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Coping with the Loss of a Beloved Animal Friend:
The ebb and flow of the grieving process
by Kelly Holland Azzaro, LMT RA CCAP
Editor’s Note: How many times have we searched for something comforting to ease the pain of the loss of our dear friend, family member, or pet? Our pets offer such unconditional love and caring; they accept us with all of our faults. Often our pets are the only joy in our day, and their love, companionship and quiet support is always there for us. Kelly helps us through the acknowledgement of our pain of loss and offers methods and tools for navigating this dark journey. NOTE: This article was originally published in the NAHA Aromatherapy Journal.
Grieve not, nor speak of me with tears, but laugh and talk of me as if I were beside you…I loved you so. ‘Twas Heaven here with you. ~Isia Paschal Richardson
Most of us have or will experience a deep level of grief and sadness through the loss of a loved one’s passing as they make their transition to spirit. When this happens you may feel you were prepared for the process from prior experience or because you intuitively felt a shift in your loved ones energy or health. Or you may have been totally unprepared about how to deal with so many different emotions. For most of us it is the latter. Even past experience with the ebb and flow of emotional upheaval during such a life-changing event truly cannot take away any of the pain on all levels that deep loss brings. The loss I am writing about is the loss of a beloved animal friend; one that touches our lives so deeply that words cannot express how hard it feels to loose your best friend.
Many books are available on the subject of death and dying, grief and the grieving process. You may feel inclined to read such a book after time has passed and you once again feel like doing something instead of just being sad and depressed all the time. Yet when you begin to read you may find your mind wandering and unable to focus on the turning pages as your thoughts ebb and flow. Your heart aches emotionally and physically for your loved one’s physical presence. So the book goes back to the book shelf for awhile. You are not ready to read the how-to of saying goodbye to a beloved friend. As you grab another tissue, wipe your eyes and let out a big sigh you wonder is this a natural part of the grieving process or if you should be able to move through this more quickly. Yes, it is natural and yes you will be able to move through the experience and have a deeper level of awareness.
Each part of the grieving process is exactly how it should be for that person at that time. So what is one to do if it seems impossible to move out of such a deep sadness? Denial and repression are not the way…your grief and sadness are real! Try talking about it with loved ones and friends, seek out a professional counselor who specializes in grief, share your feelings with other people who have experienced the loss of their animal friend. This type of support system can be an invaluable tool for people who feel that their pets have graced their lives in the same way as children, guardian angels, soul-friends, or best friend!
I myself feel this way and have been hurt by those who say careless remarks like “It’s just a dog. Get over it,” or “Stolen horses - well can’t you buy two more?” Words can feel like a punch to the very seat of your solar plexus, initiating a very intense internal response that floods your body with negative chemical reaction-similar to the fight for flight defense mechanism. Once this release of adrenaline and hormones get going you may find yourself in a defensive mode, or crying, with an open flood-gate of up and down emotions. I chose to surround myself with caring people and best yet, with loving animal friends. It’s not necessary to rush out and adopt a new pet to replace your lost friend. They really can’t be replaced. Instead take time to heal and space to honor your best friend. In time and healing there may well come a day when a loving animal presents themselves to you. Receive this gift when you are ready.
You can use essential oils to help you ease your grief and also to reconnect with a loved one. What was their favorite aroma? Did you ever make them a blend? If so, re-create the blend and use it for personal anointment, meditation and reflection. Diffuse their favorite essential oil aroma and allow the scent to transport you to a loving place where you and spirit can meet. If you did not have the opportunity to create a blend or know what their favorite aroma was try tapping into their energy by asking in meditation for guidance toward which aroma to work with. Did they love apple pie or tend to an herbal garden? If so perhaps inhaling a drop of cinnamon or herbaceous rosemary on a tissue will easily connect you with that loving memory. You may be pleasantly surprised by what you experience.
