Fly free and happy and across forever And we’ll meet now and then when we wish In the midst of the one celebration That can never end. –Richard Bach
Honoring the Body
Honoring the departed is important, not only for your loved one but also for your own grieving process. The process will be different depending on one’s religious or spiritual views, and so we offer here a glimpse into our BrightHaven way. For as we honor each of our residents in death, we are also celebrating their lives and our wonderful memories. The death of any being can be a profound lesson for us all.
With each passing, we grow stronger in our belief that by allowing our residents to complete the journey, with dignity, on their terms, we honor them in a special way, and that extends to care of their body after the last breath has been taken. As discussed in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and scientifically documented, we have learned that at least three days are needed for life energy to fully depart the body after physical death. These three days have become a special time at BrightHaven as we conduct our rituals of preparing the body, sharing memories and allowing visitations and viewings. There are many similarities in this process to that offered after the death of a human family member.
For smaller animals, we begin by preparing a beautiful bed in a basket and laying the animal therein, adorned with a pretty coverlet much as any person lying in state would be presented. The animal is surrounded by his or her toys or stuffed animals as well as candles, flowers and greenery. A Buddhist prayer shawl completes the scene, along with any other mementos of the life lived. Friends, family and volunteers visit during this three-day period to pay their respects and bid the loved one farewell one last time. Prayers and spiritual blessings are also offered.
Depending on your beliefs, you may wish to remove the body of your pet immediately, wait for a few hours or a day or two, or follow a process similar to ours. The body is impeccably maintained during this time, and after three days is removed and prepared for final disposal. Whatever your individual path may be, we suggest you consider your options prior to death and have some type of plan in place. This may include making arrangements with your veterinarian and/or a pet crematorium or memorial park, or even planning a private burial.
If you will be maintaining the body at home for any period of time you will need a supply of ice. A tray or low-side container and a plastic liner or large plastic bags will also be useful. You may also wish to drape a net covering over your loved one for protection, as we did for Mr. Murphy here.
We suggest that you prepare the necessary supplies in advance. For some animal guardians, this ritual, an important part of the grieving process, is extremely personal and done in private, while others may invite family and friends to gather and participate.
Healing Rituals, Remembrances and Tributes
The rituals and remembrances we create for ourselves are as important as the care we take with the body. It is during this time that our grief becomes a welcome participant as we move toward deep and true healing. Perhaps it is through the full and complete expression of our grief that true healing does occur, and we are then able to move on to find closure. Sometimes this is no more than the sharing of a story or two; those special moments that are forever ingrained in our hearts and memories. With this in mind, we offer the following words by BrightHaven friend Sharon Callaghan:
Whether grieving ourselves or consoling a grieving friend, often the most useful thing we can do is to simply tell our story. For in the story of our own journey through the gates of grief, or in bearing witness to the grief of another, we legitimize the experience and make it Sacred. The experience of grief is a great gift, for the heart that breaks is just opening again. –Sharon Callaghan
Share the Story
For many, this can be a very cathartic and healing process. Stories written as obituaries, specially created to honor the passing of each animal who has lived at BrightHaven, are shared at our Rose Ceremony. This simple ceremony is open to friends and guests who wish to come and share their own memories of loved ones lost.
Sometimes the creation of an altar can be a wonderful tribute to a beloved animal friend. This special memorial can include treasured items and mementos from a life shared together. In recent years, due to public demand, the pet memorial business has grown significantly to include memorial urns, plaques, pet prayer flags, statues, memory books and many other items that facilitate the open expression of our deep relationships with our pets.
Some find that the scattering of ashes or burial in a pet memorial park, along with a funeral or memorial service, can bring comfort and closure. As with writing and storytelling, some pet guardians create songs and poetry in honor of their loved ones. Meditation, prayer, the offering of Reiki for healing, and the reading of sacred texts can also be included in personal rituals and tributes, all of which provide comfort and solace through this period of loss. You are encouraged to follow a path based on your own beliefs as you honor your animal in death and remember a life spent together in love.
Do not stand at my grave and weep, I am not there, I do not sleep. I am a thousand winds that blow. I am the diamond glints on snow. I am the sunlight on ripened grain. I am the gentle autumn’s rain. When you awaken in the morning’s hush, I am the swift uplifting rush of quiet birds in circled flight, I am the soft stars that shine at night. Do not stand at my grave and cry. I am not there, I did not die. –Unknown
Knowledge reduces fear and increases confidence, and conscious decision-making may minimize future regrets. We invite you to explore our caregiver resources (including animal hospice education and holistic healthcare education), online learning and publications to learn more. You may also wish to book a consultation with BrightHaven President and Founder Gail Pope.