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Gifts Amid the Grief

benji dogDuring the first weekend in June, I lost my dog and companion, Benji. I awoke at 4 am to find him in my foyer. When I shook him to wake him, I knew that he was gone. He was still warm, but there was no life in him.

There was a part of me that recognized each of the stages of grief as another, deeper part of myself experienced them. Shock, denial, anger. Those came first. I sat with him for the better part of an hour, trying to imagine how this had happened.

Benji had been troubled for the last three years with allergies that made him cough, but I had him checked out again and again. The several veterinarians I took him to see assured me that the cough wasn't from either infection or heart disease. His lungs were weak, but I had a variety of meds, both allopathic and homeopathic to treat him. He had been doing surprisingly well recently with hardly any coughing. When I arrived home the day before, he'd been panting hard, but he was playing outside and it was hot. In hindsight, I see that I didn't take the panting seriously enough. The anger, of course, was at myself. Why didn't I take him to the emergency vet? Why didn't my normally good intuition kick in?

Once I got past the shock, I realized I had to bury him. As soon as it was light, I went under the pines in my back yard and began digging a deep hole for his grave almost as if I were a robot. The physicality of that action helped relieve the numb shock. I was doing something for him, even if it was too late to do what was really needed. I wrapped him in his favorite blanket, lined the grave with plastic, and placed him inside. I said prayers over his body, lined the edges of the filled-in grave in rocks (later I bought marble rocks to cover the grave), and sat on the ground beside him.

The Stillpoint Companions, an intentional spiritual community to which I belong, was meeting that day. As I sat through the meeting and cried, they held me in their love and allowed me to grieve. I'd already called my dear friend Cynthia and my brother-in-law Tom and had emailed those who are closest to me. But in the days that followed, while my grief and heartache raged, the outpouring of sympathy for me at the loss of a pet was nothing short of miraculous.

People sent cards, phoned, emailed and held me in their prayers. One group of friends held a memorial service for him and brought me gifts as mementoes of Benji. As time passed, another friend, who had only recently lost her cat, took me to lunch and to the Humane Society to look at dogs and then invited me to meet her dogs, which were all adopted. I realized that when other folks' pets die, I often don't express to them my understanding of what they are feeling. The kindness of others lifted me up at a time when I felt my heart was breaking, and I resolved to express my feelings of sympathy to others more openly in the future.

By the end of the month, my depression had hit hard. I didn't want to come home from work. I didn't want to stay at home. I visited friends and family. My sister Dawn just let me cry. Cynthia wrapped me in a deer hide and gave me energy. Others let me talk and offered comfort. Often enjoying my solitude when I am happy, I was reminded of how much I depend on the people I love when I am not. I felt a deep gratitude for their care and an appreciation of how much their love can heal my pain.

gingersnap dog

After a few weeks, I did adopt a new dog from a rescue group named SCRATCH. Her name is Gingersnap, and she is her own personality rather than a replacement for Benji. I will always miss Benji. He allowed me to love him unconditionally and taught me a great deal about present moment awareness, joy in living, and honest affection. What he taught me has allowed me to welcome Gingersnap into my heart, and as each day passes, she and I become better friends.

Benji's passing prompted me to look for comfort in books, as is typical for me. One book, Animals and the Afterlife by Kim Sheridan, was a great comfort and changed my attitudes about what happens to animals after they pass. I can easily imagine Benji in a perfect place, sitting at the feet of Jesus or playing with his friends. I hope that I will see him again one day.

Shock, Denial, Anger, Depression, Acceptance. Through all of these I found gifts. I am thankful for the life of my beloved companion Benji, and I am thankful for the teaching that his death brought to me.

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Pet Loss Support:
Coping with the Sudden Loss of a Pet

Accidental Pet Loss

While many people watch their pets live out long lives and then cope with the loss of their pet at an old age, others find themselves faced with the sudden and traumatic loss of a pet through an accident or carelessness. Anytime a loss is sudden, we often feel a flood of guilt and questions afterward. Sometimes that guilt can be haunting, filling our mind and heart with heaviness and confusion.

