Piggy and the Bracelet

This blog post was written by Melinda Johnson, author of Piggy in Heaven which releases today!

 

One of the hardest things about death is the end of physical presence. All of your love is still present in your heart, but it loses the tangible outlets it once had. You can no longer hug your loved one, see that wonderful smile, hear that infectious laugh. You can’t run to open the door, or cook a favorite food to share. Your heart is full, but your arms are empty.
 
Imagination can be a healing tool when we grieve, and it’s one children turn to easily. Losing a pet is often the first time a child encounters death. In fact, that’s what prompted me to write Piggy in Heaven. It was the story my family needed as we mourned our adorable guinea pig. 
 
Now that this story has become a book, I am touched and delighted (and sometimes on the verge of tears, just for a minute) at the hilarious, adorable, beautiful creativity this book has inspired among my artist and crafter friends. One drew a pattern and sewed a Piggy plushy from scratch. Another made finger puppets of each character, to give you “a hand” while reading and telling the story. And my friend Meghan Inlow, jewelry designer and mompreneur at VioletandVines [https://www.etsy.com/shop/VioletandVines], offered a bespoke, limited-edition “Piggy in Heaven” bracelet. It’s something sparkly and tangible to hold, something to hang those memories on. Today I’m interviewing Meghan about how this bracelet came about.
 
1. First, tell me about your creative process when you are making a piece like this.  
 
I feel like there is so much chaos in our lives. I want each piece that I make to provide joy, inspiration, and a sense of calm to the person wearing it.  So picking out the flowers for each piece, or greenery, the shape of pendant they are hand placed in – all elements are gathered to create that calm and inspiration. The same was done with the bracelet for Piggy.  I wanted something that encompassed the book as well as a tangible way to give comfort to the child receiving it. 
 
2. What are the elements of this bracelet, and how did you choose them?
 

The bracelet that I designed and crafted for “Piggy in Heaven” includes gold sparkles, feathers, and resin, all mixed in and cradled with crystal beads in between the hand-made beads.  I wanted something to represent the heavenly aspect of the book, and I wanted it to embody peace for the child who receives it.  So after playing with a few different designs, it was finalized with these elements as well as a hand-painted charm at the bottom of the bracelet.  
 
Get a Piggy Memory Bracelet here! https://www.etsy.com/shop/VioletandVines
 
3. How did your perspective as a mom come into play for this piece?
 
As a mom, if my child lost their beloved pet, I thought about what would bring them a little joy and peace, but also what would be a tangible way to help comfort them. As a parent, I feel like the goal and thought was, “How do I make this time of grieving a little bit easier for my child, is there something I could give them to help them remember and feel close to their lost furry friend?”
 
4. Your jewelry is a wonderful example of art and nature intersecting with each other. What got you started using natural materials in your jewelry?
 
The beauty and diversity of nature is something that is so important for me to place into my jewelry.  I dabbled with different jewelry styles, but when I started mixing flowers with resin, they flowed together almost like a painting, and I knew that I was sold in creating nature-inspired and infused pieces.
 
5. People often have special memories attached to their jewelry. Why do you think that happens?
I believe that people have memories attached to their jewelry because jewelry is usually a special and important gift given.  For example, when I was 16, my grandparents gave me earrings they had created for me.  I have a pendant that my Grandmother gave me before she passed away, and my engagement ring is laced with all those special memories including my husband and when we prepared to start our lives together.  All of these beautiful memories are created around special and unique pieces of jewelry.
 
