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Healing Grief for an Animal with Gratitude

Healing Grief for an Animal with Gratitude

Have you ever experienced how gratitude can help with healing grief for an animal?

There are so many ways we can honour our dearly departed animals while we go through the grieving process, but one of the BEST ways is to cultivate a daily gratitude practice. As animal lovers, the subject of grief and the loss of our dearest animal friends is something we hold very close to our hearts for our whole lives. My soul dog, Dakota, passed away 15 years ago, but is still such a part of who I am. And, in so much of our society, the subject of grieving our animals isn’t really honored—in fact, many people may wonder why we cry when our cat, dog, horse or other animal friend has passed. 

Some people just don’t have the connection to animals that we—here in this animal-loving Animal Reiki community—do. And because our Let Animals Lead® community is tied together by a deep and connecting love of all animals, a special gift of our Animal Reiki community is that we truly “get it” about grieving animals! We understand the profound gifts they bring to our lives and how they can be a partner, friend, or—for many of us—a child to us! To be surrounded by a supportive community who understands and honors our grief—who can hold space for us and our families as we heal–is a profound offering coming from people who have deep connections to animals and also have the gift of the Let Animals Lead® method to hold the space for our grief.

Grief is the gift of remembering the depth of our love for an animal, so taking time to honor the pain of their loss is essential before healing can begin.

Today, I want to talk about the healing process of grief and the profound comfort and light we can find through gratitude as we heal through a loss of an animal we love.  But first, I want to remind each of you that it’s really important that we take the time to grieve. The depth of your grief is a bittersweet reflection of the love that you shared with your animal friend—a love that will never die! In time, even though it may not feel so at first, our grief lessens, but before we get on with the business of healing, it’s important to acknowledge and honor the pain and sadness that washes over us. That pain and sadness are a reminder the love and the gifts our dearly departed animal brought to us.

“You see, love and grief are two sides of the same precious coin. One does not—and cannot—exist without the other. They are the yin and yang of our lives… Grief is predicated on our capacity to give and receive love. Some people choose not to love and so never grieve. If we allow ourselves the grace that comes with love, however, we must allow ourselves the grace that is required to mourn.” Alan D. Wolfelt, PhD

Our animals come into our lives and effortlessly change us, open our eyes and mind, help us to see things from new perspectives, remind us how to be the best versions of ourselves and illuminate the path forward for our happiest lives. When they leave us—always too soon—it can feel so dark and lonely, at first.

Grief often comes in waves. We can feel overwhelmed for a time, then numb, then perhaps a ray of light and hope shines through. Then comes the wave of sadness again, and so on. And this can last for a very long time after a pet dies. One of the beautiful side effects of developing a daily gratitude practice is that, when these waves of grief crash over us, we feel strong enough to keep our footing.

Although we may wish that grief for a beloved animal would disappear, I believe that it never truly leaves us but we learn to move on with life and find new moments of happiness, despite the grief that is forever part of us. I believe that healing grief for a pet is lifelong and it isn’t something we should shrink from or push away. Instead, I believe we can learn to understand that our grief actually illuminates the things in our life that we are grateful for, and helps us to live in the fullness of that gratitude, which in turn brings a life filled with so much more mindfulness and contentment.  

As long as you continue to love, grief will not be a “one time visitor.” For whenever we open our hearts to love our animals, we also open ourselves to grief when they pass. So the biggest thing that I have learned from my Animal Reiki spiritual practice, is to create a daily and lifelong gratitude practice because, when we devote ourselves to gratitude in many ways throughout our days, we will always be in the ideal space to heal from the losses that our blessing of living brings.

Memorial Ideas for Honoring Dearly Departed Animals

In 2017, I wrote another blog called 15 Ways to Honor Our Dearly Departed Animals. I included a list of fun and memorable ideas people can use to honor their beloved pets after they’ve passed. Here is a quick recap:

  1. Create a pet shrine or memorial in your pet’s memory.

  2. Trace your pet’s name in the sand when you visit the beach and take a picture of it.

  3. Watch the sun rise or set and meditate on what a gift your pet was.

  4. Plant a tree to honor your pet.

  5. Donate to an animal charity in your furbaby’s name, or volunteer to help other animals in need.

  6. Get a tattoo of their face, name, pawprint or any symbol that reminds you of them.

  7. Place a special garden statue or an engraved stone of remembrance in your yard.

  8. Save your pet’s paw print and frame it.

  9. Get a memorial pet tag and wear it on your keychain.

  10. Adopt another pet.

  11. Create a high-quality photo book showcasing their life. (I love the products from Pinhole Press.)

  12. Create a memorial video, which I did many years ago to honor Dakota, my first Reiki teacher. Watching this still brings tears to my eyes!

