally dis­en­fran­chised type of grief.” Friends and col­leagues may not un­der­stand the depth of loss as­so­ci­ated with los­ing a pet. In the sup­port group, “you can say what you need to say with­out be­ing judged.”

Me­mo­ri­als

There are many ways to com­mem­o­rate a death. For some pet own­ers, that means an online obit­u­ary or tributes on so­cial media. Some make do­na­tions in their pet’s name to a fa­vorite an­i­mal res­cue group or char­ity, or vol­un­teer at an an­i­mal shel­ter.

“Find­ing some way to memo­ri­al­ize [pets] is very im­por­tant,” Grossman said. “Two or three times a year we do a bal­loon me­mo­rial. We use en­vi­ron­men­tally safe bal­loons [and] take them to a park or some area with ac­cess to the sky. Peo­ple write what they want on the bal­loons, and they are re­leased. It’s a way of let­ting go.”

At Gate­way, let­ting go has changed over the years. “I’d say 80 to 90% of our busi­ness now is cre­ma­tions,” Crum­lish said. “But some peo­ple still pre­fer burial.” Cre­mated re­mains can be dis­trib­uted at Gate­way or buried there. Most own­ers re­trieve them in lit­tle pine boxes so the ashes can be scat­tered in a spe­cial place.

Some peo­ple wear jew­elry that in­cor­po­rates a pet’s ashes. It’s a grow­ing trend, Crum­lish said. “The jew­elry that was of­fered be­fore was more for women, but there are these dog tags now that guys like. They’re hol­low and you put a lit­tle bit of the ashes in there.”

Where you may al­ways keep them close to your heart.

Pho­tog raphs by Wes Bau­smith Los An­ge­les Times

STAT­U­ARY HONOR­ING pets sits among head­stones at Gate­way Pet Ceme­tery & Cre­ma­tory in San Bernardino, open since 1959.

PAW PRINT TO­KENS are among the me­mo­ri­als at Gate­way Pet Ceme­tery & Cre­ma­tory in San Bernardino.

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