By Sharon Callahan

“All life contains both joy and sorrow. 
We would like to concentrate on the joy and forget the sorrow, 
but how much more spiritually skillful it is to use everything 
we meet in life as grist for the mill of awakening.”
Lama Surya Das

When a beloved animal is dying we can feel very helpless and inadequate. We may wonder what we have to offer to such a situation. Even when there is nothing left to do but accept that death is near there is much we can do to help the animal by our presence of mind, by what we project out and by how we affect the environment.

We can come to a place of within ourselves accepting the situation for what it is and not trying to change it. At such a time it is easy to continue to busy ourselves by running around searching for cures and answers. It is often easier to hide out in such activities than to let go of our expectations and ideas and be left with nothing to hang on to. But the point where there is nothing to hang on to is the point where we can actually make a deep and spiritual connection with the animal and with the process of death itself. 

It is not easy to resist the urge to try and control the situation and to fix things. Such activity during the process of death are based on rejection rather than acceptance of the situation at hand and can place a burden on the animal and separate us from her and her process. It is far more beneficial to the animal to accept the animal as she is and honor the process as it unfolds. As we do this, she will relax into her process as well and everything will go more smoothly.

In our Western culture we often view death as an illness or some kind of mistake. Although it is popular to talk about death being a part of life, when the time actually arrives few individuals are able to hold this view. If we view the animal’s death as an illness to be cured or as a mistake, she will feel the same and may fight against the death process in an attempt to heal our pain. Death is natural for all living beings it is not an illness or mistake. It is more useful and powerful to accept death on its own terms. A phase of life that is challenging, transforming and to be expected.

When we accept that we are loosing someone precious to us there is often a tendency to close ourselves off in anticipation of the pain of separation that we will experience. Being present with the dying animal and expressing our deep love takes great courage and inner strength. It requires us to be willing to express our love while knowing that our dear one leaving us. When the dying animal is presented with that level of love and acceptance and honoring of the process of death she will not be held back by that love, but supported, comforted, and freed to move on at the appropriate moment.

At such a time it is not easy to be courageous. Our emotions will likely be all over the place. When such tumultuous emotions surface we can simply choose to acknowledge them and then release them into the light of God’s love. It helps during times of intense emotion to take a break, take a walk and ground ourselves.

The animal’s mental and emotional states may be altered due to their age, nature of their illness and medications. Dying animals (and people) however, are much more aware than they may appear to be. Our assumption should be that they understand us even though they may not respond in their usual way. When the animal is very close to death she may seem totally unresponsive, but she is able to receive your communications and loving thoughts. Simple words like “I love you’ or “I will miss you” are very helpful to the animal at this stage. In addition, the animals intuitive perceptions at the point of death are greatly heightened, so non-verbal communication is picked up extremely easily and quickly. Because of this, our state of mind and the energy we project will have a great impact on the animal for better or worse. It is important to the best of your ability to affect the situation for the better. Sometimes just being with the animal in the nakedness of the experience is the best.

By the way we conduct ourselves both outwardly and inwardly we will either help the animal or add to her pain, hindering her process and progress. The environment we create around the animal will affect her deeply and leave a lasting imprint upon her soul. If the environment is chaotic and highly emotionally charged, it can be a hindrance. If it is gentle, peaceful and loving it will support her. Although it is healthy to express our natural feelings it is not healthy or supportive to act them out to an extreme. If we really feel we are loosing control of ourselves it is best to step aside for a while, take a walk, meditate, visit a friend. We can engage with the animal again when our emotions settle and we can again be supportive.

One of the most difficult aspects of caring for a dying animal is witnessing the suffering that may be involved. Pain medication can and should be given if the animal is suffering physically. It is important to keep in mind that aside from physical pain the animal may be suffering emotionally if she feels that she must hold on for you or if she feels something is unfinished between you. If you feel the animal is suffering emotionally it would be helpful to enlist the help of an animal communicator. The communicator can help reveal the source of the animal’s suffering so that it can be released. What is really bothering the animal may be something totally different from what we expected or what seems most obvious to us.

Dealing with the death process in a sane and helpful way requires great flexibility. The animal may seem to rally for a few days and then suddenly take a turn for the worse. Just as we get used to that, she may get better again and so on. Things may sway from one extreme to another so often that we are left with a feeling of being entirely out of control. Things may change minute to minute. We may wonder if the animal is going to live or die. Does she have a long time or a short time?

In the midst of such confusion the thing to come back to is just being two friends who love each other sharing the uncertainty of the process of death. We want to create as peaceful an atmosphere for the animal as possible but also allow for periods of the process which are not peaceful. An atmosphere which allows for what is raw and difficult along with what is beautiful and tender will be more difficult, but it is more honest. With facing the situation honestly there is ultimately more peace as well.

It is rare when a beloved animal is dying that we are dealing one-on one with the animal. Often there is a whole group of people with whom we are dealing and they may all have different views, opinions and needs. Husbands, parents, children, friends, neighbors and veterinarians may all have differing opinions of what should be done and how we should handle things. Some may withdraw completely leaving you feeling unsupported. Others may feel that euthanasia is the most expedient and merciful approach. Still others may deny that death is occurring and encourage you to seek various forms of treatments and healings. This can all be very, very confusing. The animal is not able to speak for herself unless you are very sensitive to her feelings and able to stay detached, which is often impossible in such circumstances. The role of an animal communicator at such a time is invaluable. With the aid of a skilled and compassionate animal communicator you will have valuable information from the animal herself and be better prepared to make a decision based on her wishes and the deep feelings within your own heart.

We seldom associate humor with the death process. We are lead to believe that it should all be very tragic and solemn. While sacredness and respect are critical at such a time we should endeavor to not take it all to seriously either. The animal wouldn’t want us to. Every living thing dies. It is not unique. But unlike other life experiences it is hard to take it as a natural occurrence. If we loose our sense of humor we will carry a pall of darkness into our relationship with the animal and she may suffer more as a result. We don’t want the animal to feel as if she is already dead and gone. We want to engage her in the living process of dying. Our understanding, behavior, attitudes and emotions have a tremendous impact on the environment around us and consequently on the environment around our beloved friend. Through accepting the ordinariness of death, by allowing for a full range of emotion and experience, by communicating directly and lovingly, by not freaking out, by allowing for chaos, and by keeping a sense of humor, the death process can be transformed from its pall of darkness into an illumined and joyous transition into a life of Spirit. 

The great Indian sage Shantideva, who’s name means the “Gentle Master,” lived in the 7th and 8th century. He spent his life teaching others how to see the equality of self and other, and to act from this belief. He said that if you raise even one hand in a gesture of reverence to anything or anyone, all the Buddhas clap, rejoice, and rain down blessings. May the Buddhas rain blessings upon you as you offer a final gesture of reverence to your beloved friend.

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