The Origin Story
A Love of Pets from the Very Beginning
Hi - I'm Emily Piccirillo and RemembeRing’s Founder and CPL (Chief Pet Lover).
I was a lucky kid because my family included lots of pets — dogs, cats, chickens, ducks, rabbits, turtles, birds, fish, guinea pigs, salamanders, a raccoon, an iguana— you name it! They were part of my daily life. My formative years taught me so many lessons about life and death, and how to care deeply and adore another being, even one with a very short existence.
I took special interest in fledglings that fell from their nests in the spring, feeding them a mash of blueberries, milk and bread. Many didn’t survive, even with my careful tending, but I embraced the challenge with each new cycle of life.
Naturally my heart broke many times and over the years a veritable cemetery took form in the woods behind out Connecticut home. Through these early experiences, I learned that the more intensely we love, the more intensely we grieve, that both are worth it, and they bring out the best in us.
Caesar was the first loss that really shook my world. Pets were allowed to run loose in the 1960’s and after Caesar attacked a neighbor’s chihuahua during one of his regular outings, my father “took him to a farm.” I was given the chance to say a brief goodbye before I left for school the following day, but coming home to him being gone was a significant trauma. I loved and missed him so much, and always will. I’m still not sure about that farm story…
My Professional Perspective
As an adult, I served as a board-certified art therapist and a grief counselor for nearly two decades. I worked in diverse settings and programs, with a special commitment to the HIV/AIDS community.
Over time, I began to notice a surprising pattern across therapy sessions. Adult clients would come to talk and make art about the imminent or recent passing of a person close to them, and yet they would somehow end up exploring the loss of a pet who died years ago, often in childhood. Many were grieving a beloved companion animal for the first time because they hadn’t been given permission or their parents had hidden what really happened. For many, their pet’s disappearance remained a mystery and an open wound. They still missed their pal terribly and valued the chance to finally talk openly about it. My own early experiences really helped me to empathize with them.
Then, while on a team that supported families impacted by HIV/AIDS, I discovered something important was missing from the mourning experience. One of my clinical responsibilities was to prepare and accompany the young program participants to their family funerals. Despite my varied skills and expertise, I was frustrated by the resources available to help them heal through their losses.
So, as art therapists naturally do, I made up a solution on the fly — I crafted the first RemembeRing from a sheet of cardboard before heading out one morning to a client family funeral. I knew I needed a meaningful, experiential activity to share with my young client at the service. We sat in the pew as she wrote and decorated her farewell message on the RemembeRing token and then we went up to the altar together and tucked it into the casket before the service started. In her next session, we transformed the outer ring into a frame for a photo of her deceased mother. This practice of holding on and letting go proved to become a valued ritual for the grieving families I served.
Combining It All Together
As I reflected on these different life experiences in anticipation of launching Remembering, I chose to begin by focusing on supporting individuals of all ages who are experiencing the loss of a pet, knowing that it is often our first introduction to death and deep grief. It definitely was mine.
I am also a fine artist, so I created the first four original RemembeRing designs using mixed media. To extend the line in the future, I will post an open call for other creative folks who are pet lovers to submit their own design ideas for consideration. Please stay tuned!
Family and A Furry Future
I’m so fortunate and grateful to live on Lake Champlain in the beautiful town of Burlington, VT with my family — Gordon, Meeka, and Izzy — my wonderful husband, our finely-tuned orange tabby, and a feisty summa dog (summa dis and summa dat) who has yet to learn the meaning of ”drop it.” And while I’m totally thrilled with the enthusiastic support of our community for RemembeRing, I’m not so sure Izzy fully endorses the notion of it yet, given her treatment of one of the prototypes…
I hope RemembeRing eases suffering and inspires the bereaved to continue to open their hearts and homes to pets. Their companionship is such a joy!