Whether it's called Heaven, Paradise, Valhalla, Nirvana, Shamyim, Firdaws, Ouranos or Tian (天), they all relate to the afterlife, once man leaves this mortal plane. Down through the ages, there have been hundreds of myths and religious beliefs as to where we go when we die. Some believe life-after-death is too good to be true. It’s a delusional yearning for “pie in the sky” The late great Stephen Hawking most memorably described heaven, as “a fairy tale for people afraid of the dark.” Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and other religious sects could not disagree more.
But what about our pets and the ‘Rainbow Bridge?’ Is there an afterlife for them? Shouldn't we be reunited with all of our family members when we die, including our four-legged ones?
Connecting Earth to Heaven
The Rainbow Bridge is not a substitute for heaven. Instead, it is a reinforcement for those who believe in heaven. It’s a mythical overpass said to provide a crossing from this earthly plane that allows our beloved canines and felines to join us in eternity. It's a place for grieving pet owners to eventually reunite with their departed furry friends, after they have passed.
It’s a relatively new theme, whose origin is not all that clear. Some say the idea emerged as the result of several works of poetry circumnavigating the globe in the 1980s and 1990s, most of which are anonymous.
One titled, “Rainbow Bridge (Death of a Pet)" reads as follows:
There is a bridge connecting Heaven and Earth.
It is called the Rainbow Bridge because of all its beautiful colors.
Just this side of the Rainbow Bridge there is a land of meadows,
hills and valleys with lush green grass.
When a beloved pet dies, the pet goes to this place.
There is always food and water and warm spring weather.
The old and frail animals are young again.
Those who were sick, hurt or in pain are made whole again.
There is only one thing missing,
they are not with their special person who loved them so much on earth.
So each day they run and play until the day comes
when one suddenly stops playing and looks up!
The nose twitches! The ears are up!
The eyes are staring and this one runs from the group!
You have been seen and when you and your special friend meet,
you take him in your arms and hug him.
He licks and kisses your face again and again -
and you look once more into the eyes of your best friend and trusting
Then you cross the Rainbow Bridge together never again to be apart.
This poem and others launched the pet bereavement movement inspiring countless theories and treatises, as well as becoming a lucrative marketplace for memorabilia, merchandise, movies and books.
Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement
Wallace Sife, Ph.D. is one of the early proponents of the movement having written his own version of the now infamous bridge. He is the founder of the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement, a volunteer counseling chat room and online resource. His seminal work on the topic is the 1993 book, “The Loss of a Pet,” — now in its in fourth edition — and considered the go-to resource in the pet grief field.
While there are always skeptics, many professionals have become believers in the Rainbow Bridge, taking solace in the promise that resides like a pot of gold, at the end of the rainbow. Veterinarian Julie Ann Luiz Adrian, an associate professor at the University of Hawaii, said it comforted her after her cat passed away when she was a student.
Joni Eareckson-Tada writes in her book Heaven: Your Real Home that God would want to keep all his creatures. "Horses in heaven? Yes. I think animals are some of God’s best and most avant-garde ideas; why would he throw out his greatest creative achievements? … Isaiah foresaw lions and lambs lying down together, as well as bears, cows, and cobras; and John foresaw the saints galloping on white horses," notes Eareckson-Tada.
Members of our family . . .
Supporting this belief is a topic, I have written about for some time now -- pets reside on equal standing with man. Pets are no longer second-class citizens. They have become members of our families, sometimes even replacing children. And as our progeny, Washington Post correspondent, Anne Marie Gardner questions whether or not “the Rainbow Bridge is sort of a grief anthem for the rising generation of the millennials?
The trend of humanizing what are now often called “companion animals” has helped grow the pet industry a steady $2 billion to $3 billion a year since 2010, according to the American Pet Products Association. But spending jumped by $6 billion, to nearly $67 billion, between 2015 and 2016 — the same year the millennial generation overtook baby boomers as the primary pet-owning demographic.
Whether or not you believe, or choose to relate to the growing Rainbow Bridge philosophy, its ethos is comforting.
Sife said losing a pet forces owners to face their own mortality, no matter how they choose to grieve. Still, the Rainbow Bridge — in all its variations — “is what people want to hear,” he insists. “It’s what we call in the trade ‘warm fuzzies.’ ”
What about you dear reader? Is the Rainbow Bridge something you believe in or wish to believe in because it allows you to cope with your loss? Do you think it’s entirely logical to believe, because it aligns with your thoughts of heaven? After all, if you make it all the way to the heavenly plane, and your pets aren’t there waiting for you, are you going to be happy in the afterlife, or face eons of unhappiness throughout eternity? That wouldn’t be fair, don’t you think? Your ‘final’ thoughts [pun intended]?
Primary Source: Washington Post