Normal Guilt Responses

Guilt can be quite a monster after the loss of a pet. While we already grieve for the loss of our companions, we also beat ourselves up over the accident that took our pet’s life. Even as others are offering us sympathy and condolences, we are often looking for reasons to feel guilty. “Why” becomes part of our regular thought process. Why did I leave the door open? Why didn’t I spend more time with him? And “If only” becomes “Why’s” partner in our destructive thinking. If only I had given him more attention. If only I had taken him to the vet sooner.

Those guilty questions are normal reactions, because we, as humans, believe in cause and effect. We have a tendency to think that any bad things that happen can be prevented. As pet owners, we feel that we are ultimately our pet’s guardian or protector. So the combination of feeling we could have prevented the cause of our pet’s death, along with the failure we feel about not protecting our pet, makes for a lot of guilt. Even though we may have friends or family members relating their condolences for our loss, we have a hard time even hearing them.

How Guilt Can Help Us

Guilty feelings are normal and at times helpful because they can often teach us about what to do right with our next pet. Working our way through guilt allows us to grow stronger and healthier emotionally and spiritually. There are some things we can do to help ease the guilt and eventually come to terms with the sudden death of a pet, and the resulting pet loss grief.

How to Heal Excessive Guilt

pet dog in fieldWe can begin by not repeating those guilty thoughts over and over in our heads. The haunting thoughts can be overwhelming, and although natural, we don’t want to allow them to occupy our minds frequently. You can acknowledge the thought, but then follow it up with a positive statement. An example would be, “I feel guilty that Sparky died. If only I had had that blood test done earlier. However, I’m choosing right now to heal and move forward, because Sparky wouldn’t want me to get stuck in guilt. I gave him a good home, he loved me dearly, and I’ll honor that love by choosing to remember and honor our good times together.”

Another way to heal from the guilt is to accept the loss itself and understand that there is nothing we can do to go back and change it. Beating ourselves up over the sudden loss of a pet will not bring our pet back. Instead, look clearly at what went wrong and make the changes that will keep it from happening again. If there is nothing to change, tell yourself that you did the best that you could at that time and that you will strive to always make good decisions concerning your pets in the future.

Imagine Yourself at The Rainbow Bridge

If you haven’t heard about the Rainbow Bridge, you may want to go online and do a search. The Rainbow Bridge is a lovely image of where you will reunite with your pet once your time on earth is over, and you are making your transition from this life to the afterlife.

When you meet your pet at that time at the Rainbow Bridge, you are not going to be chastised or made to feel guilty about anything you did or didn’t do for your pet. You will be met with unconditional love. Your beloved animal companion wants you to feel good about yourself and wants you to live a balanced and harmonious life. Take a moment and imagine that you are meeting with your pet at The Rainbow Bridge right now, ahead of time, and get their advice for your life right now. What do they want for you in your life right now? Are they asking you to feel guilty and miserable?

Balance and Forgiveness

Finding balance is an important way to work through our guilt and heal. Balance is important to living a healthy life. Sometimes when we experience the sudden loss of a pet, we only focus on what went wrong. Yet, there were many more good times than bad, and we need to find a way to focus on those times. Sometimes a memory journal will help us focus on those times. At other times we may want to go to places or do things our pet loved to remember how good our time together really was.

Finally, forgiveness is really the key to healing from guilt. We need to learn to forgive ourselves for any past wrongs. They are done. They are over. Sometimes we may need to look in the mirror and tell ourselves, “I forgive you.” Your pet’s love for you was unconditional, and forgiveness was handed over freely. When grieving the loss of your pet, you need to give yourself that same forgiveness.

