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The Art of Finding Your Support

Show Notes

Erica’s back!

Erica Messer is the genius behind Wolfie’s Wish, an online resource for pet guardians in grief.

It started with a deck of cards, simple pieces of guidance or affirmations that a grieving pet guardian can look to for a little help in getting through the day.

In The Art of Shuffling the Deck, we chatted about Erica’s journey through pet loss grief after losing her beloved Wolfgang and how we can support each other in our grief.

We’re checking back in because Erica has expanded the Wolfie’s Wish website into an online shop and guidance center, and she is hosting her own virtual grief support group.

What to listen for

  • Erica spills the beans on her new podcast and other developments at Wolfie’s Wish
  • Why self-care is so important during anticipatory grief
  • The conversation around pet loss grief is changing
  • How to use our memories to help us heal

Where to find Wolfie’s Wish

Wolfie’s Wish 
Instagram 
Facebook: Wolfie’s Wish Pet Loss Support Group 
YouTube 

Transcript

Angela   

Erica, my friend, how are you today?

Erica

Hey, I’m good. Angela, good to be back here.

Angela

What in the world have you been up to since the last time we talked?

Erica

Oh, you know, not much just started my own podcast and a grief course and writing a book and started a petition for pet bereavement leave, you know?

Angela

Little things. You’re starting a podcast. Are you crazy?

Erica

Yeah, my, my mentor had to convince me to do it. Because they said, Well, if I do want, it’s gotta be different, right? Everybody can do a podcast, why? What am I going to bring to the table, and I gave myself the huge challenge of booking celebrities to talk about their experience with pet loss grief and how they coped with it, in order to validate it and make it, make people relate and go, Oh, well, they’re going through it, then I can talk about it. And that’s really, really exciting. So far I got four people booked and I’m hoping Yeah, waiting, waiting to hear back from somebody that that, that that would be a game changer. So let’s see.

Angela 

Oh, what level of celebrity are we talking about here? Like straight up Hollywood or?

Erica 

Yeah, yeah. Everybody from from like, social media influencers with, you know, half a million followers to some, some celebrities that are like, Well, okay, Reagan Pasternak is my first guest. And she’s an actress and author. And so, you know, she’s been on a lot of TV shows, she’s done some film work for Hallmark. So yeah, just people that that I think are going to be influential in the conversation around pet loss. I mean, my mission is to validate pet loss grief and get people the support that they need, and have it be OK to talk about it and not have people lean in and whisper to me, I grieve the loss of my dog more than my dad, and not be ashamed to tell anyone that? Of course you did. It’s a different relationship. Your pet is with you, sleeping with you. They go to the store with you. And we see, I see my parents two or three times a year. It is just a different relationship. That’s all.

Angela  

heard about the petition? What’s that going?

Erica 

So the petition is to get standardized pet bereavement leave and paid time off of work, for employers to offer that.

Angela  

In Germany or the U.S. or …

Erica 

Oh, no, in the US. Yeah.

Angela 

But you’re still based in Germany, right?

Erica  

Well, yes, I’m here in Munich now, but I’m trying to move back. We’re waiting to see how we can make that work. We just decided actually a couple of weeks ago. And yeah, it’ll just make things a lot easier. You know, I’ve been here for years. It’s been great. But I have a lot that I wanted to do. And with Wolfie’s Wish, and I just find myself needing to be back there. And you know, when I help my mom out, she does all of our shipping still. She’s a busy bee.

Angela  

And you just recently launched a grief course for people who are in bereavement over their pets. What’s that?

Erica 

Yeah. So that is really piggybacking off, you know, the idea of these grieving cards that I wrote, are just simple practices to do once a day. And the course is just expanding on those and talking about how to apply those into your daily life and giving suggestions. And here’s what I did. You know, and giving people a little bit more to think about, and then they can come into the community and talk about it. And I do a live weekly kind of q&a, let’s get together session and discuss what’s working, what’s not working. What do you like, how did you implement this? And just really foster a sense of community where we’re not alone and isolated, and alienated trying to navigate this new life that we’ve been given really, you know, you don’t have a lot of choice and when the life of your pet ends and so you’re just kind of forced to adjust and it’s a very hard adjustment for everyone. This thing that’s been by your side, kind of like a shadow is now gone.

