At 6:20 a.m. on Nov. 1, our Shih Tzu puppy, Gabbi looked back at us once, and then crossed over the Rainbow Bridge. Gabbi was gone, and she took a big piece of us with her.
As our tears fell on that beautiful black and white coat, we brushed her one last time and talked to her as if she were still alive. When she was prepared for burial we laid her on her favorite bed and sat beside her for hours, crying and remembering. It would be late afternoon before we could actually dig her grave. As we laid her in it, we read the words from the poem, Rainbow Bridge:
“There is a bridge connecting heaven and earth. It is called Rainbow Bridge because of its many colors. Just this side of Rainbow Bridge there is a land of meadows, hills valleys and lush grass.
“When a beloved pet dies, the pet goes to this special place. There is always food and water and warm spring weather. The old and frail are young again. Those who are maimed are made whole. They play all day with each other.
“There is only one thing missing. They are not with their special person who loved them 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 suddenly runs from the group! You have been seen, and when you and your special friend meet, you take him or her into your arms and embrace. Your face is kissed again and again, and you look once more into the eyes of your trusting pet.
“Then you cross the Rainbow Bridge together, never again to be separated.”
Even though our hearts were breaking, we experienced a certain peace from these words because these are words of hope and promise that there is something more, much more, beyond the grave. This is gospel hope and the foundation of Christian faith.
Jesus promises in John 14: 2-4 that “In my Father’s house there are many rooms; if that were not so would I have told you that I go there to prepare a place for you?”
Jesus told the thief on the cross next to Him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23: 42-43).
In our theology and worship, Episcopalians place great emphasis on this hope. Every Sunday is a celebration of Christ’s resurrection, and at every burial we stand by the grave and proclaim, “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” With this as a Christian given, can we possibly translate this hope and promise to our beloved pets? I truly believe so! It certainly seems that God created us and everything else through the energy of His Love. All creation is filled with this Love.
John 3:16 tells us that “For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” What I have experienced in seven decades of sharing life with many dogs is the unconditional love that Jesus talks about throughout his ministry on Earth. All of those beautiful fuzzy angels in my life have defined that love for me.
Even though Scripture does not say it, may I suggest that Adam in the Garden of Eden sensed this quality of unconditional love in these creatures. In Genesis we read the story of God’s creation of all animals, but he left naming them to Adam (Genesis 2:20). I bet Adam found one of the animals to be especially loving and happy just to be around him. He probably thought the animal was much like God, so when he came to name the animal, Adam – with a slight element of dyslexia – called this new friend of his dog. Goodbye, Gabbi! See you at the Rainbow Bridge!
The Rev. Joe Bowden is assisting priest at Church of the Holy Comforter in Martinez.