  13. Create a beautiful piece of jewelry. I especially love these unique nose print necklaces or custom horse hair bracelets.

  14. Donate unused pet food and supplies to the local shelter.

  15. Enlarge your favorite photo into a work of art. PhotoBarn offers amazing enlargement printed on wood to memorialize your pet.

Using a Regular Gratitude Practice to Help Heal the Grief of an Animal Loss

My intention with this Animal Reiki blog about healing grief with gratitude is to open up many ideas to you for creating a gratitude practice that you can always bring with you—one that will help you heal your grief over the loss of a beloved animal (or of a beloved person in your life). Focusing on a daily gratitude practice will heal your life while deepening your soul’s resilience and spiritual perspective.

Here are seven possibilities for practicing daily gratitude that have been very helpful to me personally and can really help by healing grief with gratitude:

  1. Gratitude Journal: At the end of each day, write about something you are grateful for. It can be something related to your animal, something about yourself such as your health, or someone in your life you appreciate – or it could be something that happened in the day, or just a blessing you appreciate in your life.

  2. Nightly Gratitude Contemplation: Before you fall asleep each night, take a moment and start listing as many things as you can think of to be grateful for. These can be small things, they don’t need to be huge, but they can be. Whatever comes to your mind. It gets easier to make a longer and longer list the more you practice! As you feel ready, add in things about your animal that you appreciated.

  3. Daily Mindfulness Gratitude Practice: As you move throughout your day, find little things you notice or that you are spending your time doing, to appreciate, such as having a cup of tea, noticing the sun warming your face, seeing a bird that lands in a nearby tree, or even just having a quiet moment alone.

  4. Practice Kindness: Taking focus away from yourself and finding ways to do things for others can be very healing when you are grieving. It can help put your own experience into perspective, see the struggles that others face and appreciate the blessings you do have in your life. It can also create a wonderful feeling to see someone benefit from something you have said or done for them, without expectations – just with compassion. Here’s an idea: volunteer at your local animal shelter!

  5. Reach Out to Your Community: Find support in sharing with others. There are many groups out there that focus on grief support and animal loss, and being supported by a like-minded spiritual community – for example like the LAL online community I’ve created for my students – can help remind you that you are not alone and also help you remember hope and positivity when you feel the most down. APLB: The Association of Pet Loss and Bereavement has many resources to support grieving animal lovers: https://www.aplb.org/

Another great type of group to join is something activity and nature-focused – like hiking, swimming, biking – Something that gets you out into nature and moving with friends. Nature and fresh air is a gentle support when we are feeling vulnerable, and getting your body moving with friends can lessen the feelings of isolation or depression that so often accompany grief over a pet or a person.

  1. Take Time to Meditate on Mindfulness: Meditation helps us to sit with what “is” – our grief – but also to widen our focus to things we are grateful for – so it helps us to have more perspective while also not shoving down that grief. Being able to look at it and sit with it, but also bring in things we are grateful for reminds as that we are MORE than the loss we have experienced. Jack Kornfield offers a beautiful meditation on grief.

  2. Allow Spirit Animals to guide you to healing: Animals bring so much wisdom to us – both when they live their lives with us and also when they come to us in the form of Spirit Animals. Here is a special meditation I’ve created, where the Condor and Hummingbird can guide you through the three parts of grief: from sadness to love to gratitude.

Final Thoughts about Healing Grief with Gratitude

We never lose our loved ones; they don’t disappear from our lives. We are merely in different rooms.” Paulo Coelho

It is essential to the grieving process that we allow ourselves to express the emotions that grief brings up without judging them, without trying to push them down, without telling ourselves a story about ‘being strong” or wondering what others will think. Really make space for those emotions to be expressed honestly and without apology. This allowing—of our grief and the emotions that come with it—will actually calm our bodies and our minds.

Because beyond the wave of emotions is a peacefulness – the peace of the essence of our being. This is the foundation of who we are – our spirit that is connected to the universe, that is One. In this space, we are always connected and time, space, distance and changing circumstances does not touch it, does not affect it. So our dearly departeds are always with us, always connected to us.

On the other side of grief’s expression is a spaciousness that is embraced with gratitude and peace and love. These all transcend loss. Open to suffering to allow joy to come in.

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