Angela    

So Wolfie’s Wish is becoming It has become far more than a simple deck of cards. What’s your vision for Wolfie’s Wish and Erica Messer five years from now 10 years from now?

Erica 

Well, first of all, it’s not about me, it’s about giving people the tools and resources that were difficult for me to find. And you know, that product, that first product was just the starting point of saying, here’s a simple daily thing, instead of reading a 400-page book that you can’t focus on, right, here’s some things you can start to do. And I always intended on having a great website with resources, which we have, and there’s a blog, and you know, talking about validating pet loss grief, you know, with people like yourself, thank you for that. And then, what I hope to do this year, is be able to work with large corporations in providing tools that they can pass on to their employees during that bereavement leave and developing new products.

So I have a grief first aid kit now, with really cool stuff in it like a worry stone and lavender and a candle that you write your pet’s name on, and it says, burn when thinking about Wolfgang or Fluffy or Bella, you know, it’s custom, right? And I love creating things like that. And I have a journal that’s about to come out, where you actually get to track your emotional situation, how is your emotional scale? Are you doing really bad? Are you doing really good, because that’s feedback you want to give to a professional should you need it, I needed professional help. You know, and of course, it’s also looking at, OK, what’s going good in my life, even though I feel like shit, and my life has turned upside down. I’m still here, you know, there’s probably some good things going on. And that kind of helps to shift that balance. So the journal, I’m excited to have out and just as another tangible tool. And just to keep making cool, helpful products that aren’t there right now. There’s so much that can be brought to market to help people. That’s my passion. Now, that’s my thing.

Angela  

Let’s dig deeper into that whole idea of checking in with ourselves. And understanding how and even maybe why we’re feeling the way we’re feeling in any given moment of grief. And what that means to our self-care.

Erica   

Wow, where do I start? Yeah, it’s acknowledging that we’ve still got to eat and sleep. And, you know, shower. And for me, there was this huge depression, I think I spent it there. I know, I spent the very first day just in bed crying. And I had a hard time sleeping, I didn’t want to wake up because every morning, I would say butyl Bob, that was his nickname, and it come running over. And it was like, I didn’t want to go to sleep, they want to have to do that. Or wake up and realize that I can’t do that. And so if you blue implementing some regular things, and making sure that I was taking time to just sit and breathe, do some meditations, do some journaling. You know, I still light the same brand of candle that I did that week that I bought specifically for my greet, like honoring ceremony, whatever, just a little ritual. Luckily, they still made me I bought a bunch of them. So just establishing some routines, right? I light that candle in honor of him. And that’s my that’s a connection I have that says okay, this is something this is a new habit. Yeah. So self-care doesn’t have to be very elaborate. It doesn’t have to be, you know, very complex. It’s just what am I going to do from now on to make sure that I’m staying in balance? And I’m not going too far into the depression. I’m not going too far into the despair. And if I do, how do I get out of it? Now that’s where professionals come in, and you do what they say.

Angela  

Self-care after we’ve lost our best friends is one thing. What does that look like when our aging or terminally ill pet is still right there?  And we’re, you know, we’re constantly bombarded with the thoughts of when, and why is this happening? And all the while having to care for our pets.

Erica

Yeah, that’s, that’s a really difficult time, because a lot of … some, some people that are in my support group. So I forgot to mention that I have a virtual support group. Now, they are caring for very sick pets that require a lot of around the clock care, you know, with medication, and sometimes they have to be carried outside. So that how does one take care of themselves. And it’s, it’s, it’s a case by case basis, but it’s having maybe even people to rely on that can come and bring you food or cook for you, or alleviate you from some of your chores and daily activities that you’re just exhausted to do. Because you’re spending so much mental and physical energy caring for these beings, then you want to, it’s not that you don’t want to. So that’s just one example of a woman in my group. And we talked about, oh, you know, what are some, you know, things that your neighbors and your family and your coworkers can do to support you? Can your mom come over and be with your dog while you take a bath? Right, so, so it’s just looking at, OK, if I care for myself, then I can better care for my pet, sort of got to set aside the time and find a way to put that puzzle together to different puzzle. But it really goes along with that, that airline thing, right of like assisting yourself, and then the child. It’s not easy, there’s no recipe for it, it’s great to have a discussion around it and find people that can support you and help you find those solutions.