Reconnecting to Life after Loss and Guilt

Guilt over the sudden loss of a pet is a natural part of the grief process. A normal amount of guilt is healthy, because is allows us to learn from mistakes and grow into stronger, more well-balanced human beings. If you feel that guilt is overwhelming or taking over your life, finding some help from a counselor or support group is recommended. If you cannot find a local pet loss support group, go online. There is plenty of pet loss support available there as well.

Allow yourself time to work through your grief, including any feelings of guilt after the loss of your beloved pet. Be gentle with yourself. You will feel good again, connected to life and more compassionate as a result of your loss.

Marcia BreitenbachMarcia Breitenbach is an, speaker, and musician who has facilitated pet loss support groups for years. Sign up for her free Songletter where you can get inspiring music for healing and nurturing your soul at: http://www.griefandlosshelpsongletter.com

Click here to get information on Marcia's newly released pet loss video/DVD at: http://www.griefandlosshelpsongletter.com/indexpetlossdvd.htm

Source: http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Marcia_Breitenbach

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My Pastor Said Animals Don't Have Souls

"Why Brother Gary, what seems to be the matter", my pastor's wife asked as I made my way to my usual pew on Sunday morning. I didn't respond immediately, because I just didn't feel like talking. My beloved dog of 16 years had passed away the day before, and my mind could focus on little else but the terrible void and sense of loss I was feeling. I probably shouldn't have been out in public so soon, but I thought support from those of like faith might help ease the pain I was feeling.

Before I could respond, she added, "You are always such a happy person and today you look so glum." As I sought for something to say, I felt tears welling up in my eyes, and I knew that I had to squeeze an answer out quickly or risk blubbering incoherently as my emotions took over. So I quickly blurted out, "My dog died yesterday."

Sure that she heard the quivering in my voice and saw the tears beginning to flow, I waited for the compassionate words that I knew only a pastor's wife could find. To my horror, instead of offering sympathy and compassion, she sarcastically, and if I might add, gleefully asked, "Oh, and I bet you think your dog went to doggy heaven, don't you?"

I didn't know what to say or do, so I resorted to the tactic most people resort to when they find themselves in an awkward situation; I chuckled and walked off. I didn't want to chuckle. I wanted to lash out and admonish her for her callousness; but I didn't. I didn't have it in me. It just was not that important at the moment. I couldn't handle a confrontation. I just wanted to be left alone, and so I chuckled and walked away.

Outwardly I erased any sign of hurt or anger toward her, but inwardly I was mortified. She had taken one of the most traumatic experiences of my life and heaped more grief and pain upon it. Her undeserved cruelty to me was bad enough, but the sentiment she expressed was even more disturbing. I was to find later in my studies and work that many in ministry share her erroneous view of animals and the afterlife.

In my work, I have received hundreds of letters and e-mails from exasperated church-goers who have suffered similarly at the hands (or words) of their ministers and their spouses. Sometimes it was from direct dialogue about a specific pet, but more often it was just hurtful comments made from the pulpit that suggested animals were not important and did not have souls.

Overwhelmingly, mainstream denominations hold to this opinion. They hold that animals are temporal creatures without souls. The usual premise for this belief is that the Bible says that God breathed life into Adam, but does not say that he did this for animals. Hence, in their mind, man has the Spirit of God in him, and animals do not.

I find this position theologically immature and wholly unsupportable. That animals have souls is an unimpeachable teaching in scripture. First of all, the word "soul" is used in over 20 different ways in scripture. When it comes to animals, the Hebrew word "nephesh" is used. This word "soul" means "essence" or "life". The word confers permanence to that life. It is not and cannot be temporal.

Moreover, God is the one who gave animals their essence or life, whether he breathed into them or not. Adam couldn't do it. All life comes from God. This alone refutes the erroneous notion that God did not somehow give life to these creatures. Just because it is not recorded does not mean it did not happen. We are not told that God breathed life into the woman. Are we to assume then that women have no souls?

If we follow this erroneous view, it becomes more outrageous. We must conclude that only Adam had a soul, for God did not breathe into every man, only Adam. Adam may have been able to pass along physical traits to his offspring, but the soul comes from God. So, if God did not breathe into each man, each man did not receive a soul. How foolish an idea is when you follow it to the extreme.

