I highly recommend “Goodbye, Friend” by Gary Kowalski if you’re dealing with the loss of a companion animal. He is both poetic and practical. Reading his book was one of the steps I took to heal after my dog, Max had to be put down.
Here are some things I learned from him:
– Allow yourself to Grieve. There’s no set time to stop grieving.
– “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.” – Ecclesiastes.
Yes, our animals were with us for a season, for a reason. Their role is over in our lives and hopefully we understand what that was.
– Death makes us ask questions such as “Are we getting the most out of life? What more do we need to do or be or accomplish for our own lifetimes to feel complete?” (Please see my post on a Peaceful Death).
– “Any loss can open old wounds”, says Kowalski. If this happens, then I believe, we can heal and transform deeply if we know how to deal with it. Perhaps professional support can be useful. But it needs to be from people who can appreciate the grief we feel for animals. Not all professionals may understand the depth of our feelings for animals. Choose wisely.
– Kowalski says, “Take care of yourself”. He reminds us to eat well and rest well and if possible, not work for a while. I would add that we can allow others to take care of us too. The day after Max died, I visited a friend. She made vegan bread pudding for me, gave me herbal tea and was very gentle in how she was. I felt safe and taken care of.
– Sometimes our animals may suffer from some difficult fate. Kowalski speaks of the anger we may feel and encourages us to find healthy outlets for it, such as writing. Max had cancer and became disabled. I never felt anger but I did feel grief. But I understood that I could learn from what had happened. I was being asked to play new roles in his life. Having this learning approach helped me not feel angry.
– Kowalski mentions how important it can be to be with our animals if they are to be euthanised, and how we can communicate with them before. He says, “We can let our animals know that they are going on a trip, to a place with no strife and no suffering.” He says that we can give them permission to die by expressing our love rather than our need for them. I watched Max die and it was difficult but I am very grateful I did. I was there to comfort him with our family. It was peaceful and prayerful.
– I love the chapter on “Healing Words” where Kowalski shares about how healing eulogies can be. He says, “When uttered with sincerity, our words may bring us closer to a place of wholeness and peace.”
– What happens after death? I’m glad he mentions varied experiences people have had – of sensing their animal again, of dreams in which their animal was healed (I had these) etc.
– Kowalski reminds us to “take care of ourselves… embrace our feelings… accept our own unique unrepeatable lifespan… pay attention to nature…. cultivate inwardness ….invoke the presence of the sacred.” For me, the paragraphs on these were some of the most healing words in the book. But there are many more…
I’m so grateful to Gary Kowalski for writing this healing gem of a book. You can purchase it from Books Depository. Perhaps you can consider getting it for your local libraries or animal shelters if they don’t have a copy. You can also recommend it to your vet and counsellors you may know of who are open to working with people who have lost their animals.