Keep a journal and write about your process and include a picture of your loved one/s. Write a poem from the heart. My husband has written a few very delightful poems about our fur angels, Maxine and Tao Kitty both still with us on the physical plane. I hope he will feel moved to do the same for the babies who have transcended, especially Teddy. Teddy was our devoted dog who just recently passed away in October 2007. He had followed my husband Marco, the Pied Piper of dogs, home one day. Picture this tough street dog who adopted us, dancing to music and carrying a stuffed animal toy around the house like he was caring for a baby. By sharing a memory like that, I have now tapped into that memory. I can harness the ‘good’ feeling of sharing with others and move forward, away from the sadness of missing my big furry loyal friend.
An Aroma-essence type blend can be used as an anointment for you and your animal friend. We anointed Teddy and his burial area. I also anointed his collar that I have placed near his picture along with special items that keep the spiritual connection open: quartz crystals from our own North Carolina Mountain trails and a handmade herbal bundle made of organic rosemary, lavender and sage. These herbs were harvested from our garden where Teddy frequently took pleasure in inhaling the fresh herbal aromas. Eucalyptus leaves as an offering from our farm family were gently placed within the handmade sage wand. Teddy’s favorite baby toy was anointed and placed with him. We kept a few of his other favorites toys and gave some toys to the loving barn dogs whom were a part of our canine-support system, Magic, Botox (aka Bo Jangles), Cujo and Tiny Tim.
Teddy’s companion Maxine is ‘mama’s heart’, one of those ‘lifetime’ dogs. Those of you who understand that type of bond will resonate. For those who don’t, if you open your heart to allow being in the presence of animal spirit you will never be the same. They touch you so profoundly and it’s hard to express how this unique relationship taps into an ancient part of you -- the anima.
Maxine was present at Teddy’s passing-she placed her head in my lap and we both wept. For a long time, she would not leave my side and made little whimpers as she stood over Teddy’s body.
A few months prior to Teddy’s passing Maxine had been diagnosed with diabetes, and Teddy was by her side more so then ever. He seemed to be watching her especially when they would be in the back yard together, being her ‘seeing eye’ companion. Little did we know at the time that Maxine’s eyesight was changing most likely due to the diabetes. Since Teddy’s transition, she has developed slight cataracts (is this from the diabetes… probably… but we also feel it could be from the intense grief and her witnessing his transition, not wanting to ‘see’ her companion go).
Maxine continues to move thru her grief as she helps us to do the same. Her health is stabilized with insulin injections twice a day and a healthy home made diet which includes herbs and supplements as well as daily Medical Qigong Therapy, flower essences and homeopathy. We are also trying a natural form of eye drops that are touted as being helpful in dissolving cataracts in people and humans. She actually is ‘seeing’ better and has even adapted herself to a tactile walkway by using the throw rugs and outer stone tile areas for maneuvering in and out of the house. You’d never know there was an eyesight issue unless we told you. So is it the insulin intervention, natural diet and herbal supplements or is it her moving through her grief or is it a bit of both. This is something to consider when you take the ‘holistic path’ to health of mind-body-spirit for you and your animal friends.
With working with aromatherapy-flower essence like the blends listed below, it could be quite useful to have a blend pre-made ahead of time. Because when already in a very sensitive and emotional time a time, you may not be in the right state of mind to choose which essence or blend to use. Though we never want to think we will loose a loved one, it is part of life, so while creating a pre-blend can feel odd, the creative process is a time to harness the positive feelings of joy and happiness of being in the present with your loved one. You can also create a special blend based on their essence of being; Teddy’s blend was based on essential oils and flower essences helpful for grief, sadness, despair and fear. We honored his great protector spirit and inner puppy joy by choosing two of our and his favorite essential oils; Frankincense and Neroli.
‘Teddy’s Transition Blend’
Essential Oils and Flower Essences (for you and your animal friends):
Base carrier: Jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis) or Aloe Vera gel (Aloe barbadenis). Blend can also be created as a mist spray with hydrosols instead of essential oils. Or mix essential oils with sea salts and dried lavender buds for a healing bath salt soak or salt purification ceremony.
