It is always difficult to loose someone we love,
but the death of an animal companion
often touches us even more profoundly
than the death of a human being.
Our animal companions
at times grow more dear to us
than our closest human friends.
They love us so unconditionally and
with such great presence,
that their passing . . .
can leave a profound emptiness . . .
in the very deepest recesses . . .
of our heart and soul.

     The love of an animal permits us to unfold, to open up, drop our defenses and to be naked, not only physically but psychologically and spiritually as well. With an animal we let ourselves be seen instead of hiding behind our personalities, our cultures, our jobs, our clothing or our makeup. They know us as no one else does, in our private joys, angry rages, deepest despair, in sickness and in health. All the while their calm steady presence companions us with an unwavering love like few others on this earth. Our animal companions see through us to the very soul of our soul, encouraging the unfolding of a sacred trust. If there is such a thing as a soul mate, then surely this is it.

     Because most companion animals perform so magnificently their self appointed tasks of teaching us about unconditional love, devotion and surrender, we often experience with them what we have only dreamed of with our human loved ones. When the animal dies, there is a natural tendency, in addition to the grief we experience over their passing, to attach to it grief we have over not feeling loved in the same way by the human beings in our lives. We may also experience an outpouring of emotion that we would like to be able to express to our human mates, lovers and friends and feel we cannot. Our bereavement, then, tends to evolve into a non-specific grief over the lack of love we witness in the world in general, the absence of which is made all the more noticeable by the absence of our four legged friend.

     Our society as a whole denies death. Youth is worshiped, old folks are whisked off to " the Home "and the topic of death is avoided by almost everyone. The witnessing of the full spectrum of an animals life brings us face to face with our own mortality and is often the most intimate glimpse of illness, aging and death that we may ever get. The attendant fear further complicates the grief of losing an animal.

     When an animal dies, we often experience feelings of guilt and remorse that compound our grief yet again. Could I have done more for my beloved companion? Why was I so preoccupied with my work that I failed to notice his illness? Did the treatment plan I chose to follow make him suffer more? These questions and many others may haunt us for weeks month or possibly years. So many books have been written about the pain of losing a loved one, yet most barely mention the pain of losing an animal companion and none that I have found touch upon the remorse and guilt that often compound the grief of losing an animal friend.

     If you have feelings of deep grief after the death of a human loved one, family and friends understand and offer love and support and are willing to listen with compassion as you express your sorrow. You are often given time away from work to absorb, reflect on, and adjust to your experience. But what about grieving the loss of a beloved animal friend? It often seems that no one cares or understands. Sometimes you are even met with impatience, "after all, it was only an animal. " It is natural then,to feel that no one understands your pain.

     Many people have never been blessed with, or felt for themselves, the true love of an animal. They are incapable of understanding that your love for an animal may surpass your love for the humans that are the closest to you. It is a different bond, in a way, more profound; something only the heart understands. What I have learned over the years, as a student of grief and a student of many spiritual traditions, is that no guru, guide, master or friend no matter how enlightened can comfort the heart that believes it has lost what it holds most dear. Whether grieving ourselves, or consoling a grieving friend, often the most useful thing we can do is to simply tell our story. For in the story of our own journey through the gates of grief, or in bearing witness to the grief of another, we can at least legitimize the experience and make it "Sacred."

     When my little cat Shoji died, I was grief stricken for many months. Although I have experienced several tragic losses in my lifetime including the suicide of my father and the disappearance of my daughter, neither of these brought me close to the intensity of the grief I felt losing Shoji. Some time after Shoji died, an acquaintance who had become impatient with my grieving process said to me "its only a cat for heavens sake, why don't you just get another one?" Just get another one? . . . My soul mate, my teacher, my guru in grey fur. When my Grandmother died several years earlier, no one had said "Why don't you get another grandmother."

     God spoke to me through Shoji the same way he had spoken to me through my lovely Grandmother. Perhaps she herself had sent him to me from heaven . . . an angel with whiskers! He had shared with me the most difficult period of my life and knew me like no one else ever had. What would I do without my dear companion? I felt isolated and totally alone with my feelings. How could I possibly tell my family or even my closest friends that I was more devastated by the loss of a cat than by the loss of my Father?

     To make it all the more painful I was haunted for many months by feeling of responsibility for Shoji's death. I had been between jobs and homes and had left him with loving friends. He had taken to waiting along the road for my car. Being a little grey cat just the color of asphalt this was a very dangerous thing for him to do. When he was hit and killed by a car, I thought I would never recover from the anguish I felt, knowing that I was at least in part responsible for his death and the pain that he must have felt. An image of him being hit by the car played over and over in my mind. He had experienced nothing but love and kindness from the time he was six weeks old. To think of him dying in pain was almost unbearable.

     Over the weeks that followed Shoji's death I often awoke at night crying for him. I would fall back to sleep and then awaken to his warm sweet smell and the feel of his fur on my face. He told me not to be sad any longer. He said that he was doing just fine and that his death had been planned for the benefit of both of us. Shoji continued to visit me nightly for several weeks, thanking me for our time together and for teaching him about Buddha and Jesus. He said that as he traveled through the astral plane after his death he had been tempted by flocks of yellow birds and tantalizing thing to smell and to eat, but that he had remembered what I had told him about focusing on the light and he had made it safely to the other side and was awaiting a suitable rebirth. He said he was very much enjoying the wonderful light feeling of not having a body.

     Over the next few days, Shoji told me many wonderful things, the best of which are listed here. He said to share them with those who might understand such things. Companion animals are especially cared for by the angels after their death and lovingly assisted in the selection of their next incarnations. In fact, angels and companion animals share a very similar job ministering to human beings in the ways that they do; angels from the side of spirit and companion animals from the material side of things. It's a kind of dual guardianship. When an animal dies there is a great reunion in heaven.

     Many companion animals are attendant spirits to humans, and a particular animal soul may attend to a particular human being over and over again in different forms, sometimes from the realm of spirit and sometimes on the physical plane. It is unfair, though, for us to require that they come back to us, for it may be better for their own growth that they incarnate elsewhere for a while.

     In our time, many master beings take the form of companion animals to assist people through times of rapid spiritual expansion. These beings often come into incarnation for very specific reasons and when their task is complete they simply leave. Shoji had come to assist me through my illness, near death experience and re-orientation to the world. He had simply completed the job he had come to do and it was time for him to go. Animals don't fear death as human beings do. . . They just slip out of their furred or feathered coats and go on to the next assignment.

     The experience of grief is a great gift . . . for the heart that breaks is just opening again. There is no need for forgiveness or atonement, for forgiveness and atonement are real only from the perspective of separation and we are not separate from one another. The best definition of atonement is the word itself . . . AT-ONEMENT. If we truly feel one with our animal companion there is no need to make amends . . . for all is whole and complete, known and understood. Beneath our fur, feathers, scales or skin we are all of the same great spirit.

     Shoji said the biggest lesson is this:

"don't hold love back . . .
don't put conditions on it . . .
love now . . . give all your love away in each moment . . .
Don't be a love miser, be a love fountain . . .
keep the door of your heart open wide."

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