I plan to discuss different elements of this topic, such as caring for a terminally ill companion animal, the types of messages I often receive from animals (that are in the light) to pass on to their humans and dealing with grief & mourning.
It is a topic that could and does fill books. The loss of an animal companion can be devastating. For this week's post I would like to focus on an aspect that tends to be unique to persons whose animal family member has passed.
Generally when a person's human family member dies there are societal and cultural rituals that help us process and express our grief. Celebrations of life, cards, food, some expected time away from work and much concern from loved ones.
I am incredibly fortunate that when my first sons Jarvis & Juneau crossed over in 2012 and in 2013 I was surrounded by sensitive and understanding friends and family who realized the immense grief my husband and I were going through and who lovingly reached out. We were also lucky to have each other and a shared sense of loss. I was able to communicate with Juneau and Jarvis once they were in the light and I imagine how much harder still it would have been without that gift.
However, I often come across people that don't have this level of support. They are expected to go to work immediately after facing the death of their beloved animal. Sometimes they can't even bring it up at work if the environment is unsympathetic. I've seen comments of "support" on social media asking the mourning person when they will "replace" their cat or dog or "get" another one. This may be well intentioned but to a grieving animal parent it is very insensitive to gloss over the mourning period and jump ahead to a time when they may be ready to adopt again. Everyone handles grief differently and there is no right or wrong way. For some it is best to adopt fairly soon and allow a new animal family member to help lighten their heart and for others they need to take more time. It is highly personal & individual.
We have come a long way, but there is not yet a cultural consensus accepting that the loss of an animal family member is as traumatic as that of a human one.
If you have never experienced this kind of loss: please, simply be kind to those that have.
If you are the grieving party: please know that your grief is real. Try to ignore anyone that does not understand. It is valid to mourn your loved one (s) for as long as you need to and however best comforts you. If you just said goodbye (for now) to your animal child or best friend your heart is broken and even if you understand they are in the light and most likely will be visiting you in spirit or dreams you still desperately miss having them with you physically, sleeping on the bed at night, waking you up at ridiculous times to eat, playing, snuggling and gazing at you. Be very gentle with yourself and seek support from those who do understand, either in person or from books & online support groups. Allow yourself as long as it takes. When it feels right consider ways that you can honor your love for them, like gathering photos for a special photo album or maybe planting a small garden in their name. Know that they will visit you in spirit and check on you and that the love you shared is forever.
I photographed this handsome dog in Italy in 2008. He was watching me as I walked by and posed for several minutes. I have looked at his image many times since. It reminds me of how our dogs patiently and lovingly wait for us to get home. They may be looking through a picturesque window like this one or through blinds in an apartment. Wherever they are, dogs like to feel that their "pack" is all together. Companion animals are happiest when their humans are with them. They love spending time with their people.
For most of us it may not be possible to be together all day, but while we have work and social engagements to attend, for them, we are all that they have. Animals need for us to spend time with them, time when we are actively engaged, not checking our phones or otherwise occupied. If you can't spend a large amount of time with your animal kid(s) every day it is helpful to adopt more than one. Having a companion will ease their sense of loneliness, and it is not any harder to take care of two. (They will still need individual attention too.) Try to look at it from their perspective. What would you want? This is a good question to always keep in mind. If you were in their place, would you want someone to spend the day with? It is always best to imagine what they want, in any situation, and ideally, ask them. You will hear/sense/feel the answer :)
Today's post is short & sweet. Even though our animal companions usually already know that we love them, there is something special about speaking it out loud & telling them so. They feel the emotion and energy that accompany the words. Tell them how precious they are to you. They show us their love daily in so many ways. They may follow you from room to room, groom you, give you kisses, jump up happily when you return home, gaze at you, bare their tummies with complete trust for a bellyrub, sleep next to you & comfort you in sadness. Animals show their emotions fully without ever holding back. Let's adapt to them instead of the other way around and appreciate the many ways they show their love. And remember to say it back :)
Above is a photo of my daughter, Gracie Belle, showing her love by smushing her forehead into my hand.
Last night I was feeling like I did not accomplish much yesterday. I was a bit tired during the day and watched a Buffy the Vampire Slayer marathon in the evening. Then I remembered one very important thing I did. I had been looking out the window at hummingbirds when I noticed that a bee had climbed into the feeder and was drowning. I went outside quickly and dumped out the sugar water to release the bee. She climbed out completely unharmed and happy to walk on the grass in the sunshine. This may not seem like a huge accomplishment, but it meant everything to that bee. And it means something to me too :)
There are so many opportunities to help out insects. I found a stinkbug in a public restroom sink once and he happily climbed unto my hand to be carried outside where he had food to eat and wouldn't get accidentally washed down a drain. Bigger bugs can easily be trapped with a plastic tupperware container (or cup) and a piece of cardboard, then safely released outside. Gently put the tupperware over them (be careful with delicate legs & antennae) then slide the thin cardboard under, allow them to step over it or go into the container, and release outdoors.
*edit* Shortly after publishing this I went outside and another bee was drowning, this time in the birdbath. I extended a piece of pine straw for her to grab on to, and she climbed on it & flew away.