Pure Essential Oils:
In TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) grief is associated with the lung meridian channel. Lung health issues can range from clinical symptoms such as upper respiratory infections and allergies and unresolved emotional blocks such as long term grieving. Several of the essential oils chosen are based on Chinese Medicine Theory and balancing of Mind-Body-Spirit Connection.
Angelica (Angelica archangelica): The botanical name resonates in my heart as an aroma that would accompany one of the Arch Angels written about in ancient texts as spiritual guardians, protectors and warriors of the heavens. I have found the aroma to be useful when working with people who have difficulty ‘opening up’ and the emotions they have been feeling are manifesting physically in muscular aches and pains, headaches, tension, anxiety and stress. Referenced in medieval and renaissance herbals as Angel’s herb or the ‘Root of the Holy Spirit’ (1)
Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens): Ancient Greeks and Romans planted Cypress trees in their burial ground sites. (2) Dr. Bruce Berkowsky’s Phyto-Spiritual Essencing (PSE) writings include Cypress as one of the main essential oil remedies for grief. At one time it was purported to aid in transition of the spirit from this world to the next. Battaglia’s Complete Guide to Aromatherapy listed references Susanne Fischer-Rizzi: Cypress for uncontrollable crying spells and for strengthening the nervous system by restoring calm. He lists Patricia Davis reference to Cypress for ‘times of transition’ and ‘bereavement’.
Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus): When I think of Eucalyptus the first thought that comes to mind is ‘breathing.’ Profound crying, deep sighs and roller-coaster weeping is usually accompanied by imbalanced breathing. Either holding one’s breath or shallow breathing when crying can sometimes bring on waves of anxiety, coughing and fatigue. Just one drop of Eucalyptus can be useful in allowing you to find your breathing rhythm for balanced inhalation and exhalation of lung qi (chi).
Frankincense (Boswellia carterii): Frankincense with its ancient aroma often used as incense for spiritual cleansing and purification. If I were to choose one essential oil to work with grief, sadness and wanting to open a spiritual connection for intuitive communication I would choose Frankincense. (Note: Frankincense is listed as a threatened species and most aromatherapists have begun to use different essential oils as a replacement. I would suggest the use of Elemi.)
Lavender (Lavender angustifolia): Useful for grief, sadness, anxiety and disturbed sleep. Insomnia is often experienced during the grieving process. This essential oil can help you and your grieving animal friends to be more at peace.
Neroli (Citrus aurantium var. amar): A favorite of ours and Teddy’s, this is one of the main essential oils that all our animal friends have become acquainted with. The sweet, tender, loving aroma offers a special way for us to connect with our beautiful babies.
Flower Essences for transition blend (for you and your animal friends):
Flower essence drops can be placed in water to drink or mixed with an aromatherapy blend to apply topically or as a spray mist. Follow directions on flower essence labels.
Rock Rose (Intense feelings of panic and fear about what is happening)
Star of Bethlehem (after effect of trauma, fright, sorrow)
Sweet Chestnut (extreme mental anguish, feeling alone)
Walnut (aids in ‘change’) transitioning from body to spirit is a big ‘change’ on all levels.
While going through the many ups and downs that accompany the grieving process we used the following flower essences for emotional support. We also gave the Bach Flower Blend; Rescue RemedyÓ to our dog Maxine to help her before, during and after the transition of her best friend, Teddy.
Flower Essences (helpful for after-shock and grieving process):
Gentian (Discouraged, despondent)
Gorse (Hopelessness, despair, pessimism)
Oak (Exhausted but struggles on)
Pine (feelings of guilt) I took this remedy off and on when I would have thoughts like ‘what if I had done this, what if I had done that -- then Teddy would still be alive’. I had a lingering sense of guilt and sadness.
Star of Bethlehem (after effect of trauma, fright, sorrow)
Flower Essences can be added to your aromatherapy blends to create an ‘aroma-essence’ anointment. Crystal and gemstone elixirs can also be included based on the vibrational properties of each stone. When I create an ‘aroma-essence’ blend I will surround the bottles with beautiful healing crystal and gemstones draped by herbal purification wands. This allows me to focus my intentions for creating the blends. This is something one can’t find in a bottle it comes from the heart that wants to help others.
