Comfort in loss
Photography: Nancy Whitehead
“Wilbur often thought of Charlotte. A few strands of her old web still hung in the doorway. Every day Wilbur would stand and look at the torn, empty web, and a lump would come to his throat. No one had ever had such a friend, so affectionate, so loyal . . . ”
—E.B.White, Charlotte’s Web
For many of us, Wilbur’s feelings and thoughts as he looked at the empty place where Charlotte had been ring only too true. So often the one who greets us with enthusiasm when we arrive home, waits patiently for us in the backseat of the car, or accompanies us on unforgettable treks through the mountains of Idaho, is not another human, but an animal companion so dear that its loss leaves a void wrenchingly difficult to bear.
It was from just such an experience that the Animal Hospice/Compassionate Crossings (AHCC) came into being.
Grief-stricken at the loss of her cherished cat, Riki—her companion for more than 18 years—Andria Friesen turned for comfort to a dear friend, Wendy Collins. As a result of their conversations, the two women, along with another friend, Sheila Summers, founded the organization that now exists to reach out and comfort those who have lost a beloved animal.
“I had been thinking about this for about five years,” says Collins. “Then, three years ago, we just said, ‘let’s do it.’”
AHCC is patterned after the hospice program most of us are familiar with that offers support to individuals facing death from a terminal illness and to their families. The goal of the Animal Hospice is much the same.
“The true definition of hospice is support,” says Friesen. “We are not a place, but a philosophy. There is no charge. There is no religious agenda.”
The goal is to provide support, compassion, and genuine attentiveness to those experiencing the passing of a beloved animal companion.
AHCC has had exceptional support from local veterinarians, who display their flyers. When thanking the group, one vet remarked, “prior to the Animal Hospice, the only thing we had to hand to a person was a bill.”
Vets aren’t the only ones offering their thanks to Friesen, Collins, Summers, and a dozen hardworking volunteers. People have emailed, thankful that a friend forwarded the information to them; parents have called to thank them for helping to ease the sadness of a child.
Although cats and dogs spring readily to mind when we think of the animals most people choose for companionship, the first calls the Animal Hospice received involved the loss of a horse and the passing of a rat. One of the most endearing experiences, related in full on the group’s website, is the story of a ferret named Frankie.
In fact, the website is a dimension of AHCC that its founders are especially proud of.
“It’s difficult for people to reach out when they are in such a sad place, but the beauty of the support you receive on the website is that it is in the privacy of your own home,” explains Friesen.
The site contains links, shared stories, comforting thoughts, and resources. The site also extends the support offered by the Animal Hospice beyond the narrow confines of the Wood River Valley, so that others, no matter how isolated or distant, can receive the solace it offers.
You can contact the Animal Hospice by telephone at 208.726.9606 (messages are checked daily), by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by visiting www.animalhospice.org. The organization offers home visits and group meetings within the Wood River Valley. AHCC is a nonprofit organization, supported solely by contributions.
Dana Yelda, a frequent contributor to Sun Valley Magazine, jumped at the chance to write this article. Growing up in a household with many animals—including a raccoon, a horse, a cat, a dog, and any wild thing that needed to be rescued—she appreciates fully the bond that we form with our animal companions.