The Power of Giving (or, Why Tuna is a Gift Book)

by | Aug 29, 2020 | Grief, Mindfulness, Pet loss | 8 comments

The Tuna book grew out of a gift from Francis to me. I’d known Francis (and admired his art) for 15 years, though until a few years ago, I’d known him mostly as ‘Dianna’s husband.’

Three days after Hedda died, Francis sent me a sketch of Hedda with a note that read: Dear Sarah, Hedda is telling you: Our love is giving you strength to go forward. That is what love is about, right?!”

Then he wrote, still in Hedda’s voice, “p.s. I love you more than tuna.”

I cried, of course, and in the midst of my tears, the writerly part of my brain thought, “That would be a great book title…”

When I received this heartfelt gift from Francis, I felt seen. In the gesture, I implicitly understood that he was saying, “I know how much you loved this being. I know this relationship meant a great deal to you, and I understand how sad you are.” He validated my grief, which is something that bereaved pet guardians often need after an animal’s death.
 

The power of being witnessed when grieving a pet

I was extremely fortunate, in that when Hedda died, I had multiple friends offering support of all kinds. I never once felt misunderstood or judged for my grief. This allowed me to accept that the loss had happened, which was key in my ability to process my feelings and continue living my life, even with sadness and without Hedda.

Pet loss is often considered disenfranchised grief, meaning that our culture does not recognize it as a major life loss. This can contribute to prolonged grief and even complicated grief, a form of grief that doesn’t ease up over time. Over the past several years, I’ve seen just how many people have had absolutely no one validate their grief, no one to talk to or cry with. And often, that does seem to make grief interminable.

Being witnessed in grief, having another recognize our very personal loss, goes a long way towards healing. Or at least, towards the first step of healing: Accepting that the loss happened.

Experience the joy of giving

Back in 2011, I had been off all daily mood medication for a year and was working intently to rewire my brain for inner peace.

I discovered a community called 29 Gifts, based on book by the late Cami Walker, 29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life. The premise was to give something away every day for 29 days. A “gift” doesn’t have to be material. A gift could be giving someone patience, or directions (or forgiving the person who cuts in front of you at the grocery store). Over the course of 29 days, something shifted profoundly in me. So much so that I continued to do “rounds” of giving for four years, until the original community was dismantled. Over the course of those years (and ever since), I’ve continued to “practice” on my own.

I’ve maintained this giving practice (which Buddhists might call a “generosity practice”) because giving was, and is, the best antidepressant I’ve ever found. When I can stay present enough to recognize someone else’s need and then meet that need in the moment, I feel so expensive. Truly joyous.

As I write in the essay linked above, I grew up with a father who asked me every night, “What have you done today to justify your existence?” I was taught that I wasn’t deserving of others’ attention, and my early life experience bore that out—so much so that I believed it to be fact. So for a long, long time, I didn’t want to give gifts. I wanted somebody to take care of me, and if my parents or other caretakers weren’t going to do that, I would do it myself. Discovering the joy of giving was an absolute revelation.

And it continues to be.
 

Tuna as a gift book

I want people to experience the joy of giving something meaningful to someone else, because simply reading about it doesn’t confer the experience.

Ultimately, Tuna has a couple of different purposes. The first is to help people heal from their cat’s death. Anyone is (of course!) welcome to purchase it for themselves. Yet I really, really hope all of you reading this will gift the book to friends, family members, colleagues or clients. Because then you will fulfill my second vision for Tuna: To help people discover the joy of giving.

I see the “gift book” aspect of Tuna as a positive for both giver and recipient—even in the midst of a very difficult situation. Or—thanks, 2020—two, three, ??? difficult situations: The first, that someone is grieving their cat; the second, that right now, chances are that we can’t offer that person a hug. As Ingrid King of The Conscious Cat wrote when she first read Tuna, “This little book is like a warm hug from a friend who understands how much your cat meant to you.”

There are so many ways I hope that Tuna will bring healing to the world: For bereaved cat-lovers, comfort. For their friends, the book buyers, I wish the expansiveness that comes from meeting another person’s need. For Best Friends Animal Society, to which I’m donating 10% of my share, hopefully enough to contribute to one part of their work: helping to match low-income pet owners with resources that allow them to keep the pet in the home. And for Sounds True, the book’s publisher, hopefully enough to contribute to the Sounds True Foundation, which donates their books and audio programs to people living on low incomes and those who are incarcerated.

