Regardless of our hopes and dreams, we have learned that our grieving process begins when we are told that the end of this life may be sooner than expected. However, this period of anticipation offers us many beautiful gifts that also lead us along the path of spiritual growth as we learn to place more value on the present moment, to surrender to what is happening and to savor the love and compassion in our hearts.
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.
What the Animals Have Taught Us
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 learned to begin grieving and saying our goodbyes as soon as we accept death to be inevitable, and we feel truly blessed to be able to spend such extraordinary time with our loved ones—in togetherness before they leave. It is a time to talk about shared experiences and fond memories. 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 everything. We accept that death is coming and prepare for the event together.
We’ve seen over and over that our animals have spent loving time together with the dying one, sometimes for weeks or even longer, prior to the passing. 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.
After the passing, these animal nurses, who have so open-heartedly given their time, often readily returned to their lives. Observing the course of their experience, we realized that grief generally no longer existed for them after death had taken place. Only the honoring of their beloved friend’s physical body and the joyful celebration of their life remained.
And so, we’ve learned to begin grieving and saying our goodbyes as soon as we accept death to be inevitable and feel truly blessed to be able to spend such extraordinary time with our loved ones—in togetherness before they leave.
Further Thoughts on Grief
There Is nothing more sacred than to care for a beloved friend during his or her final time with us on earth. The bond created during this profound period is one never to be forgotten. We share this precious time together in love knowing that we will always be together in spirit and will one day meet again.
We’d like to share more of what we’ve learned about grief:
Anticipatory grief may begin prior to the death of your loved one—perhaps when death is as you expect that loss and sorrow are on their way… Sharing love, memories, joys and tears with a love d one while they’re still here with you may reduce grief after they’re gone.
- A very important thing to remember is that there’s no right way to grieve and certainly no timetable. Each individual grieves in their own way and in their own time. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!
- Very often once the honoring period is over, grief may come flooding in again. You may experience a few welcome moments of serenity when you are suddenly blindsided and sucked into a new, forceful vortex of sorrow.
- Grief, like all emotions, is energy in motion that needs to be felt and then released. This awareness can help one cope with the emotional roller coaster ride. There is nothing to fear from emotions!
- Grief is indeed unique to every individual. There are, however, some typical responses to grief and loss that may be encountered. As with the signs and symptoms of dying we discussed earlier, you may experience some, none or all of them. Often the grieving heart relentlessly revisits the final weeks, days, hours and minutes of a loved one’s life. Perhaps this futile process of ceaseless review helps one to continue to hold on to the departed–if it’s still going on in your mind, then it’s not over. Or perhaps it’s a painful investigation for clues as to how the outcome to such a horrible story could somehow be rewritten.
- Regrets: And the regrets, what wasn’t said or done, what shouldn’t have been said or done…
- Another typical grief response is to place blame. On others, including doctors and anyone else who tried to improve the situation but obviously failed because the loved one still died. An over-powering sense of helplessness about the situation can also cause painful self-blame.
There are some things to be done that may help:
- Be very patient and gentle with yourself. Grieving takes a lot of energy and can be very exhausting!
- Talk with a grief counselor to help you to verbalize and work through your feelings.
- Cry and cry some more. Tears are for cleansing and releasing.
- Remember that all emotions are connected to breathing patterns. Practice taking long, slow and deep breaths and remember to exhale!
- Know that you’re doing the best you can and you’re doing it with love – and that is all you can do.
- And consider positive affirmations – here are a few comforting ones: “Today I focus on loving myself, and gratitude and trusting in the process.“ Or, “This too shall pass.“
…When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight… –Kahlil Gibran
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.