As co-editor of
laJoie Journal I often receive comments from readers about the large number of articles, essays, and poems we print in which an animal dies, or about dying issues. "Could we have fewer of these.?" they ask. After all, "la joie" is the French word for "joy," and where is the joy in an animal's death? I agree: joy is hard to find, hidden under multiple, complex layers of fear for our own mortality, enmeshed with our love, hope, grief, and guilt. An animal's death is neither an easy nor a pleasant experience for any of us.
Yet, animals are our joy - we care about them and for them. We dedicate endless time, money, energy, and emotions to them. They become our
soul mates, companions, significant others, teachers and guides. The boundaries dissolve in the shared love as the lines between human and creature begin to blur and our minds speak to one another without audible word. As the relationship deepens, we become one intricate and sacred being, a beautiful song that resonates and harmonizes as all life.
But most animals have shorter lives than ours. If we want to enter a full and respectful partnership with an animal, we have to read the fine print: those we cherish so completely will, someday, have to leave us. And the leave-taking will hurt us, tear us to shreds. But if we are open and aware to all aspects of death and dying, it can also heal us on levels that other life experiences never can.
For more than twenty rears, I have "sat" with dying animals, mostly those of my own animal family, others who were wild. In the beginning I grit my teeth and suffered through the ordeal. Afterwards, I would say, "Never again!" But the animals kept coming, presenting me with new opportunities to understand and appreciate not just their living, but also their dying. I began to understand that in such matters they were my teachers, gently guiding my life in a new direction.
Each creature brought a gift: a new, often miraculous facet of the death and dying process. They taught me new and better ways to ease an animal's passage. And they helped me realize that animals honor us, not only with their embodied presence, but also with their dying and eternal existence as well.
Increasingly over the past few years, animal hospice care - similar in many ways to human hospice care - and awareness of the soul's presence after death, has become a vital part of my work with animals, and for an increasing, number of other animal care givers. Their expanding knowledge and experience relative to animal death, dying, and beyond death, continues to be a vital part of laJoie Journal because it is such an important subject.
Losing an animal companion through death can be very hard. But I have learned that to return honor to an animal I need to support and respect her process of dying and ultimate release. My friend deserves a good death, as do all animals, with as much peace, dignity, and ease from pain as possible. She deserves to have me hold her, to bless her passage, and to encourage her that the journey before her is a shining, and yes joyous one, all just part of the song called life.