I’ve known many people who’ve lost a pet, but due to the circles that I find myself in most of those people are atheists or not religious. As such, I don’t have many antecedents, many examples, to help lead me through where I find myself now. I suppose a large part of that is the fact that I haven’t lost a pet since 1998, and I haven’t lost a family member who I knew well since 1996. That’s a long time without any kind of major grief.

As such, I find myself at a crossroads about what to believe happens…afterwards. A little research has, if anything, muddled the question. My strict religious relatives would probably argue that animals don’t have souls, and they’d probably be on more doctrinally solid ground than I (to say nothing of what to think about my food as an avowed carnivore under those circumstances). The New Age concept of a “Rainbow Bridge” that links a “green meadow located this side of Heaven” with the hereafter where departed pets wait for their masters to join them isn’t satisfying either. It seems like a trite 1970s flower-power storybook; the fact that the people I know who cleave to it are also largely irreligious also has a galling quality to it.

In short, I don’t know what to believe. I don’t know that I ever will, honestly. So what’s left to me, in the face of the loss and the need to do or to feel something about it?

I think the only avenue that I can fully embrace is something I’ve already begun to do. In the face of uncertainty, take the steps you know will lead to remembrance and existence, even if only in an abstract fashion, after the sorrows of the world have been rolled back. So I’m left with art: creative writing, journal entries, photographs, and paintings. Taking pictures and collecting those from happier times. Spelling out how I feel with words and images. Incorporating what I can of the lost into a painting: a pawprint here, a pinch of fur mixed with the acrylics there.

Soul or not, heaven or not, Rainbow Bridge or not, those things will be a lasting remembrance as long as I or others are around to see them.

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