6. What do you love most about your creative work?
 
Making jewelry fulfills an extra sense of purpose within me.  It helps to relieve stress, helps me to focus on prayer, and I’m able to create wearable art and bring peace, joy, and inspiration to others. There’s also one of the bracelet by itself, if needed.
Meet Meghan Inlow!
I am a mom of 3 kiddos currently residing in Pennsylvania while my husband is working on his Master’s degree at St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary.  I was born and raised in California, and our family converted to the Orthodox Church about 6 years ago.  I have always had a passion for art and grew up in an artistic household.  I began doing water-color painting in 2014, which opened my eyes to different types of art I had never tried before. About a year ago, I started entering the world of jewelry making.  I started with essential oil diffuser jewelry, then moved on to wire-wrapped pendants, then finally found my niche with resin and dried flowers.  Each piece inspires me, and I love the way the flowers flow differently with every pendant.  I never thought I would have a passion for jewelry making, but I was pleasantly surprised.  I am so thankful to be part of this sweet story, and I am glad I get to share my art and creative love with everyone.
You can see Meghan’s work at Violet and Vine – here[https://www.etsy.com/shop/VioletandVines]

Children, Grief, and Imagination: An Interview with Dr. Chrissi Hart

When our much-loved guinea pig died, I wrote Piggy in Heaven to help us grieve for him. The story made us laugh, and it made us cry all over again. But story-telling opened a mental window, and we could “see” Piggy again, playing in the grass, wheeking, hopping, waiting for us somewhere in eternity, with love. In the coming weeks, you’ll be able to hear the wonderful Dr. Chrissi Hart sharing Piggy in Heaven on her podcast, “Readings from Under the Grapevine.” Dr. Hart is a psychologist who works with grieving children, and she kindly shared some wisdom with me about helping your child come to terms with death.

 Melinda: At What age do children understand death?

Dr. Hart: Children discover the unpredictability of the world when a pet dies. Age and developmental level also determine how a child experiences grief. For example, younger children below age 6 years, do not understand the finality of death, which they see as temporary and reversible. They do not understand the pet is gone and is not coming back. They may have many questions, like how the pet will breathe, play or run in the ground. At around age 6 years, children develop a concept of death and that it is permanent.  They understand then that their pet is not returning.

Melinda: How does a child’s experience of losing a pet compare to grieving for a family member or friend?

Dr. Hart: The death of a pet is usually a child’s first experience of death and loss. The grief is similar and can be as profound as losing a family member or friend. Children experience similar stages of grief as adults do after the loss of a pet as they would for the loss of a family member or friend. The stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance (Kubler-Ross). Children may get stuck on the sadness part or may have alternating anger and sadness.

Melinda: What are some ways that children use their imaginations to handle grief?

Dr. Hart: Young children often express their grief through play and in their drawings or paintings. They can use their imagination by thinking of the pet in a happy place like dog or cat heaven, or with God, playing, eating and running around in wonderful places. One of the best ways for children to use their imaginations to handle grief is by reading books on the subject. This can not only be therapeutic, but also an opportunity for parent-child discussions about feelings, anxieties and fears and answering the child’s questions.

Melinda: How can parents and caregivers help their children grieve in healthy ways?

Dr. Hart: Talk to your child about how they feel, listen to their responses and observe their behavior. Read books together on the loss of a pet. Have a ritual for the burial which may include a prayer. Keep a memory box of photos. Understand the grief process and where the child is at present and know that children are generally resilient and can recover quicker than adults.

Children between the ages of 2 and 7 years may have magical thinking about a loss and may feel responsible in some way, believing they caused the loss. They can be reassured that the pet’s death has nothing to do with anything they thought or did.

Melinda: What are some warning signs that a child may need extra help with grieving?

 Dr. Hart: Look for changes in behavior, such as sleep problems, nightmares, irritability, anxiety, sadness and crying, and verbalizing struggles. Regressed behavior such as toileting problems, clinging and separation anxiety are other warning signs.

Melinda: Tell us about some pets you’re hoping to meet in heaven!

 Dr. Hart: I hope to meet my cats Flopsy, Ellie and Natalia again one day!

*****************************

Dr. Chrissi Hart is a Licensed Psychologist in York, Pennsylvania where she lives with her husband, adult son and daughter and their orange cat Ginger. She has a private practice with her husband, helping children and adolescents with anxiety, psychosomatic disorders, loss and bereavement. She has publications in child psychology, is the author of several Orthodox Christian children’s books and hosts the popular children’s podcast, Readings from Under the Grapevine, on Ancient Faith Radio.

http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/grapevine

www.chrissihart.com

His Eye is on the Sparrow

This week’s blog is written by Melinda Johnson, author of “Piggy in Heaven,” coming soon from Paraclete Press! 

