- The author of the wonderful poem about a pet's passing, the Rainbow Bridge, has remained a mystery until very recently
- Though many have claimed it as their own, the real author is 82-year-old Edna Clyne-Rekhy, who wrote the poem at age 19 in 1959, at the passing of her beloved dog, Major
- Clyne-Rekhy was stunned to learn earlier this year that her poem has been spreading anonymously across the world for decades
- One reason the Rainbow Bridge has endured is that it offers grieving pet owners hope that they will be reunited with their beloved animals in the afterlife
If you're like most people who've lost a beloved pet, you're familiar with the poem "The Rainbow Bridge." You may have been given a copy by your veterinarian or the service that handled your furry family member's remains. You might also have seen it reprinted in a condolence card, or on social media.
The Rainbow Bridge poem is unique in that it triggers anticipatory grief while our pets are still with us yet offers comfort when we ultimately lose them.
The Rainbow Bridge
Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge. When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, your pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together.
There is plenty of food, water, and sunshine, and friends are warm and comfortable. All the animals who have been ill and old are restored to health and strength, those who were hurt are made better and strong again, like we remember them before they go to heaven. They are happy and content except for one small thing — they each miss someone very special to them who had to be left behind.
They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are shining, his body shakes. Suddenly he begins to run from the herd, rushing over the grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cuddle in a happy hug never to be apart again.
You and your pet are in tears. Your hands again cuddle his head and you look again into his trusting eyes, so long gone from life, but never absent from your heart, and then you cross the Rainbow Bridge together.
The Rainbow Bridge Author Is Revealed at Last
I recently ran across a wonderful article in National Geographic written by Rachel Nuwer about the origins of this touching poem. Apparently, a dozen or more people have claimed authorship over the years. Meanwhile, the real author had been living her life oblivious to the fact that her poem had become a worldwide sensation. She was "absolutely stunned" and "in a state of shock" to learn the news.
That young lady is 82-year-old Scottish animal lover and artist, Edna Clyne-Rekhy, who wrote the poem over 60 years ago after the passing of her dog, Major. (If you have a log-in for National Geographic online, you can find a picture of young Edna and Major here, circa 1959.)
Interestingly, it was author, art historian, and cat owner Paul Koudounaris of Tucson, AZ who ultimately connected the dots between Clyne-Rekhy and the Rainbow Bridge. According to National Geographic, Koudounaris has spent years working on a book about pet cemeteries, and frequently ran across references to the poem.
He couldn't find information about the author, and it bothered him that "a text with monumental importance to the world of animal mourning" remained uncredited.
Koudounaris traced the Rainbow Bridge's popularity back to February 1994, when a resident of Grand Rapids, MI sent a copy of the poem, which he or she had received from the local humane society, to newspaper advice columnist Dear Abby. Abby decided to print the poem and let her 100 million readers know the author was a mystery. No one came forward, but the poem was suddenly everywhere.
Starting in 1995, Koudounaris located 15 individual claims filed using the title "Rainbow Bridge" with the U.S. Copyright Office. He compiled a list of about 25 names of people with some sort of connection to the poem, and then researched each, crossing them off until just one name remained: Edna Clyne-Rekhy.
Poem Was Written in Memory of a Dearly Loved Dog Named Major
In January 2023, Koudounaris was finally able to reach Clyne-Rekhy and asked her the $64,000 question. "How on Earth did you find me!?" was her very surprised response.
Koudounaris chronicled Clyne-Rekhy's story in a post at The Order of the Good Death website, titled and subtitled "The Rainbow Bridge: The True Story Behind History's Most Influential Piece of Animal Mourning Literature. If you meet your pet in the afterlife, thank Edna Clyne-Rekhy". (Don't miss the wonderful pictures included with his post.)
In a long-distance interview with National Geographic, Clyne-Rekhy explained that in 1959, at age 19, she was grieving the loss of her Labrador Retriever, Major.
"He died in my arms, actually," she said. "I dearly loved him."
When Clyne-Rekhy was still "just crying and crying" after Major's death, her mom suggested she write down her feelings. So, she sat down with a sheet of paper and wrote, “Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge,” and the rest of the poem spilled out onto the paper, filling the front and back.
"It just came through my head, it was like I was talking to my dog — I was talking to Major," she says. "I just felt all of this and I had to write it."
The Rainbow Bridge Gives Us a Reason to Hope
Koudounaris learned that Clyne-Rekhy had kept her hand-written draft of the poem and asked to see it. He knew immediately it was the real thing. "The rest of her story confirmed it for me later, but I can't fully explain the power of those sheets," he told National Geographic.
Clyne-Rekhy never published the poem, but she did show it to a few friends, all of whom cried and asked if they could have their own copy. So, she hand-typed duplicates for each of them, never including her name. At some point after that, the anonymously written poem took on a life of its own and was published in various formats in the U.S., Britain, and beyond.
It's heartwarming to read and watch all the variations of the poem that have been created over the years, with each pet lover's version expressing their own very personal feelings of loss after a pet dies. Here's the rendition Rodney Habib and I created a few years ago:
Clyne-Rekhy was unaware her poem had become a source of comfort for grieving pet parents the world over, perhaps because she spent years living in India and later, on an olive farm in Spain.
"Can you imagine?" she exclaimed. "Every vet in Britain has it!"
Koudounaris posits that the enduring popularity and power of the Rainbow Bridge poem for Western pet owners is because it fulfills a theological need, in that many Christians believe animals lack souls, and therefore can't go to Heaven.
"'Rainbow Bridge' provides the missing piece for people who have had to live with this anxiety that their animal is not good enough to deserve an afterlife," Koudounaris tells National Geographic. "It gives us a reason to hope."
Kitty Block, the aptly named CEO and president of the Humane Society of the U.S., feels Clyne-Rekhy's poem has given the world "a vision that has brought comfort to millions grieving the loss of a pet."
"Its enduring popularity shows how relationships to pets matter to so many people across all walks of life," says Block. "The intimacy of those connections can help us recognize our fundamental duty to care for animals, those who are part of our families and those in the wider world."
Clyne-Rekhy, for her part, has solid plans in place to be reunited with Major and all the pets who came after him, whose ashes she has kept.
"We're going to be scattered in the North Sea," she says. "We'll be food for the seals."
Sources & References
Today's Pet Video:
Rescue Cat Knows How to Close the Sale
Boots, a charming cat, found the perfect outdoor job at a Salt Lake City plant nursery. Her “coworkers” love and care for her, plus it fulfills her penchant for catching mice.