The whole idea that animals do not have souls is erroneous. There is no Biblical support for such a position. Indeed, there is overwhelming evidence that proves that they do have souls and are eternal creatures. This is not a conclusion that is hard to arrive at. A simple, elementary study of pertinent scripture is all that is required. It is egregious that those who need to have answers do not make the effort to reach this understanding.

Many ministers need to revisit their ideas about animals and animal afterlife. Trusting what they heard from their Seminary Professor or a previous pastor is not acceptable. The onus is upon them to know the facts for their flock. Their calling is one that puts them in a position of trust. They are in ministry to serve and help when members of the flock have need. Losing a beloved pet is indeed a time of great need. It is not a place where a minister wants to fail or trust their responsibility to the ideas of others.

It is a lazy and dangerous practice to disregard the Bible's instructions for those who minister "to search out whether these things are true". Ministers take on an obligation to have ready and sound answers for their congregants, in particular when it comes to matters of the heart. People go to church to "know" what God says, not what a Seminary Professor thinks. A minister must know, not hazard a guess.

Article Source: http://www.ideamarketers.com/

gary kurzGary Kurz is a retired Coast Guard Officer with over 32 years of service. He and his wife have a love for animals and a concern for others who share their love. Employing his Bible education and more than 20,000 hours of personal Bible study, Gary thoughtfully and convincingly addresses a question that is often on our minds, but seldom uttered aloud, that of animal afterlife. He helps those grieving the loss of a pet to understand the Biblical evidence that proves that animals live on. His most popular book, Cold Noses at the Pearly Gates delivers hope and comfort to the reader in a very gentle, yet convincing way. Visit at http://www.coldnosesbook.com for more information and tips. Send feedback to Gary Kurz at gkurz007@aol.com.

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Adopting a Pet

The last three dogs I've had were adults. I haven't had a puppy since I was only a little older than a puppy myself. When Benji died, I knew I wanted another dog, and I started looking almost immediately even though I was aware that I needed time to grieve before bringing a new dog home. Still, looking seemed to console me. I'd felt so much guilt when I lost Toto, my dog before Benji, that I waited years before getting another dog. I didn't want to wait that long again.

I decided I wanted a rescue dog immediately. I don't have the time to train a puppy, and puppies have so much energy! I knew I wanted another adult dog, preferably one who had already been housebroken. So I immediately went online and to the newspapers to find out what dogs were available at the Animal Shelter, the Humane Society, and at the rescue organizations.

If you go online to www.petfinder.com, you can type in your zip code and then go from there. It will ask you what type of pet you want (cat, dog, snake, rat, etc.) Then, you can pick size, age, breed, and other relevant details. The search engine will show you all the animals within your parameters in an increasingly larger radius from your home. There are other engines, but this is the one most shelters use, and it was the most complete, in my opinion.

I also visited the Humane Society and went to Pet Smart on Saturdays when they have rescue organizations set up inside their store. Meeting and holding the dogs helped me realize I wasn't yet ready. I still needed to grieve for Benji. When I finally met Gingersnap and held her, I knew she was the one. I had called the rescue group, SCRATCH, because I saw a Yorkie online. Gingersnap hadn't been put online yet, but the rescuer offered to meet me and bring Gingersnap along. It was a perfect match. She's just right for me.

The Humane Society of America has question to ask yourself if you are thinking of adopting (www.hsus.org). Quoted from their site, they are:

The Humane Society acknowledges that this is a long list of questions, but it will help you decide if adopting (or buying a pet, for that matter) is right for you. Furthermore, many of the animals at shelters have already had a hard time of it. They need someone to be their person who will love them and care for them everyday for the rest of their lives, not someone for whom owning a pet was just a whim. In fact, it is because someone got tired of the responsibility that many animals are in the shelter.

