Celebration of Life-St.Louis
by Christine Macielak.........................................
On Saturday (4-28-07)I got into St. Louis for the Celebration of Life not knowing what to expect, but somehow knowing that I needed to be there. Over the years, I have lost many furbabies, and unfortunately never really had a chance to lay them to rest properly. This was an opportunity to honor them. I called Cheryl, the coordinator of the event to let her know that I was there. This was it. I was finally going to meet Cheryl and some of my other e-mail friends from Rainbow's Bridge for the first time. My heart pounded, and I worried about the impression I would make. Would they like me? Cheryl sent a wonderful friend of hers to come pick me up from the hotel and drive me to the restaurant where a room had been set up for the Celebration. I was met by a beautiful lady, beautifully dressed, and who had the warmest smile. After many greetings and smiles from the other people there, I was escorted to three tables that were set up along one wall. In the middle of each table was a beautiful bouquet of flowers with colorful fabric butterflies fluttering within them surrounding an unlit candle. The first table I saw had pictures of the friends we were there to honor and whose lives we came together to celebrate. My eyes filled with tears at the images of happy, playful, fur and feather friends. No scaled ones at this Celebration? Maybe next time. Each picture meant something to the person who took it, and they each told their story to me. "This was when he was just a pup." "This was a week before she went to the Bridge." "I knew the day would come." "I didn't expect to lose him like that." "She told me it was time, but I can't let go of the memory of her last day." I had a hard time holding back the tears. I told my story too, and no one looked away or didn't have time to listen. The second table had pictures of furfriends with us now. Brothers and sisters of the ones at the Bridge, or who came in afterward to become a new friend. No replacements here. New friends, each with their own love to give. Again, the stories. "I went to a local shelter and there he was." "He seached the house a thousand times looking for his brother." "I had to tell her, 'your sister was in too much pain and she went to where there is no pain'." "He looked so lonely sitting there I just had to take him home with me." There is no doubt that they are sentient creatures capable of loving and missing those they love just like we do. The third table was empty except for the bouquet in the middle and another at the side, sent by Kat, a friend who wasn't able to make it in person, but was with us in spirit. Sitting down at one of the tables that were decorated with center pieces of shiny silvertone flower pots with pretty ribbon curls and fabric butterflies (I later learned that Cheryl made them herself), I met a lady who works as a dogtrainer. She came to give a talk on dog behavior and made it clear that we must take responsibility for our furfriends. Too many people make mistakes and then blame the animal for their own laziness and lack of knowledge, which leads to abuse and abandonment of the poor dog. Anyone our there who is having a problem with your dog friend, please, please, consult someone like her for help. Along with the centerpieces there was a lovely book of remembrance that Chuck graciously provided for each one of us. There were animal footprints on the cover draped in black. Immediately I saw that they were all pointing the same way, up toward the top of the page where the sun was rising. It was like they were walking together up from the darkness to new life. Like the prints they leave on our hearts, pointing us to look upward to new life. Inside were more pictures of our departed friends along with poems and stories that are best read when you are alone and the tears can flow freely. After a quiet dinner, Cheryl stood up and went to the table dedicated to the memory of our departed friends. She spoke about how much they brought into our lives. I wish I had recorded her words, as they brought many tears from many eyes, but suffice it to say that she honored their memory and then lit the candle for them. Moving on to the second table, she spoke about the animal friends who are in our lives now, and lit the candle to honor them. Then she moved on to the third table. This table, she told us, was for the animal friends who would be coming into our lives as the years go on. Some may be out there already, just waiting for that chance meeting that will bring them to us, and some are not even born yet, but will help bring healing to us when the pictures on the second table are moved to the first one. I looked down. I cannot now imagine what it will be like when the furbabies waiting at home for me are not there. But looking up, I saw the empty table with the pretty bouquets in a new light. It it the empty spot in the soul of someone who has grieved the loss of a dear friend and cannot bring themselves to risk loving another. The flowers and butterflies beckon us to fill the table with pictures and poems and not to run away from love even if it breaks your heart. I realized that the only way to have not come to this Celebration, whether in person or in spirit, would have been to have never known and loved our fur, feather or scale babies and that would have been a far greater loss. As Cheryl lit that last candle, I felt the grief that I had carried with me for years lifting. Someday, the furbabies with me now will leave for the Bridge and my heart will break. Someday, I will leave for the Bridge myself and meet my Lord Jesus face to face. When I do, I will have much to thank Him for, including all my animal friends. He understands that there is no such thing as cheap and easy love. Love always requires a willingness to have your heart broken. We understand that, too. Not one person who was with us in the Celebration of Life said that their friend wasn't worth the pain of losing them. Not one would have given back the days, or weeks, or years with their animal friend in order to protect theselves from the pain of seeing them off to the Bridge. To see a little life, a little soul, covered in fur or feathers or scales, and say, "You are worth my heart being broken". That is what our Celebration of Life is all about.
Comments would be appreciated by the author, Christine Macielak
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