Our animals are gifts to us for the time they grace our lives. The most difficult part of sharing our lives with an animal companion is often dealing with their departure. When a beloved animal companion is dying, it is easy to be overwhelmed with feelings of grief and confusion. Although we know death is an inevitable part of life, there is really no way to adequately prepare ourselves for the passing of a loved one, whether human or animal.
Yet, if we choose to be mindful, even in their passing, we will discover that our animal friend continues to teach us precious lessons about love, trust and living in the moment.
There are several things we can do to assist our friend through the dying process. Being physically and consciously present with the process as it unfolds, allows the animal to feel comforted and free to move on at the appropriate moment. Great flexibility and courage is needed on our part, as the animal may alternate between rallying for some days and suddenly taking a turn for the worse.
Whenever possible, allow your animal companion to die in a natural way. Try not to be distracted by worrying whether euthanasia will be necessary. Have faith and trust that all will unfold as it should. Intervention can always be taken if it becomes needed. Be aware of indications from your animal that it is her time to go and trust your feelings.
What to expect
When death is near, the sense of smell is the first to fail, followed by taste, sight and lastly hearing. Do not force her to eat or drink. The body is beginning a process of shutting down, which will end when all of the systems cease to function. In the meantime, the circulation of the blood to the extremities is decreasing and she will probably want to be covered with a blanket. You will notice that she is sleeping more and may become restless from time to time. Remember to continue to speak to her soothingly to calm her. Her breathing may change and she may want to be gently repositioned so that she will be more comfortable. If she is no longer drinking fluids, you can squirt a little water in her mouth to keep it moist.
Create a physical space for death to occur
Allow your animal to choose the place she likes best. Think of it as creating a heavenly environment on earth. Most dying animals want solitude but not isolation. Surround her with her favorite things. Many people bring in fresh flowers, pictures, and play soft music. Reassure your animal by letting her know that it’s all right to go when the time is right. If you haven’t already, you may want to decide if your animal would like to be buried or cremated. You will probably have a feeling, or sense, about this choice. Again, trust your feelings.
Remember that while you are trying to create an atmosphere of peace and love for your beloved friend, there may well be periods that will be difficult and trying. Allowing for these moments with honesty will ultimately bring you more peace.
After death occurs
Some people believe there is a period after death when the soul is transitioning. This period can take up to three days. Some spiritual traditions leave the body in its resting place during this period. Others honor this period by silence and prayer. When my cat Oliver died suddenly last winter, I created a special place for him in the den where he stayed for two days until I felt that his presence was no longer attached to his body. Our bond of love was deepened even further during this precious time.
If your animal’s body is going to be buried, choose a location that has meaning for you. You many want to have a ceremony where you read a favorite poem or words of your choosing. If children are present, it is especially helpful for them to express their emotions at this time. You may want to plant something beautiful over the gravesite or place a statue or other memorial there. Many people honor their animal companion by making a donation to an animal-related cause or, when they feel ready, adopting another animal who is waiting for a loving home.
There is no right or wrong way to handle these details after the death of your loved one. Honor your feelings and be sure to allow family and friends to comfort you in your loss. Be sensitive to the emotions of the other human and non-human members of your family who are grieving as well.
Another beautiful gift that you can give your beloved friend after her death is gratitude for the love you shared during your time together. This will deepen your compassion for all the animals who died with no one to mourn them and will transform your grief into a healing blessing for all living things.
by Bev Allen
In addition to being the owner of Lily&Me, Inc., a company dedicated to improving the lives of animal companions, Bev is also very active in animal welfare. Since 2002, she has been spay/neuter coordinator of Noah’s Ark Animal Foundation in Fairfield, IA. She also oversees two pet columns: “Animal Tracks,” in the Iowa SOURCE magazine, and “Animal Talk,” in the Heartland Spirit newspaper.
Note: much of the information in this article came from When a Beloved Friend Dies www.anaflora.com, and Blessing the Bridge by Rita Reynolds