So don't make the same mistake. Think about why you are adopting before you adopt. If you are ready to commit your time, money, responsibility and love to a new pet, you are going to be rewarded with joy and unconditional love. Animals are often spiritual teachers. They take you as you are and love you for what you are. They don't care about your money, your looks, or your reputation. That is their blessing to you.

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Aug. 2007

In This Issue

purple spiral

"The Rainbow Bridge"
by Paul C. Dahm

There is a bridge connecting Heaven and Earth.

It is called Rainbow Bridge

Because of its many splendid colors.

Just this side of Rainbow Bridge

With lush, green grass.

When beloved pets die,

They go to this place.

There is always food and water

And warm spring weather.

The old and frail animals are young again.

Those who are maimed are made whole again.

They play all day with each other.

There is only one thing missing.

They are not with their special person

Who loved them on earth.

So each day they run and play.

Until the day comes

When one suddenly stops playing and looks up!

The nose twitches.

The ears are up!

The eyes are staring.

And this one suddenly runs from the group.

You have been seen!

And when you and your special friend meet,

You take him in your arms and embrace.

Your face is kissed again and again and again,

And you look once more

Into the eyes of your trusting pet.

Then you cross the Rainbow Bridge together…

… Never again to be separated.

Image by Graur Codrin FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Copyright 2007
Suzanne H. Eller

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Reading Corner

reading dog

I found this book to be very comforting and helpful when Benji died. Sheridan tells stories from people who have lost their pets and who have seen evidence that pet's have an afterlife. Highly recommended.

This book also discusses the afterlife of animals, but it does so from a decidedly Biblical perspective. I did not like the writing style as well as Sheridan's, but I appreciated the message. I've included an article by Kurz below. He makes a strong case for honoring the life force in all God's creatures. He has a good website, too.

This book is by a Unitarian Universalist minister. It is very comforting and champions the importance of animals in our lives.

Myers is a journalist, and this book is about pet communicators. The stories are varied, entertaining, and wonderful, and the book is a good introduction to the topic.

This book has great advice on rescuing a purebred dog. What it did for me is put me in touch with a rescue organization--and I ended up taking a mixed dog. Some purebred rescue fees as much as a puppy. This book helps you determine what questions to ask and makes you aware of potential problems especially since some purebred rescue dogs have been used as breeders in puppy mills or abused in other ways.

Liz is one of my fellow Stillpoint Companions who was with me on the day I found Benji and buried him. Her book is a collection of essays and stories that teach us how we can find God in nature and spiritual teachers in the animals around us.

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Quotes about Pets

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We call them dumb animals, and so they are, for they cannot tell us how they feel, but they do not suffer less because they have not words. ~Anna Sewell (Black Beauty)

The greatest pleasure of a dog is that you may make a fool of yourself with him, and not only will he not scold you, but he will make a fool of himself too. ~Samuel Butler

You call to a dog and a dog will break its neck to get to you. Dogs just want to please. Call to a cat and its attitude is, "What's in it for me?" ~Lewis Grizzard

It's funny how dogs and cats know the inside of folks better than folks do, isn't it? ~Eleanor H. Porter (Pollyanna)

Animals are such agreeable friends— they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms. ~George Eliot

Most beds sleep up to six cats. Ten cats without the owner. ~Stephen Baker

I like pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals. ~Sir Winston Churchill.

If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man. ~Mark Twain

The dog was created especially for children. He is the god of frolic. ~Henry Ward Beecher

Dogs come when they're called; cats take a message and get back to you. ~Mary Bly

In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn't merely try to train him to be semihuman. The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog. ~Edward Hoagland (Dogs and the Tug of Life)

A cat's rage is beautiful, burning with pure cat flame, all its hair standing up and crackling blue sparks, eyes blazing and sputtering. ~William S. Burroughs

Pet a dog where he can't scratch and he'll always be your friend. ~Orville Mars

The real measure of a day's heat is the length of a sleeping cat. ~Charles J. Brady

Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read. ~Groucho Marx

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