“I Feel Like My Heart Is Being Ripped Out” – Let’s Talk About Animal Transition
“I believe I’ve learned more from animals than I have from humans and it feels like my heart is being ripped out.”
These are words spoken by a pet parent this weekend who is facing the transition of her female dog from the physical to spirit. Anyone who has loved an animal understands the pain that comes with their passing; I felt such empathy.
Fortunately, we have the opportunity to speak with our animals during this time which can be immensely helpful for everyone involved. Understanding what an animal is feeling and thinking at this precious time of transition is not only respectful to the animal but can also help later on in the grieving process. Of course, sadness and pain are inevitable. However, being able to look back and know that we were clear about what an animal family member had to say during their transition process can help to mediate some of the emotions of regret, anxiety and fear that may arise.
Some important questions that can be asked of an animal who is transitioning include:
*What are you feeling in your body?
*What do you want your family to know about this journey they are taking with you?
*What do you feel would be the best action to take? Is it to transition on your own or to be administered something (I would then explain how that is done if the animal is not already aware)?
*Where would you be most comfortable?
*Where do you believe you are going?
Of course, there is no substitute for good veterinary care (my personal inclination is towards holistic veterinarians). However this can include, just as it would for a human being, allowing an animal to talk about their personal preferences and to express their feelings about their care.
It is important that we take care of ourselves during and after the transition of animals. Seeking support from loved ones can be very important. There are also many animal loss support groups and counselors out there to help. Also, remember that although sometimes we live in world that often doesn’t “get it” in terms of how difficult the pain of the passing of an animal is, it is very real.
As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, I have worked with people who are harboring repressed grief from the passing of a beloved animal many years prior. This is often because they were not able to acknowledge how painful the loss was, as we are still given the message in our society that the loss of an animal is just not as difficult as the loss of a human. Many times, people express that the closeness they have felt with their animal is more than many of the humans in their lives. This makes sense, considering the unconditional love of an animal and the physical closeness that we have with them. They cuddle with us, sleep in our beds and they are there for us in our most difficult times.
The transition of a animal is one of the most challenging experiences one can face but it can also be a wonderful opportunity. Taking the time to communicate with your animal at this time, even if it is just sitting quietly in meditation with them and feeling their presence, is a beautiful gift that we can give them.
Finally, animals are never really gone. They become a part of us and we always remain connected to them.
The following websites may provide helpful resources when dealing with the transition of a pet: