Grief, Gerbils and an amazing 9 year-old girl

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A large part of what we do with a family is walking with them from the beginning of grief to the other side.  Often this journey begins with a hospice evaluation, but sometimes, we only start the walk after the pet has crossed over to the Rainbow Bridge.  Our goal is for them to emerge healed and ready to give the love they have to another furry family-member. Never replacing one with another, but rather sharing the love they have in their heart with the next baby to need them.

We first met Olivia, a beautiful, bright and gifted 9 year-old, last January when Mia, her precious baby gerbil had died.  As we wrapped Mia in our blanket and Olivia warned us to be careful and not lose her “because she is so little”, we instantly fell in love.  We learned a few weeks later, when we were again called to take care of Henry, the only hamster in the family, that Olivia had lost her dad when she was just 3…too young to grasp the concept of death, even for the darling and intuitive child that she was.  I’ll never forget Olivia’s response when I asked her if she wanted Mia and Henry to share an urn…she told me adamantly that they could NOT…because “one’s a boy and one’s a girl, and, they didn’t even know each other !!!”

Since our first meeting 12 months ago, we have walked this journey of death and grief and emerged on the other side with 6 of Olivia’s sweet pocket babies; Mia, Henry, Alexis, Emma, Snowball and Sweet Cheeks. Olivia now meets us at the door with the dearly departed tucked into a baggie ready for us to take into our care. 

And in this year, with the loss of so many of her little friends, she has been able to open her heart and her hands, and give the love she has to new babies.  We know that our pet parents  are well on the road to “grief recovery” when there is room in their heart for a new family member.  

What amazed me this week, as we picked up, and then delivered back another pocket pet, is how well Olivia is memorializing these tiny babies that were a part of her life for all too brief a time.  We talk about “establishing significance” and finding a way to remember each life that is gone and how they will forever remain a part of your life. Olivia, in all of her 9 years of wisdom, has grasped that concept better that many families I have served in 2 decades as a funeral director.

We have all heard, and probably said “from the mouths of babes”, but Olivia has put more thought and therapy into establishing the significance of her tiny fur-babies than many people I know do with their human family members. 

A picture is worth a thousand words, so please browse through Olivia’s scrapbook with me, as we look through the eyes of a child; walking the journey of grief.   


Kate Moore, CFSP

Beyond the Rainbow Pet Hospice & Memorial Center, Inc.