Creating a Sacred Resting Place Ceremony
If you plan to place your animal friend’s body within the sacredness of the earth, consider anointing the area with essential oils, flower essences, sage purification salts, incense, crystals, herbs, flowers and your animal friend’s favorite toy. Planting Forget-Me-Not flower seeds or other flowers is a beautiful way to enjoy the beauty that blossoms from this special resting place. Plant a few fresh parsley herbs as a protection boarder or at the corner of each direction, east, west, north and south. Ancient Greek funeral ceremonies included the use of parsley placed on graves and woven into ceremonial wreaths. Creating a sacred resting place for your beloved animal friend allows the space and time for healing to occur. It will be a special place to visit, share memories and allow the grieving process to unfold. Many people choose to have their pet’s bodies cremated and honor their spirit by keeping their ashes in a ceremonial urn. This can be placed in an area dedicated in a similar manner by surrounding the urn with flowers, crystals, sea shells (if you both loved the ocean) and a beautiful photograph of your friend.
Inside a thoughtful sympathy card sent to us by our good friend, holistic veterinarian Maggie Federhart was a packet of ‘Forget-Me-Not’ seeds to plant near Teddy’s resting place and a copy of ‘The Rainbow Bridge’. I share the poem below hoping it brings peace to your heart.
The Rainbow Bridge
There is a bridge connecting Heaven and Earth. It is called the Rainbow Bridge because of its many colors. Just this side of the Rainbow Bridge there is a land of meadows, hills and valleys with lush green grass.
When a beloved pet dies, the pet goes 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 or her 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. –author unknown
If you enjoyed this article you may also be interested in our Animals & Pets community.
The Animal Aromatics Workbook; Caroline Ingraham
Bach Flower Remedies for Animals; Stefan Ball and Judy Howard
Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats; Richard Pitcarin DVM
Four Paws Five Directions;Guide to Chinese Medicine for Cats and Dogs Cheryl Schwartz, DVM
Holistic Aromatherapy for Animals; Kristen Leigh Bell
Natural Healing for Dogs and Cats; Diane Stein
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About the Author
Kelly Holland Azzaro is a Licensed Massage Therapist, Registered Aromatherapist, Certified Clinical Aromatherapy Practitioner and Certified Bach Flower Practitioner. With additional training in canine/equine massage and intuitive animal communication, she shares her love of aromatherapy and animals by creating holistic blends and teaching a variety of workshops to educate and empower others about the simple yet powerful ways that aromatherapy and holistic thinking can be easily incorporated for a healthy lifestyle for you and your animal friends. Kelly has been blending essential oils with advanced massage therapies since 1988.
Kelly is the creator of Ashi Aromatics Inc. ™ an aromatherapy product line made with pure essential oils and naturally sourced botanicals for people and their animal friends. She loves all aspects of aromatherapy and honors each way that essential oils are experienced, clinical, holistic, vibrational, emotional and spiritual. Kelly was two-term NAHA Vice President and is the current President for NAHA, the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy.
Kelly and her husband Marco, a Nationally Board Certified Acupuncturist and Qigong Practitioner, have a holistic healing center in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Both Kelly and Marco offer over 20 years of professional experience through quality holistic therapies. www.ashitherapy.com www.ashiaromatics.com firstname.lastname@example.org .
1. Battaglia, Salavatore; The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy with Battaglia’s reference to Grieve, M., A Modern Herbal. Penguin Books, Great Britain, (1984)
2. Berkowsky, Bruce Dr., Berkowsky’s Synthesis Materia Medica/Spiritualis of Essential Oils and Class notes on Cypress. (2007)
3. Berkowsky, Bruce Dr., Berkowsky’s Synthesis Materia Medica/Spiritualis of Essential Oils and Class notes on Parsley. (2008)