Angela

That’s part of the difficulties around grief with pets, though, isn’t it? Um, it’s, it’s a fairly normal thing where I come from, that when a human dies, you are bombarded with lasagnas and casseroles. And, um, you know, that’s the culture of, of maritime Canada. And I honestly don’t know if that is true here but I’ve seen people do meal trains for new mothers, new mothers with their children in NICU, um, you know, other moments where we’re just so inclined to help because we know our human friends and family need help. But when it comes to our pets, that support isn’t always just there because people don’t understand the depth of our connection to our pets. How do we still manage self-care? When we might be feeling so alone in that moment?

Erica

Well, I do think that the conversation is going to change sooner rather than later to where the same type of support will be available for people that are, you know, going through hospice and palliative care with their pets or have already euthanized their pet. That, you know, we really just need to have conversations about it and have advocates and people speak up such as celebrities, to say no, this is just as valid as losing a family member, it is a family member. Just because 30% of the population doesn’t have a pet doesn’t mean they get to dictate how we grieve and how we’re supported. No, we’re turning that around. So I think that that support will soon follow. But in the meantime, going to things like Wolfie’s Wish support group, or the Rainbow Bridge Facebook group or anything. Maybe there’s some local in person groups where you can find some camaraderie and understanding and support one another. I get reminders like hey, have you eaten today? Have you showered today? Right? What are you doing for self-care? Are you snuggling with your pet and watching your favorite show or are you maniacally googling this new symptom? Like let’s just, you know, having people around you that understand can help you navigate the changes and also care for yourself.

Angela  

I just recently learned that you have a deck of cards dedicated to anticipatory grief. What are some of the self-care strategies you have in that deck that may be different from the post loss grief deck?

Erica

Yeah, so these are these are available digitally. And I encourage people to print them out on like cardstock or, you know, photo paper, so they have a little bit more texture. But if you put these aside and you pull one a day, right, it’s this, it’s this reminder, OK, and one of them says, I trust in my own strength and ability to support my pet during their final moments, making decisions that will prioritize their well-being. Right, so we’re giving ourselves confidence that we’re doing the best we can with what we have, you know, and, and trusting professionals. And then there’s some fun, maybe surprising things like outside in the snow, or the sand, or the dirt or a dirty car, write your pet’s name, you can also take a picture and post it. And so in a sense, you’re already celebrating their life and their memories. One of them is about permitting … OK, I permit myself to feel a wide range of emotions without self-judgment. Understanding that grieving is a natural and essential part of the healing process. Because I know that during that time with a senior or an ill pet, your emotions are just going to be all over the place. And you’re going to be … it’s this strange balance of being in the present, and loving them while they’re here. But also knowing that you’re going to have to detach from that and say goodbye. And so there’s this constant tug of war. And that’s when I think, especially during this time, it’s important to have support, because there’s just … no, no day is the same. And you don’t know when the final day is going to be. So to have some handholding of understanding people that are possibly going through the same thing or have been through it can help you see things that you aren’t seeing and caring for yourself.

Angela 

What about balancing all of those emotions with all of the other duties we have when we’re caring for an aging or ill pet? How do you find the time to take care of yourself when maybe everything you have is invested in delivering comfort to this dog who’s been with you for 14 years, or this cat for 18 years?

Erica

You might have to wait, it might not be possible. And that’s something that you will know to incorporate when they have passed. And it’s also, you know, goes without saying that there’s going to be a sense of relief and also guilt. And all these combined emotions. It’s like a big knot of conflicting emotions when they do pass. And yet, when they’re gone, then you have this space to grieve, and mourn and focus on self-care, and whatever support you need. Do you need a support group? Do you need a course? Do you need affirmation cards? Do you need a counselor? What do you need, right. And that’s where I build out my resources page, because I can’t tell you what you’re going to need. But, you know, hopefully they’ve worked with you and some of your photographers and have a nice photo album, have some things printed, and at least have established some sort of new normal, or at least can have some tools along the way. So there might not be the option to really practice self-care in the way that one needs to every day. And that’s just the reality of it is depends on what’s going on at the pet.

Angela

What are some of the things we can do in those days leading up to our final goodbyes? That can help bring us comfort after the goodbye.

