Grief is one of the hardest parts of living with non-human animal friends and companions. We have long lives, while most of our animal companions do not. Even those who do, like parrots or turtles, may become ill or may come to us in their senior years. When we start off our relationships, we rarely think about the inevitable end.
That’s how it was when my first pup came to stay. That decade of my life went by so quickly. Saxon and I traversed so many landscapes and saw so many changes in life it felt like barely a day together. The end came suddenly, although in retrospect I can look back and see a year’s worth of signs that my friend was near the end of his time with me. The grief hit each of my family members differently, and lasted longer for some of us than others. We humans like to imagine that we’re alone in our grief, but our animal friends grieve as well. I saw that first-hand in the dog who’d been left behind with us when Saxon passed.
As you move through the process yourself, be aware the rest of your family members, human and non-human alike, will be grieving in their own way, which includes figuring out how to transform themselves and their place in the family now that one of its members has passed on. Here are a few tips I can offer for helping yourself and your family travel the path of grieving:
- Be patient
- Let Flower Essences Support Your Grieving
- Herbs can Help You Heal
- Let Essential Oils Comfort You
- Seek Help When You Need it
- Ritual Soothes the Soul
- Make Space to Live
- Exercise Your Creativity
Patience is a Virtue
Be patient with your family and your animal friends. Let life shift to accommodate the change you’re all going through. Just like us, our non-human animal friends grieve the loss of loved ones. It can take them time to adjust and figure out how to fill the void.
Be patient with yourself, too. We all need to cry, to rage, to remember, to laugh, and to let go of what was in our own ways. If you notice yourself becoming impatient, snappy, or excessively angry, that can be a sign you’re suppressing your emotions. Likewise, if you find yourself settling into a dull malaise that dips into depression but never seems to climb back into contentment or even joy, that can be a sign as well. It can take a lot of time (days, months, even years) to fully heal from the loss. So long as you can see some progress (however small) each week, be patient and let the process unfold.
Let Flower Essences Support your Grieving
Flower Essences can help you and yours move through the stages of grief. Folks who are quite young, elderly, and not human often respond well to flower essences as do sensitive folks. Even if you’re not among any of those groups, you may well find flower essences helpful through intense emotional experiences, such as grieving the loss of a beloved friend. A trip to a flower essence practioner may be in order, particularly if there are a lot of complex pieces to your healing process, but you can get started with a few simple blends. Flower Essence to try includ:
- Rescue Remedy (to ease the trauma and shock)
- Water Violet (to help process grief without getting stuck especially withdrawn)
- Honeysuckle (for remembering in a healthy manner rather than becoming over-focused on memories)
- Elm (for easing the feeling of being overwhelmed)
- Wild Rose (for apathy especially that which comes from unexpressed resentment)
- Aspen (for anxiety)
Herbs can Help You Heal
There’s a reason the British put the kettle on at the first sign of distress. Tea helps calm the nervous system and engender a sense of comfort and well-being. For the most part, it really doesn’t matter so much whether you like your tea in bags or bulk, whether you make it yourself or let someone else do so. All varieties of the Camellia Sinesis tea can help you move through your loss, and all of them are safe for companion animals to consume in small quantities. Oolongs are best known for calming the nervous system while Black Teas are renowned for offering mild stimulation while helping reduce stress hormones. White teas can improve your digestion as can aged teas, which is helpful if you’re struggling to digest your loss, while Green teas are known for reducing overall stress and inflammation and thus easing anxiety and helping heal a broken heart. Other herbs that can help you get through grief include:
- Yarrow (for healing deep wounds and releasing the emotional energies of those around you)
- Burdock and Dandelion (for helping you digest the loss, absorbing the good stuff and letting the stuff you don’t need go)
- Oat tops and straw and Borage (for regaining strength and recovering from the intensity of the experience)
- Rose petals and hips and Hawthorn (for healing a broken heart)
- Motherwort (for feeling supported and loved, like a great big hug)
Let Essential Oils Comfort You
I use essential oils as well as herbs and flower essences to get through grief. They’re convenient. I can make a little perfume to carry with me all day. A spritzer or small corked bottle works wonderfully for that. I’ve also made scented balms in tins or tubes for those times when I’ve worried a spritzer, oil, or perfume might spill by staring with a simple balm and just adding a few drops of essential oils. Essential oils to try include:
- Bergamot or Geranium (for lifting the spirits)
- Ravintsara or Rosemary (for warming the inner fires and helping to get moving again)
- Atlas Cedarwood (for recovering a feeling of connection to life)
- Palmrosa or Lemongrass (for opening the heart and promoting motion, especially useful when the grieving process gets stuck resulting in irritability and explosive anger)
- Lavender (especially helpful for emotional instability)
- Helichrysum (aka Everlasting or Immortelle) or Yarrow (for healing deep wounds, when the grief is so deep and pervasive it pierces your dreams, it feels like a trauma, or becomes PTSD)
- Clary Sage (for grief that creates emotional confusion, scattered thinking, and distracted states)
Seek Help When You Need it
Grief and loss can be draining, confusing, exhausting, and isolating. A good therapist, herbalist, acupuncturist, Shamanic practioner, priest or priestess, animal communicator, or other professional can help guide you and your family through the process. Particularly if it seems one or more members of your family, human or non-human, seem to be getting stuck or overwhelmed, it’s wise to ask for help. None of us were meant to navigate the many stages and transformations of life on this planet alone. We live in a time when so many resources are available. Ask the Universe to guide you, then take action. Do an online search for the kind of help you think you need or thumb through your phone book. If you have a trusted medical advisor, such as a primary care provider or veterinarian, he or she might be able to give you a referral. Friends and family may also have suggestions. Whatever action you take, know that it’ll help the assistance you need find you, even if the first resource you try doesn’t fit perfectly.
