When Our Animal Companions Leave Us

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“Animals have souls the Dalai Lama would envy.” 
- Andrew Harvey
 
It's been months now since our very brave and beautiful black cat,  Kyro, past over.  He is  physically gone from our lives. 
 
I thought for sure that by now the heartbreak, pain and emptiness would lessen. 
I thought by now my voice would not crack when I spoke of him. 
 
“Your thoughts make your eyes unsure; and some dead echo drags your voice down where words have no confidence.” 
 
I thought by now the house would not feel so empty and I wouldn’t be so reluctant to come home.
 
I wondered why the grief and sorrow were so deep, and why I felt more pain than I did with the passing of relatives I dearly loved, and friends who meant so very much to me.
I called a Pet Grievance Counselor, Fran, a loving and supportive person who invited us to Perfect Paws Pet Ministry in Danvers, MA. I spent way too much time with a therapist. I volunteered at a cat shelter and searched online for ways to ease the loss. I learned that meds don’t heal hearts.
 
“There are days when you wake up happy; again inside the fullness of life, until the moment breaks and you are thrown back on the black tide of loss.” 
 
I thought I was doing all the right things. I exercised and even signed up for an animal communication class.
 
Maybe I was holding on to the pain for fear of forgetting Kyro.  Or as a way of protecting myself against such powerful future loss.
 
I’m not alone, it seems.
 
Loss of an animal companion is almost universally devastating, says the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine, which has a Pet Loss Hotline and a staff to handle the grief of those who have had to say goodbye to their animal friends.
 
A study in the Journal of Mental Health Counseling conducted an experiment showing that members in a family circle placed their pets closest to themselves.
Writing in the Washington Post about the loss of his two dogs, Joe Yonan, says that the depth of grief and loss is tied to the fact that with our pets, unlike our family and friends, we know only a pure love.
No disappointments. 
No judging. No criticisms. No rejection. 
No conflicts. No feuds. 
Just love. 
 
Our animal companions are always happy to see us. They delight in our presence and they trust us and count on us totally. This animal could be a dolphin or chimp or parrot. It could be a rabbit or horse. The loss of an animal friend is often the loss of knowing how to love innocently, and the fear that we will not love that simply or totally again.
 
“Someday you will have learned to to wean your eyes from the gaps in the air and be able to enter the hearth in your soul where your loved one has awaited your return all the time.” 
 
HappinessPath
 
 For those who have lost an animal companion and need help in their sorrow, here are some things I have learned along my journey:
  • There is no timetable for grief to end. It will in its own time uncoil “the hill of tears” and let you be.
  • Never be ashamed of your feelings. Of course the world is full of “deeper” losses. The loss of a child to illness or violence. Murder in the streets of cities far and near. But this loss is your particular loss. Honor it. Feel it. See where it leads you. Ask what lessons it has come to teach you.
  • Actively work to ease your pain. Seek professional help, embrace a new class or course of learning; talk with friends who care. Take care of yourself, eat and rest well and exercise.
  • Cry as often as you need to. Take long walks and talk to your animal companion. He or she is listening.  Feel their love. They are missing you as much, if not more, than you are missing them.
  • Be gentle with yourself, fully accepting your feelings. If you have another pet,  remember they too mourn and look to you for reassurance. They know your grief and sadness and want to help soothe you.
The thought of never seeing or holding your animal companion again is the worst emotion of all!  Avoid those thoughts for a while. Concentrate on letting your love and sadness be just what they are for now. You’ll feel yourself deepen and become more loving. Take these as gifts from your animal companion.
 
Quotes from poet John O’Donohue

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