Erica

Yeah, I think having a bucket list and planning out activities that you want to do with your pet. While they’re still with us plan their last meal, you know, by at some point you’ll decide how you want to say goodbye, which I hope is in home euthanasia, with a person that you feel comfortable with, you know, best case scenario right? And you have a decision already made of burial or cremation and what they’re going to be buried and committed it so OK, so that’s not the, you know, that’s not so fun. But it also is important to do that early because in the moment it’s just overwhelming. But anyway, I think planning Get the last meals really fun. And I have this in the topic of my support group, which are you know, what are some? What are some things that you can come up with? How creative can you be? Is it going to a fast food restaurant? With a bowl? Right, going through the drive thru, and just mixing everything together. So the milkshakes, french fries, bacon cheeseburger, all in a lump, right? And you put that in the backseat, and you get white for yourself as well. Right with a big spoon. Maybe separate the burger from the, you know, milkshake? I don’t know, that’s up to you. So, yeah, what a great memory to have, though, right? Yeah, I mean, I honestly can’t wait to do that. I know that sounds I know that sounds bad. But there are, there might be locations that you want to go to and visit? Or maybe you want to take your pet to see snow, or sand. Or, you know, just kind of getting creative with all right, the time that we have left, what can we do? Is there anything? What memories do I want to make to have later, which I think is really beautiful that we get to do that?

Angela

So are you a fan then of the continuing bonds theory that allows us to find comfort in those things that we do while our pets are alive?

Erica 

I’m not aware of this theory.

Angela

Oh, you need to look that up.

Erica

Please, please enlighten me.

Angela

It is foundational to the work that I do as an end of life pet photographer. And it was … let’s see if I can find it quickly, because I am better at reading somebody else’s words than I am at remembering things. Dennis Klass, a psychologist founded this theory, um, let’s see. Darn it, new and he wrote about it in his book continuing bonds new understandings of grief. And it basically says that we gain clarity, normalcy and understanding by keeping our loved ones and pets alive through the memories of the lives we had together.

Erica

Oh yeah, yeah.

Angela

So that’s why it’s so important for me, for you to have a photo album of you and your dog together. Because at some point, you’ll open that book … I mean, for me, it took me years before I could look at pictures of Shep and that’s OK. That’s how I needed to grieve. Even though like it’ll be 10 years in August, I’m still grieving my boy. I know I’ll never stop. But I can now look at those photos and say, ah, I remember that time we went to the hoodoos near Drumheller, Alberta. And he was … it was just like, he became a puppy all over again. And he was bouncing all over the place and having just the greatest day. And it connects me back to him and the life we shared together. And so when I present somebody with a photo album, it’s that same thing. It’s like, this is going to … you’re going to need this.

Erica

Yeah. Yeah. One of my favorite affirmation cards from the original deck, he’s just remembering the joy. And oh my gosh, just go back say … yeah, when I’m feeling down, I remember I have joyful memories to draw upon. OK, that’s not verbatim, but that’s this central just is, what do I have? What is good? OK, I have all my memories. And when you really draw upon those, and get in, grounded in them, your heart starts to glow like ET. And that’s the beauty of the human-animal bond is that we can go back to that feeling and cultivate that feeling and bring that feeling into our daily lives, which ultimately changes the way that we’re processing the loss. And, you know, realizing how beautiful that is, and what a gift that is that we have memory. …. I mean, that’s what I do with all my pets. I’ll sit quietly and think about them and what I loved about them and let … it just ignites my heart. It’s like turns it on and gets all melty. And then I’m like, OK, I can go on with my day because I can bring that with me.

Angela 

When we feel so alone in caring for our aging or terminally ill pets, who can we look to for support? And how do we ask for help?