Ritual Soothes the Soul
A simple ritual for remembrance and healing can help, too. I like to light a candle or a stick of incense daily for my departed loved one. I take a moment to quiet my mind and imagine my friend nearby. I communicate to him or her whatever is in my heart. Sometimes, that’s words, sometimes it’s a hug or tears, sometimes it’s as simple as remembering how wonderful it felt to be together. Then, I light the candle or incense, whispering a quiet prayer that my love and message be carried to my friend in the beyond, and I let it go. It’s a simple but deeply healing ritual I use until it seems complete. I will often perform it daily at first, then as the healing progresses I may let one or more days pass before performing it again. I may notice that I’m letting more time lapse between, or I may not. If I notice and feel guilt or shame over this, I remind myself that my friend would not want me to live forever in grief. It’s good to move on. That doesn’t mean forgetting or loving less; it means living fully in this world while I’m here. If your animal companions want to participate, find a way to let them be involved. In my ritual, I can offer my feathered and scaled friends my shoulder or I can invite my furry companions to come sit by my side while I perform the ritual. I’ve included a howling-singing session to this ritual, too, when my friends have wanted to participate.
Make Space to Live
It sounds kind of corny, but it can be easy to get caught in the sorrows of death and forget about the joys of life. Give yourself a taste of that joy, even if you don’t quite feel up to it, each day. You can start with something simple, like dunking a biscuit in your favorite beverage or treating yourself to your favorite meal just to savor the flavors, textures, and smells.
Or, you can listen to an upbeat piece of music. Try something that reminds you of the wonderful experiences life can bring. Dance to your favorite tune. I find my non-human animal friends particularly love to join in dancing and sometimes even a song or two.
Laugh…even if you have to fake it. Laughter lifts the soul, circulates the blood, and feeds the heart like nothing else. Just one minute of laughter, even the forced kind, each day promotes a return to health and stable well being. Throw your hands in the air, laugh from as deep in your belly as you can, and let the silliness of the act take hold of you.
Exercise Your Creativity
Let your reflections, feelings, memories, and whatever else is jostling around in you out through a creative act. Arts, like painting, sewing, or writing are obvious choices, but don’t let the idea of making art or writing a great work get in your way.
If you’re not an artist…or don’t feel up to creating like you usually do…seek other outlets. Turn one meal a day into the opportunity to let your energy flow. Brew a cup of coffee with the idea of being creative in mind. Arrange a bouquet of flowers for your desk or let yourself sit down, scribble for 10 minutes, and be okay with throwing the scribbled design away. Even a jog around the block can be a creative act if you allow yourself to channel whatever’s inside you into the motion. The key is to pair action with the intention of releasing what needs to move.
For your animal companions, a new toy (especially one that can be chewed on with gusto) can be therapeutic and creation-oriented even if it looks like destruction from the outside. It’ll offer your friend the opportunity to get his or her energy moving on something that builds joy, satisfaction, and quite possibly life skills (from that animal-instinct perspective), which is the real point. Getting out for a walk or going for a ride in the car are other creative activities your companions will appreciate.
Creative acts help us move our energies in a positive, expressive way, often giving us insight to what’s going on under the surface. It really doesn’t matter what we create or whether we keep it for posterity or honor the transient nature of life by letting it go. What matters is we keep the door to life open and charged even in the face of death. Any act of creativity can help us do exactly that.
“All that Lives must die, passing through nature to eternity,” Gertrude wisely counseled her son, Hamlet, in the first act of the play. Death is a natural part of our life cycle. Knowing that doesn’t make it any less painful, true. At least, though, you know you’re not alone in experiencing the pain, sorrow, anger, and often mixed and conflicting emotions that come with letting go of your beloved friend’s physical presence in your life. May these tips and ideas help you and yours heal as you pass through the grief that comes from losing a loved one.
- Aromatica: A Clinical Guide to Essential Oil Therapeutics. Volume 1: Principles and Profiles by Peter Holmes
- Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit: Restoring Emotional and Mental Balance with Essential Oils by Gabriel Mojay
- “Easing Grief with Bach Flower Remedies” by Aldaron Essences
- “The Virtues of Tea” by Camellia Sinensis Tea House
- “Nurture Your Body, Mind, and Spirit with Tea from Camellia Sinensis” by The Tea Talk.