The loss of a beloved animal is often best commiserated among fellow pet owners. Those who do not have a four-legged family member in their lives often cannot comprehend the inconsolable void that accompanies the death of a pet. When the earthly bond of unconditional love is shattered, only the memory of it remains. That is the empathetic feeling that is captured in the short story collection, Cherished: 21 Writers on Animals They Have Loved and Lost edited by Barbara Abercrombie. It is a heartfelt look at bereavement and grief throughout the animal spectrum. There is no defined limitation as to what constitutes a pet, and each of the contributors reflects on the specific losses they have endured. For many, it is the first time they have turned to writing in order to express the emotions that accompanied their final good-byes.
The standout piece of the anthology is "True Love" by Samantha Dunn concerning her horse, Gabe. In a fitting description, she writes, "I see him again each time I go to a movie theater and the logo for TriStar Pictures appears on the screen - the strong white chest, the thundering legs." What makes this relationship even more remarkable is that at the time, Samantha was living in a trailer park - not the typical residence of a horse owner. Throughout her teenage years, Samantha enjoyed riding and caring for Gabe. It is not until she returned home during a college break that she learned that her grandmother had sold the elderly equine to a children's summer camp. Samantha never found out if this story was true, or just something her grandmother told her in order to comfort her about Gabe's final resting place. Choosing not to uncover the truth, this unresolved ending still effects Samantha to this day.
Another atypical pet revolves around May-lee Chai's "Red the Pig." Growing up in the farmlands of South Dakota with a white mother and an Asian father wasn't easy for May-lee and her brother. In order to fit in, they decided to work together in raising pigs. Red was the biggest of the piglets. May-lee named them by color in order to not get emotionally involved, but it wasn't long before she was posing with Red for her senior picture. As Red continued to grow, the day arrived when he was destined for the slaughterhouse - something that May-lee could never really accept. After the loss of her pig, she knew she "never wanted to live on a farm again."
In "Party Girl," Monica Holloway explores the animal-autism connection between her son, Wills and their shepherd-collie mix, Hallie. Monica shares, "there was a deep love between them, but it was as if Hallie were a protective aunt, standoffish but fiercely protective." When Wills was 12-years-old, he returned the favor. After Hallie fell into the pool and her arthritic body sank like a stone, it was Wills who jumped in and saved her. Pretty impressive for an autistic boy who didn't like getting his clothes wet. As the selection comes to an end, Hallie is rapidly approaching her final days. Monica ends with a poignant thought, "Hallie ... has been the one constant through the years, completely devoted but asking nothing in return." It is a fitting summation of love between pets and owners everywhere.
The subject matter of the book may be one that many readers will be afraid to approach. The loss of one's pet is hard enough without having to endure the blow-by-blow accounts of other owners for over 200 pages. The repeated scenes of physical deterioration and subsequent euthanization do not make for happy reading. The ending of each story is known before diving in. While it can lead to an experience of continual heartbreak, the collection's intention is to help a pet owner through the grieving process by being able to gain insight from the coping strategies of others. Whether this is a helpful strategy or not is up to the needs of the individual reader.
Overall, these writers share their personal experiences in order to empathize with other grieving pet owners.
Cherished: 21 Writers on Animals They Have Loved and Lost by Barbara Abercrombie is available for $14.95 at Amazon.com and at BarbaraAbercrombie.com.
Review copy was provided by New York Journal of Books.
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