Erica

Yeah, boy, I wish there was an easy answer to that. Because there are people in my life that I thought I could rely on. And I wasn’t sure. And I had to go into that vulnerable space to say, Hey, I’m not okay. But I want to do normal things with you. Can we go out to dinner, even though I’m sad, and we don’t have to talk about Wolfgang. But I’m kind of broken right now. And right now, what I’d like to do is spend time with you, and not talk about it. And so do you really have to go out on a limb and, and kind of test your relationships and not everyone is going to understand or, or, you know, some might recoil and be a little scared. My mom was very understanding, she’s a serial pet owner. And you know, they’re all buried in her yard. And she held my hand through it. And I’ve relied on her heavily as also my close friend Hika. And I had to forgive the people that said hurtful things, because they were trying to come from a place of compassion that didn’t understand, also have to forgive friends that would say they’d get together and we didn’t. You know, I think I learned a lot about my friendships during that time. And what I really found helpful was that Facebook group, I think it’s just called the Rainbow Bridge Facebook group. And I think there’s a couple 100,000 people in there, and I could just pour my heart out and say, I’m laying in bed, I feel like crap. tomorrow’s a new day, but I’m, you know, and you just voice whatever’s going on. And it’s kind of anonymous, because I don’t know any of those people 400 comments, instant responses on, I understand, your, your pelvis is valid. My heart is with you right now. You know, when you read the I read them, and we just cry and be like, ah, people get me. And I’m not alone. And I was able to take away some of my own judgment about how bad I was feeling. And that was a really big change for me. And that’s why I started my own. I’m not saying one is better than the other, but I wanted to have a community of people that I knew, and that, you know, we could go, we could be vulnerable together. And that’s one of the requirements. If you come in, you got to support other people. You know, please be active in the group. And we’re not going to have any judgment around people’s feelings or their practices or any bias about the way that they get the help, whatever their help looks like.

Angela  

I was very fortunate in that, when Shep died, almost 10 years ago, I was surrounded by people who gave me the love and support that I needed in the moment. I put a post up on Facebook about his death. And I read those comments every year to remind me that people understood the depth of our relationship, and that they recognized and validated how important that loss was to me. But what if people don’t have that support network? What if they’re just so alone?

Erica

So again, I mean, a starting place would be wolfieswish.com and our resources page. So I’ve had feedback that some people found watching a lot of YouTube videos was helpful and they like to follow, I think her name is Nicole McKinnon. And so that can be a great way to get  answers. So I have a couple of links on the resources page or listening to podcasts like this. Right? There’s so many there’s the Rainbow Bridge podcast. And so I have a list of those as well. Some people do want books, or blogs, or a support hotline. So that’s a really great place, I think to start, and at least have some things listed that might resonate or trigger an idea to say, oh, okay, I do want to try this grief horse, or I do want to try this Facebook group, or let me go on to Facebook. And if I don’t have an account or create one, let me look under groups. What what feels good to me. And so, you know, there’s no real recipe for it. But I think the brave people that are willing to look and seek for support are going to find it. And maybe that means they want to talk to a medium. Good. If you want to do tarot readings, do it. Whatever is going to help you if you want to go find a local Reiki practitioner. And you say to them, I’m really brokenhearted. Can you work on my heart chakra and balance me? You know, there’s a million different modalities. Okay, maybe not a million. Yeah, but unfortunately, not a million. But there’s just so many avenues. And I think to have an open mind and really be committed to healing is all you need.

Angela

What I love about doing things like this, is that there are so many of us out there, working our butts off, to normalize the idea of pet loss, grief, and what it means for people like us to lose our best friends. And we all have different ways of doing it. But yet we can come together and have a beautiful discussion like this. That’s not really a question. I know.

Erica

It’s very beautiful. And I agree, and I and I’m so happy to see that just in a couple of years discovering all of the support that’s out there, and the people that are willing to risk being vulnerable and acknowledging that their pet loss was the worst thing that’s ever happened to them. And I’m one of those people and that’s why I’m here and I’ve changed my career and changed my life. Because I didn’t know that there are people like me out there. And it’s not okay, that we all feel ashamed. That only makes it worse and harder. So, let’s just be open and honest and say this is this is one of the worst things I’ve ever been through.

Angela

This fucking sucks.

Erica

Yeah, and we’re not crazy. I’m not a crazy cat lady. So don’t call me that. Ever.

Angela

I will take Crazy Dog Lady and own it.

Erica

I have to say, I have to say I have three cats now. And my husband jokes, he’s like, if we get any more than we are officially like those people. I was like, great. Bring them on. Are you saying we could get more because I am all about it. And you know, I can’t get him to adopt any other pets. We seem to be we seem to be only compromising on cats, which is fine. But what about animals?

Angela 

Erica, what is one last piece of advice you can give our listeners today?

Erica

Love yourself. Wherever you’re at in your pet loss journey, just love yourself and have hope.

Angela

We don’t get over it, but it does get a little bit softer, doesn’t it?

Erica

Yeah. With time.

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