And, of course, I hope some will flow back to Francis and me! But if I’ve learned anything over the past seven years, it’s the truth of the phrase, “It has to flow out before it flows in.” 

8 Comments

  1. Francie Piccone

    Dear Sarah,

    Your book sounds like it will be a great help to people suffering grief after the death of a beloved companion animal. We look forward to reading about your journey.

    Reply
  2. Greg Dandeneau

    I have never had a cat Sarah, not a pet of any kind, but through your story, I have witnessed the power of love that comes through another species. I am reminded of J. Allen Boone’s “In Kinship With All Life”. ‘Tuna’ is a gift that will always be in style for the giving – the gift of love. Blessings to you & Hedda.

    Reply
  3. Ken O’Brien

    Lovely thoughts, lovely idea for a book. We lost our cat Patter years ago to disease but we still have her shelter “sister”, Pitter, who is a little character.

    Reply
  4. Ronnie Prystup

    Hello. I am grateful for coming across this info recently, and many other stories of people who have loved and lost their furry companions.
    My precious tinki and i had 12 of of her 14 years of living together. She is, and will remain, the only companion, animal or human, that has lived with me steadily for that length of time. On july 22 this year, she was diagnosed with mammary gland cancer, 96% preventable had she been spayed before reaching a year old. It was already in 3 of 4 glands, plus she was developing fluid-filled cysts on her back. The vet indicated surgery might remove the majority of cancer, and a 2nd and 3rd surgery would remove the cysts, each one had to be done separately, but chances were very slim that she could survive thru that much anesthesia at her age and removing the cancer mass would maybe give her 3-6 months. I was sent home with a supply of pain pills(omnisor), each one supposed to help her for a 24-hour period, but each day she’d be in obvious pain & unable to move around 12 hours after the hour and a half to two hour timeframe it took for the pill to be administered and take effect. I have so many pictures from her last few days where she just layed her head on my hand and we bore her pain together, til she’d lift her head up and almost miraculously be ready to get the usual handful of treats before I’d carry her to her bowl of wet food. She was declining physically every day from 7/22 til I put her to sleep on August 5. The last week of her life, her rear legs were so wobbly that she couldn’t make it into her litter boxes and I just put pee-pads down for her. I wasn’t ready to let her go, and still cry oceans of tears every day and am gripped with an overwhelming wave of sadness every morning and every night, when i look for her next to my pillow and she’s not there, when i come home from work and she’s not there to greet me. She was part of every routine, every day, and I can’t stop crying about her being gone. It was so unfair that such a good kitty had to experience that amount of pain and suffering as she exited this world. The burden of that sadness has become a weight on my shoulders, and I miss her terribly.
    I hope what I’m writing now is making sense, thru the tears in my eyes, and long-winded rambling. I look forward to reading “tuna” when it’s released, and am glad someone out there valued her kitty as much as tinki meant to me.
    Ronnie

    Reply
    • Debra

      Ronnie I am so sorry for your loss of your furry pet companion. I just had my Smokie euthanized last week due to intestinal lymphoma. She was just shy of 14 years. I was blessed to have her in my life from 8 weeks as a rescue kitty. I miss her putting her paw on my face as a ‘hello’. I keep expecting her to greet me at the door when I would come home. So many memories. My heart is broken and I’m just so tired. I hope you find the peace and comfort you need.
      Debra

      Reply
    • Sarah Chauncey

      I am so sorry for your loss, Ronnie.

      Reply
  5. steph suglian

    Sarah,
    There are no words to thank you for the gift of your kind, compassionate heart. With your insight, I have had four years since my precious kitty, Squirt was with diagnosed with kidney disease . We have had many ups & downs since then. Thanks to you, I not only understand the gift of anticipatory grief, I fully respect the opportunity it gives us. To love & live every precious minute like it is our last. Here we are, so is Squirt & the moments we’ve had are countless. Thank you for this gift of insight. We are still not letting the road we are on, affect the journey. That is a priceless gift.

    Reply
    • Sarah Chauncey

      I’m so glad you are making the most of your time with Squirt. Thank you, Steph, for all your support.

      Reply

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