While many families gather around the table for Christmas lunch this year, Bedfordshire local Marion Laurence will be on the other end of the phone ready to help those who are grieving and lonely after the loss of a pet.
It will be the sixth Christmas Day in a row she is volunteering for the Blue Cross Pet Bereavement Support Service, which is a free and confidential service that helps people who are struggling to cope with their loss.
Marion’s story with the service started with the death of her beloved border collie cross Oliver, who passed away at the grand old age of 15-and-a-half. For the last 11 years, she has provided a sympathetic and understanding ear to comfort those who have parted from their pet, or are facing the decision about whether to euthanise their pet.
Each week she and a team of trained volunteers take emotional and upsetting calls, but know the service they provide is vital.
All through the festive period, the team of volunteers will be ready to take calls from 8.30am – 8.30pm.
“One of my reasons for volunteering is that people still grieve on Christmas Day, just like any other,” Marion explains. “Christmas is a busy time for many people but it can be a strange time too. Many spend lots of time with their families, all together and happy, but there are a lot of people for whom Christmas isn’t a happy time and can be very lonely. It isn’t like it is portrayed on the television for a lot of people.
Last year I spoke to one caller for a long time on Christmas Day and it was really quite heart-breaking. But what we do on Christmas Day is just like what we do on every other day of the year for 12 hours a day. We’re here for people who have lost, or are facing losing, their beloved pet.
Marion estimates that she has taken over a thousand calls in the eleven years she has been volunteering with Blue Cross. While the calls can be difficult emotionally, she knows first-hand how important they are.
“The reason I got involved was because I felt compelled to give something back after Blue Cross helped me when I lost Oliver,” said Marion. “The support I received from the helpline was brilliant. I felt that someone truly understood what I was going through. Friends and family might say, ‘Why don’t you just get another dog?’ but we know that the bond is special and losing a pet is terribly difficult.”
The service is open to everyone experiencing loss, whether through death, or separation because of theft, relationship breakdown, or having to find a new home for a pet. Grief affects everyone differently, and pet loss can be difficult to talk about with those close to you. A home can feel very empty when a pet has gone, and it is common for bereaved owners to experience feelings of loneliness, despair and even depression.