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Literature / Rainbow Bridge

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"Just this side of heaven there's a place called rainbow bridge..."

Rainbow Bridge is a famous poem about what happens to pets after they die. There are two different versions: a prose poem and a rhyming poem.

Upon death, any animal who was special to a human goes to a meadow near Heaven where all such animals play together. It's always sunny there and no one is ever troubled or in pain. The pets are happy and healthy, but they are always waiting for the person they left behind. Once their owner passes, they are reunited and they cross the titular Rainbow Bridge into Heaven together.

You have may have heard of this poem if you've worked with animals or been on websites themed around animals. The poem gets cited constantly but, surprisingly, its original authorship remained uncertain for a long time, in part because its author had never self-identified and had declined to formally publish it. It was long speculated to have been written sometime in the 1980s or '90s, but is far older than that: eventually it was traced to a Scottish teenager named Edna Clyne-Rekhy, who penned the original prose poem at age 19 in 1959 to commemorate the loss of Major, her Labrador retriever best friend ("furbaby" would be the modern term).

Meanwhile, the six-stanza rhyming poem originates with Diane and Steve Bodofsky, who ran a ferret rescue in Pennsylvania and wrote it for grieving owners. A local vet subsequently asked them to put the poem onto sympathy cards for his patients, and from there its popularity spread nationwide and then internationally.

Not to be confused with the M*A*S*H episode of the same name.

This poem provides examples of:

  • Afterlife Antechamber: Rainbow Bridge is this for the rest of Heaven; it is where departed animals wait to meet their owners on their way to Heaven.
  • Give My Regards in the Next World: The "see you on the other side" version, with pets waiting for their owners to arrive.
  • Healthy in Heaven: It's mentioned that animals become fit and young again once they die.
  • Heaven: Despite common belief, the Rainbow Bridge itself isn't "Heaven for animals". It's outside of Heaven and acts as a sort of Limbo for especially-beloved pets — everything is pleasant for them, except that they miss their people.
  • Species-Specific Afterlife: Zig-zagged. The animals live together just outside of heaven until they can be reunited with their owners, but afterwards humans and animals move on to the same Heaven together.
  • Stairway to Heaven: The pets are waiting to cross the Rainbow Bridge into Heaven.
  • Together in Death: The pets at the Rainbow Bridge are waiting for their special human to pass by. In the end, the owner is reunited with their beloved pet and they go on to Heaven together.
  • World of Mammals: The poem mostly reflects on mammalian pets, like dogs and cats. Presumably there's places for birds, fish, and other animals before the Rainbow Bridge, but it isn't discussed in the poem.