Loss and grief touch everyone at some point in their lives. Processing grief over the loss of a beloved animal companion is an up and down process. Moving through the stages of shock, denial, sadness, anger, and other emotions may happen quickly. Or it may take years to complete, in an upward spiraling through levels of the same emotions until we reach a place of peace and clarity. That peace and clarity can come from understanding and accepting the cycle of birth, death and rebirth, or the concept of an afterlife, or any number of other ways.
When your animal companion feels like (is) a "familiar", an animal "soulmate" if you will, the impact of their passing is hard to explain to people who have not experienced such depth of connection with an animal. I still miss my beloved Thoroughbred, Oh So Native, most affectionately known as "Bubba". He died suddenly in late 1998 at the age of 14 from a small bowel impaction. He was my "familiar", the other half of me, the part that lived freely and completely and in tune with the cycles of nature. I was out of town the morning he died, and I was devastated when I received the call. I could not comprehend how this could have occurred - he was fine when I left him. His death sent me into a deep, emotionally numbing depression for a very long time. Even with all I know and understand about spirituality and animals, I did not handle my grief well - it overwhelmed me.
Six months after Bubba departed for his new adventure, I quit my job and traveled overseas for a much needed break. There were some very special moments during my trip which reconfirmed the unbroken spiritual connection Bubba and I share. One confirmation occurred in Bali , Indonesia while visiting a monastery from the 1100s with a small group of very special people. The monastery was a series of archways and hollows carved out of lava rock in the side of a mountain.
If you'd met Bubba, you would know that he had his own particular smell. It was that wonderful bury-your-nose-in-their-neck smell of horse, but he also smelled like a warm male-oriented potpourri - earth, sun, wind, spices, moss, pine and more - it was and still is very hard to describe. When a friend of mine, J., connected with Bubba the night he passed over, we were talking and suddenly she became silent. I asked her what was wrong and she said, in a quiet choked voice, "I just smelled Bubba". J., who lives in Colorado , had never met him but she was greeted with his smell as confirmation for me that he was with us.
The same thing happened when a friend, A., visited me a few days after he passed. She was also greeted with his particular scent, as well as the scent of roses (in Christian religions, the smell of roses is representative of the Christ Consciousness). A. had been with Bubba during part of his transition, sang songs to him (she has a hauntingly beautiful voice), told him how much I loved him and that it was okay for him to go, and held the space as he shifted into the Light.
We three women were part of the group that went to Bali . While walking around a corner of rock in that monastery, I literally ran into a wall of that smell. It emanated from the rock. We stood for several minutes, breathing in that wonderful scent and feeling our connection to the All, the Source. It was an incredible, unforgettable moment in my life. But I hadn't quite gotten the message . . .
I then traveled from Bali to Australia , still numb with grief and completely exhausted. One evening, while in the middle of the Outback on a cattle station, I decided to take a sunrise ride the next morning with one of the cowhands. Due to a serious car accident 18 months prior to Bubba's passing, I had been ordered not to ride, and very ungraciously complied. I had to settle for watching Bubba for hours from my chair on the patio or through my bedroom window. I felt nervous and guilty that morning about riding another horse, but did so anyway. There was an urgency about doing so that I couldn't understand - that is, until we walked through a beautiful, misty pasture just as the sun rose. The sky was gently tinged with pastel colors of rose, peach, gold and lavender, the air was cool, and the land was peacefully silent.
Then from nowhere (or so it seemed), a small herd of cattle came rushing up to us. They came to a sudden stop and stared at us for several minutes in complete silence. There was a sense of bonding I cannot explain, and then . . . I really looked around me. I saw a breathtaking panorama of trees, earth, animals, sky . . . and on the ground was a carpet of purple flowers on leafy stalks. I was dumbfounded. Here, in the middle of nowhere Australia , in their late spring/early summer season (this was November), were these flowers, blooming as far as the eye could see. These flowers, which would be called weeds by some, were the exact same flowers that bloomed in Bubba's pasture and that I so loved to look at. I got the message but it took me a while to acknowledge it (more about that in a bit).
I came back from Australia in a depressive funk and remained that way for quite some time. I had no energy to work through my grief, and I often could not emotionally connect with others or with my beloved dog, Max. He patiently waited for me to return to myself. What finally pushed me up out of that dark pit into daylight was as simple as a line in a paperback novel (paraphrased): If loving them causes this much pain, then maybe loving them was wrong, and that should never be the case because that wasn't the intent behind such love and companionship. So I took that to heart - and it helped me reconcile my grief to the point where memories of Bubba no longer bring me sadness. Rather, they bring me warmth and smiles and a sense of humility that I was blessed to have such a deep spiritual connection with a non-human being.
