GRIEVING THE DEATH OF A PET
By Bob Swandby
My beloved Keeshond, Neka, died two months to the day after my father made that passage. I cried as hard and long for her as I did for him, and I wondered if that was wrong. In time I came to believe that it was not.
Until recently, mourning a pet has, at best, been marginally acceptable in our society. How many times have we heard the well-meaning, but unkind, comments, “It was only a dog,” or “You can get another cat.” Such comments are usually from non-pet owners who do not understand the close bond that develops between human and pet. That bond goes far back to prehistoric times. Cave drawings depict dogs joining in the hunt and sharing the campfire with our earliest ancestors. The development of that primitive bonding was no accident. It was based on interaction which served the mutual needs of animal and humans. Some of the benefits of the animal-human interaction were mutual protection, improved hunting and herding, and companionship.
In recent times this bond has become even more specialized so that our pets often become playful pals, best friends or even surrogate children. As more people come to live alone by choice, or due to divorce or death of a spouse, pets take on an increasingly important role in many of our lives. They are here to give us love and show us unconditional love. We get that every day from our pets, but the same cannot be said for most of our human relationships, even our most intimate ones.
In my close work with animals over the past few years, I have learned more about love and devotion than I had in all of my earlier life. I have helped quite a few over the threshold into the next world. I have seen grace and beauty exhibited in these crossings that are more uncommon in the human world. I think that is because animals do not fear death. On my spiritual path, the ascended master named Prajapati watches over all the animals and creatures, both here and in the other worlds. He works with great love and compassion with all creatures, similar to St. Francis. The presence of these spiritual masters and any others you may know, can be of great consolation during and after the time of losing a pet.
Still the grieving process must be faced, and it is painful because we miss the physical presence of our furry friends. There is an emptiness and an aching that lasts long and fades slowly only after many months. There are some who suggest a lost pet should be replaced immediately to lessen the pain. I don’t agree with that approach because I feel it is important to honor the pet you have lost by acknowledging the special place that being has in your heart and the loss that you feel in its leaving your immediate world. There simply is no easy way to shortcut the grieving process. As the son of a funeral director, my observations are that many people in our society do not deal well with death and the dying process. However, I believe that is changing and that more people are beginning to acknowledge the importance of the dying process and to work with the grieving process that follows any important loss in our lives. If we try to avoid or shortcut this process, we cannot be whole human beings. Tucking those painful feelings away in some corner of our mind or heart will only result in greater difficulty releasing them later.
These loving pets that are such an important part of our lives really become a part of who we are and make us better people for the love and experience shared. We can cherish their memories as much as we relished their time here with us, and then the pain leave and the grieving is completed. Everyone grieves differently, and only you will know when it is the right time to get a new animal friend.
Note: This article first appeared in the Summer 1998 issue.
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