by Ardeth DeVries

When an animal friend dies, it’s really hard, isn’t it?

Our society allows us to grieve openly when a human friend or family member dies, but when an animal friend leaves his or her body sometimes the grieving rules change. If we aren’t able to grieve in a way that is helpful, we’re left feeling very alone in our sadness and sense of loss. Even though every situation is different, and we all have to deal with our own sorrow, these thoughts may help you put your grieving energy to positive use:

  • Bury the body (or scatter the ashes) in a special place in your yard, and plant flowers or a tree to mark the spot. If you do this you’ll have a living memorial to your animal friend. After all, it’s your companion’s life with you that you want to remember and celebrate, not the end of the physical experience.
  • If you find that you have no one to talk with about your friend, sit down and write your loving companion a letter. Allow the words that don’t come easily in conversation to find their way to paper. Write down everything you feel. Tell your friend how much he or she meant to you. Thoughts and feelings have a way of finding their way Home regardless of how they’re expressed. Trust me; your friend will hear you.
  • If you have pictures of your companion, put together a photo montage. Every picture will conjure up a memory you don’t want to lose. This activity can be very therapeutic and reinforce the knowledge that you shared a wonderful life together.
    Take walks in the places you and your companion favored. This is a particularly good healing experience if your friend was ill and not able to walk very well toward the end. If you really focus, you’ll see your friend bouncing alongside or racing ahead in perfect health. Allow yourself to feel your friend’s presence, and know that his or her spirit is with you.
  • Think about everything your friend has taught you. Think about the lessons of pure love, devotion, patience, friendship, intuitive understanding, acceptance, playfulness and joy that you never would have learned if you hadn’t been willing to welcome an animal into your life.
  • If you have any regrets or “hindsight guilties,” put them to rest by understanding that animals never judge. You don’t need to indulge in this senseless activity either. To think all kinds of: “If only I had… I wish I hadn’t… Why didn’t I…?” thoughts only prolongs your sadness and creates frustration over what can’t be changed. Regardless of the circumstances of your friend’s death, know that all of your actions were accepted with understanding and without judgment. If you think your friend left too soon, cherish the quality of your relationship without being sad about a life you feel was too short. Animals live in the moment, and it’s important that you believe every moment you shared with your friend is significant.
  • Understand that death means nothing to an animal. It’s just change. The death of your friend’s body allows your companion to move on to his or her next expression of spirit. What matters is that you know you’ve sent your friend Home with love, and that forever kind of love defies any boundaries or limitations.
  • Finally, please don’t say that you’ll “never have another” animal in your life because dealing with the death of an animal friend is too hard. To make this kind of pronouncement does a great dishonor to your friend and never allows you to use what you’ve learned. There are so many animals wherever you are as you read this that would welcome the opportunity to love and be loved. Visit your nearby shelter and see who might be there just waiting for you. Allow another animal to touch your heart. You’ll know when you’re ready. And when you are, don’t be surprised if you hear a familiar voice whispering “Go on, pick him. You’re gonna love her. I’ll bet he likes to play ball too. She needs you. Share our love with your new friend.”