Rainbow Bridge: Setting the Record Straight
Most anyone who has loved and lost a dog has most certainly heard of the poem, Rainbow Bridge, a tribute to pets that have passed. The poem has touched the lives of millions of pet lovers around the world.
Most often, it has been shared, posted or inscribed with "Author Unknown" attached to it. Paul Koudounaris, an art historian and a founding member of The Order of the Good Death, was on a mission to find the poem's true author.
Through his research, Koudounaris found records of 15 separate claims filed under the title "Rainbow Bridge" with the United States Copyright Office, dating as far back as 1995. He compiled a list of 25 names he found that had any connection to the poem. Then, he found the name Edna Clyne from Scotland, in an online chat group. A little Googling led him to the name Edna Clyne-Rekhy, whose authorship of a book about her late husband and their dog made him jot her name onto the list — the only woman and the only non-American.
"What initially would have seemed like the most unlikely candidate in the end turned out to be the most intriguing candidate and, of course, the actual author," said Koudounaris. When Koudounaris contacted 82-year-old Ms. Clyne-Rekhy, she had no idea that the poem she had written more than 60 years ago to honor her childhood dog had brought comfort to so many people.
Major, a Labrador Retriever, was Edna's first dog. "Major was a very special dog," said Edna. “Sometimes I would just sit and talk to him, and I felt that he could understand every word I said.” Her mother used to ask how Edna had trained Major to be so gentle and obedient, and she still laughs about the question, explaining that she had never trained him at all, it was natural between them.
Major died in 1959, when Edna was 19 years old. The day after he passed, Edna found a notebook and pulled a piece of paper from it. As she began writing, she felt as if Major was guiding her pen.
"Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge," the poem begins. When she was finished, she wrote "Rainbow Bridge" at the top of the piece of paper, then showed it to her mother, who responded, "My darling girl, you are very special." Afterwards, she put the piece of paper away and didn't show it to anyone else for a long time.
Years later, she showed the poem to her husband, Jack Rekhy, who suggested she publish it. But, Edna didn't want to, telling him it was something private between herself and Major.
Eventually, Edna typed up a few copies and handed them out to close friends - but she did not add her name on those copies. As more and more people shared the poem, it became cut off from its source.
By the early 1990s it had crossed the Atlantic. In February 1994, a woman from Grand Rapids, Michigan, sent a copy of Rainbow Bridge that they had received from their local humane society to the advice column Dear Abby. It was published with a comment from Abigail Van Buren (Dear Abby), "I'm sure that many readers will be as moved as I when they read it. I confess, I shed a tear or two. Regrettably, you did not include the name of the author. If anyone in my reading audience can verify authorship, please let me know." The letter provoked an overwhelming reponse with mailbags full of letters from pet owners who had been touched by the poem.
When Koudounaris reached Edna, she was surprised he found her, and the reason why. She told him everything, inluding that the original poem sat in a box in her attic marked, "If you can't find it, it's in here."
Edna confessed to Koudounaris that when she took the poem out of the box to take photos of it for him that she began to cry. The memory of Major in the poem still carries that much emotional power for Edna.
"More than anything though, she is simply flattered that something she wrote so long ago has resonated with such a vast number of people—the fact that it has comforted so many is the greatest possible homage to her love for Major," Koudounaris said. "She knew nothing about the inscribed tablets in pet cemeteries. She had also never heard the abbreviation ATB. I had to explain that it meant 'At The Bridge', and that there are entire mourning groups based around those three letters, which signify the pets waiting to meet their owners at a place she invented for Major."
"As a concept, what nineteen-year-old Edna envisioned is a kind of limbo where deceased pets are returned to their most hale form and cavort in newfound youth in an Elysian setting," wrote Koudounaris. "But it is not paradise itself. Rather, it is a kind of way station where the spirit of an animal waits for the arrival of its earthly human companion, so that they may cross the Bridge together, to achieve true and eternal paradise in each other’s company, and to thereafter never again be parted."
Koudounaris asked one question of Edna that took her aback during their discussions. What advice could she share for someone suffering from the loss of a pet?
"Her response was then immediate – get another pet," wrote Koudounaris. "She said that the relationship with a new pet will never be the same as the relationship with the old one, but it can be equally special and loving in different ways."
Shown: A recent photograph of Edna with her dogs Zannussi and Missy. Courtesy of Edna Clyne-Rekhy
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