The message I came to understand is . . . We are all connected, there is no division, no break in the ties that bind us, the love energy does not dissipate. It is never-ending. And no matter where you go, there you are. You are everywhere, you are everyone and everything, you are a piece of the whole and are the whole, all at the same time. There is synchronicity and purpose and a bigger picture at play that we often cannot see. I finally understood that Bubba had left his physical vehicle but his soul and spirit were a part of the All.
He moved to a higher plane for new lessons and roles, and I do not feel the same type of connection with his spirit/soul essence very often now. However, the divine gift of the deep love and spiritual connection we shared is still accessible to me just by asking for it to be so, and has changed me forever.
Bubba's passage through the Light had nothing to do with me; he did not "leave" or "abandon" me, but that was how I felt for a long time. How could he leave me, how could he break our physical bond? I slowly came to understand that he had his journey to complete in this lifetime, then it was time to move to the next place, the next lesson, the next spiritual position. Our paths ran parallel for a time, and we have had many lifetimes together. When his work, his journey, here was done, his soul was ready for a new adventure, and he departed. It was time for me to take the next step on my own path, by myself. Understanding this has strengthened me, and given me a new view about the cycle of life.
"And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." (Anais Nin, 1903-77, France)
I chose to honor Bubba best by living my life in as joyful a manner as possible (not always easy!), to engage again in my dance with the Universe, and to fulfill the spiritual and soul purposes of my life. I believe the work I do for and on behalf of animals, especially since his passing, is a direct result of the gift of Bubba's love and compassion throughout our ten years together. The following Nelson Mandela speech was a powerful motivator for me, giving me the freedom to fully own who I am and to follow my heart's desire of working with animals in my own unique way:
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
Amen to that. We each have special ways we can be of service to others, in a manner that brings us joy - that's part of our purpose for being here, on this planet. If you are hiding your unique gifts and talents, then please step out into the Light. We need you! As a therapist once said to me, "feel the fear and do it anyway". I've made it my personal mantra; feel free to make it yours too.
There are a number of books available which address the issue of loss of an animal companion. One I like and recommend is "Blessing the Bridge: What Animals Teach Us About Death, Dying, and Beyond", by Rita M. Reynolds. From her book: "Animals are masters in their own manner of the flow of birth, growth, death, and beyond. They continue to impress upon me the importance of preparing - not out of fear, but out of wonderment - for one of the most important events in life: death. The animals have taught me ways to approach death and dying that can enrich and enlighten." (p. 3)
At my website (www.katberard.com/res_media_books_ani_comm.htm) you will find books about the souls of animals, the lessons they impart to us, and more. The list includes books for children to help them deal with death and grief.
Bach Flower Essences
The loss of a beloved animal companion is a profoundly emotional experience, and the grief can be overwhelming. Please consider purchasing a bottle of the Bach Flower Essence known as "Rescue Remedy". This can be found at most health food stores and even certain grocery stores. A dose is 4 drops; shake or tap the bottle lightly 8 times (each time before you take a dose), then take one dose every 5 minutes until you feel yourself relaxing and becoming centered again. Then take one dose every hour or as needed during this time. The flower essences are not drugs, herbs or homeopathy. They are vibrational essences (energy), and work to rebalance dis-ease in the mind, emotions and spirit. It is an important tool to keep on hand, as it can also be given to animals in this manner. It is especially useful in cases of trauma, shock, fright/terror, anxiety, pain . . . and especially so with grief. If there are other animals in the household and they are exhibiting signs of grief, depression, apathy (perhaps they stop interacting with you, they spend a lot of time alone, they don't want to eat, they are lethargic), and there's no medical reason for this, then consider Rescue Remedy for them on the same schedule as you do for yourself, until they work through their immediate deep feelings about the loss of their companion. Then use as needed.
One last thought on this subject: consider building a memorial to your animal in your home. This may or may not be something that you keep in place forever. But especially at the beginning, prepare a small table or shelf with items which bring loving memories to your heart. Include photos, feathers, stones and crystals; a candle or two; small objects that have sentimental value; the animal's collar or tags if that feels right; a favorite toy; anything that resonates with you for the energy of what you're creating. Place a poem or a prayer on the table that touches you deeply, that reminds you of the life of your animal friend, and that brings you comfort. When you feel ready, and only when you're ready, dismantle the memorial as lovingly as you built it. You are not closing your life to your beloved animal's spirit by doing so. Rather, you are acknowledging the gifts your animal brought to your life and your heart, and moving on with your life in a self-loving, heartful manner. Know that your animal is in your heart always, that love does not die, and they are with you still.
Kathleen A. Berard
Katalyst for Animal Wholeness, Inc.