If my use of the word “productive” to describe grieving sounds odd to you, indulge me a bit while I ask you to think about grieving in a way that can be productive.
Grieving, like any emotion, can be productive if you allow yourself to experience the emotions attached to grieving in a way that is helpful to you. I know … you’re thinking that the only thing that would be helpful would be if you still had your animal friend physically with you—healthy and happy. But, whether you’re animal or human, living in a body that eventually dies is inevitable, so some degree of acceptance of that reality is the first part of the grieving process. You don’t have to like what you need to accept. You just need to do it.
Grieving for your animal friend is important. All of the feelings that go along with the process honor and validate the importance of your friend’s presence in your life. Saying goodbye is difficult, but it should be. Why would it be easy to say goodbye to a well-loved companion? If it were easy to say goodbye, you wouldn’t need to grieve.
Even though every situation is different and we all have to deal with our own sadness and sense of loss, perhaps these thoughts may help you put your grieving energy to positive use:
- Remind yourself that it’s your companion’s life with you that you want to remember and celebrate, not the end of the physical experience. Do something tangible to honor the life you shared: make a donation in your friend’s honor, or perhaps plant a tree or flowers to celebrate your friend’s life. Whatever works for you. Just do something positive that specifically honors your friend.
- If you find you have no one to talk with about your friend, sit down and write your loving companion a letter. Actually, this is a good idea even if you do have people to talk with because it’s hard to talk and cry at the same time. 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 much 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. Grieving is hard enough without adding guilt to complicate the process. 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 you believe every moment you shared with your friend was 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 of time and space. I suppose it’s a cliché to say that your friend will always be with you in spirit, but I believe that to be true. There’s a place in your heart reserved for every animal you’ve ever loved.
- 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 from your companion. 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 sense 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.”
Grieving is never an enjoyable process. It’s hard. It’s painful. It’s exhausting. But it can be productive and serve as a way for you to honor and validate the importance of a life shared with an animal. Be strong and allow yourself this necessary emotional experience.