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Lessons from Our Animals: What Are 3 Uplifting Opportunities of Grief?

The word “opportunity” may not come to mind when you’re emotionally reeling from the loss of a loved one. But as with most of the events we face in life – even the painful, heartbreaking ones – grieving holds many possibilities to deepen our capacity to grow and to love. Life-changing lessons are often found in unexpected places…

What Animals Have Taught Us About Grief

Lucy looking after Lily

The typical human pattern of death followed by the grieving process is one we have learned to reverse at BrightHaven, as animals have shown us their way. We’ve seen over and over that our animals have spent loving time together with the dying one, sometimes for weeks prior to the passing.

Even animals that weren’t previously friends come together in love and support. After the passing, these animal nurses, who have so open-heartedly given their time, readily return to their lives, leaving us to understand they have mourned with their loved one before death and most generally not afterwards.

We’ve also learned to see our dying beloveds as living inside their beautiful fur-house just for the period of this lifetime. This view helped us in daily life to love and honor the animal’s physical self, yet all the while embracing the spiritual self and the relationship that will continue. We truly believe that our close connection with another being lives on long after physical death, which brings us tremendous comfort.

3 Powerful Opportunities of Grief

Here are just a few of the possibilities offered by the grief experience that animals have shown us:

1)        Opportunity to grieve together before death.

Fray & Ollie sharing a tender moment

And so, we’ve learned to begin grieving and saying our goodbyes as soon as we accept death to be inevitable. We feel truly blessed to be able to spend such extraordinary time with our loved ones – in togetherness before they leave. We talk about how much we love them and how much we will miss their physical presence; we cry together; we laugh together, and we share what is in our hearts.

Regardless of where you are on the grief journey, it’s important to remember that there is no right way to grieve and no timetable. Everyone mourns in their own way and in their own time – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! If you feel stuck at any time, flower essences or homeopathy may help you (and your family, including other animals) move through the process more easily. And do keep in mind that grief counseling can be very helpful to sort through feelings.

2)        Opportunity for healing with cleansing tears.  

In BrightHaven’s end-of-life consultation work, we have found that anticipatory grief is often the trigger that opens the door to a spiritual discussion, which almost always includes the shedding of tears. Just as sorrow brings tears, they in turn bring peace, acceptance and a different kind of joy. Crying is a spiritual experience that benefits from practice. Tears are energy flowing from the windows of our soul and, whether happy or sad, are a result of intense emotion and should therefore not be suppressed.

Crying may not be a blockbuster drug, but the latest research suggests it’s highly effective at healing, as crying, especially for long periods of time, releases the feel-good “happy” hormones oxytocin and endorphins. These comforting chemicals can help relieve both physical and emotional pain and open one’s heart. Let the tears flow and you will find yourself calmer, healthier, more relaxed and more connected. Other benefits of crying include a stronger immune system and possibly a decrease in your blood pressure as your stress level abates!

3)        Opportunity for spiritual, personal growth.  

A major life change and a heart broken open can be tremendous catalysts for enriching life changes, including more authentic living. Grief accompanies us on a spiritual journey of the heart and soul as it invites us to consider why we live and die and begs us to question what brings meaning and purpose to our lives. It also challenges us to consider life after death, which may lead to a reconnection with, or maybe even a renewal of, our personal faith or philosophy.

The pain and release of emotions through our loss is an important part of our own spiritual growth, as it often helps us to become more compassionate, loving, kind, understanding, stronger, more positive or even more spiritual in our thinking. As mentioned by the Hospice Foundation of America, loneliness is a natural part of grief: When a loved one dies, a hole is left that no one and nothing else can fill. The intense and mixed feelings of grief can lead to separation and isolation from others. Yet, it may also open the way to new and richer relationships with those who understand what we are going through, offer their support and do not try to fix us.

Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. Because for those who love with their heart and soul, there is no such thing as separation. –Rumi

BrightHaven Caregiver Resources to Help Your Animal Live Well Each and Every Day!

Gail & Joey
(Photo by in joy photography)

LATEST ONLINE COURSE! BrightHaven Holistic Animal Hospice: Navigating a Terminal Diagnosis

Carol Howe Hulse – Education Program Specialist
Carol & Silver
(Photo by Beth Shields)
  • Walking with My Dog Through (End of) Lifean intimate look at a profound life passage, from terminal diagnosis through hospice care and a peaceful, gentle natural death. (Author: Carol Howe Hulse, BrightHaven Education Program Manager)
For more resources and information to help you help your furry family member, please visit BrightHaven’s Caregiver Resources & Education and Animal Caregiver FAQ.

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