“When Jesus is my portion, a constant friend is He. His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.” – Civilla Durfee Martin, His Eye is On the Sparrow, 1905

We don’t take small animals seriously. If you’re an adult who owns a hamster, you’re probably the only one you know. At the movies or in the library, it’s easy to find a horse or a dog saving the hero’s life or demonstrating wisdom and loyalty. Epic tales about small herbivores are hard to come by. We expect to find these little creatures in cartoons and picture books or serving nobly as the comic relief. In a serious story, you might find a canary or a perky rat accessorizing a character the author hopes will be eccentric.

I have been the fortunate human guardian of, at various times, two bunnies, seven hamsters, a rotating selection of fish, and one guinea pig. All of these animals are considered children’s pets – small, adorable, and inconsequential. Yet I learned important things from each of them, and these epiphanies built on each other into a staunch belief that the tiniest members of creation are as precious and intelligent as the largest and most obviously heroic. Caring for these little pets through their lifetime and at the moment of their death has taught me beautiful lessons. I will share three with you here.

God is in the details.

Two of our tiny friends were dwarf, or miniature, hamsters. These hamsters are less than 3 inches long, and yet they are complete living creatures, with exquisite little eyes and hands, tiny beating hearts, and downy fur. When you hold one in your hand, she feels light and warm. Her fingernails and whiskers tickle equally and seem about the same circumference. If you can keep your eyes on the shy, busy little animal and let your mind leap outwards to the edges of the cosmos, you can begin to see what a miracle she is. Think of the painstaking attention it took to create one hamster. Think how many hamsters have graced our planet since time began. And that’s only hamsters! What about bunnies? Birds? Caterpillars? Lemmings? Think of every little voiceless creature you pass without seeing every day. They are all testaments to the infinite, loving creative Essence who could invent life in such diversity and detail.

Words are not the only measure of intelligence.

One of the first ways a child learns to distinguish between humans and animals is language. “I love my doggy, but he doesn’t talk.” Animals are a long step up from toys, which don’t talk or move, but that absence of words is a disappointment.

We grownups publish books and articles about animal intelligence, and we consider it newsworthy because it surprises us. Who would think a crow could make a tool? How amazing that dolphins use their own language! What if dogs can discern right from wrong? I believe our surprise results from our strong tendency to perceive animals as lesser editions of ourselves, rather than as separate and inherently mysterious creatures. Little by little, we are learning to ask how an animal expresses its inner life, instead of assuming it does not have one. We hamper these efforts by anthropomorphizing, often with the best intentions. We’re likely to offer mercy to an animal that seems “almost human” to us, and mercy is a good gift. But I hope we can stretch ourselves to admit how much of the world and its creatures may be outside our knowledge or in need of our kindness.

Pets are not replaceable.

I overheard a conversation once between a child and an adult. It went like this:

Adult: “I’m sorry about your hamster. Your mom told me it died.”

Child: “That’s okay. I’m going to get another one.”

I don’t blame anyone in this scenario. We all comfort our children as best we can. The words stayed with me because they reflect the way we gloss over the individuality of small animals. If no two snowflakes have ever been alike, no two hamsters have ever been alike. Every animal is a single instance.

Every death leaves an empty space, even the death of a miniature hamster, a bunny, or a guinea pig. You are left with love that has no outlet, and your heart hurts. A new pet is wonderfully healing, but it is a new pet; it is not the old one back again. We lessen our ability to understand and treasure life if we reduce it to a mass-produced commodity.

So when I think of that old hymn about the sparrow, and I reflect on the beloved little animals who have shared our home, I remember that not one sparrow falls to the earth outside the Father’s care. Yes, Jesus says we are “of more value than many sparrows,” but in the same moment, He is telling us that He loves the sparrows, too.