Anyone who has ever loved a pet knows that a special animal has the power to change our lives completely. For author and animal advocate Sharon Discorfano, the loss of her rescued beagle Pushkin inspired her to create a website, quite unique from other memorial sites, to provide others who have lost a pet a comfortable space and outlet to express their grief.
Three years later, Letterstopushkin.com has attracted thousands of visitors, hundreds of letter-writers, more than 6000 Facebook followers, and has inspired a landmark on Foursquare; and Pushkin's photo regularly makes surprise appearances on a popular CBS drama series.
Letterstopushkin.com began with one entry: a letter to Pushkin by Discorfano in her personal journal, written as an exercise to cope with the recent loss. Finding it to be helpful, she committed to writing a letter each day to Pushkin throughout the season of Lent, which began shortly after his passing.
Discorfano's new book Letters to Pushkin includes her letters, 47 in all, written between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. The letters document a healing process; together, the letters form an intimate conversation about life, death, and the afterlife that combines spiritual and religious traditions from East and West - from the Catholic ritual and reflection of the Lenten season to the Buddhist search for enlightenment - and various disciplines including yoga, meditation, and traditional observances.
While the loss of a loved one, human or nonhuman, is inherently poignant, Discorfano's journey from grief to peace offers great wisdom, insight, and comfort, and reminds us of the irrefutable importance of companion animals in our lives and our families.
"Sharon's tender journey with Pushkin reveals the immense gifts we human beings receive from our four-legged animal companions," said Michael Bernard Beckwith, author of Spiritual Liberation: Fulfilling Your Soul's Potential. "The respect, humor, compassionate caring, and unconditional love she shared with Pushkin reveals the preciousness of the human-canine bond. We often refer to "rescuing" a dog, but it's probably far more frequent that a dog rescues us; for as it says in Job 12:7, 'Ask the animals, and they will teach you.'"
"My letters were never intended for publication; they were intimate conversations that I wrote out each day," said Discorfano. "When a friend suggested to me afterwards that I share my letters and experience to possibly help others grieving over the loss of a companion animal, I decided to share my experience in writing them."
Discorfano created Letterstopushkin.com so that others could use letter-writing, as she had, to cope with loss. The site provides a safe space for people to post their own letters without feeling self-conscious, or to find comfort simply in reading letters written by others. Writing a letter to a loved one - rather than a journal entry - allows those who are grieving to write about their emotions honestly, but also keeps them from dwelling on sad or depressing thoughts for the entire letter. Even for those who are not usually inclined to write, a letter is something everyone, of all ages, can produce. Meanwhile, the site's Facebook page has become a supportive community where people find comfort in the experiences of others and generously help each other overcome difficult times.
Letters to Pushkin ($15.99; paperback, 250 pages) is available in print, Kindle, Nook, and iPad formats. Fifty percent of the royalties are donated to Bideawee, a New York-based humane organization from which Discorfano adopted Pushkin. For more, please see www.Letterstopushkin.com.
About the Author
Sharon Discorfano, a graduate of Rice University, has an M.A. in Literature from Georgetown University and an M.A. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from New York University. She received her J.D. from the University of Arizona, where her personal focus was on animal-related legal issues and animal advocacy efforts. She currently resides in Tucson with her husband and Pushkin's brothers, Otis and Galileo. For more information, please visit www.sharondiscorfano.com.