by Nedda Wittels
society does not support us very well in our grief.
And when we lose an animal, there is even less support.
We may feel all alone. However, the truth is that we are never
alone. We just need to learn how to grieve.
When I was
very young, I adopted an orange tiger kitten that was born at our home.
I named him Tiger. He became, for a few short years, my very best
friend. He was the animal I was closest to during a childhood filled
with cats and dogs.
killed by a car when he was four. My parents told me they had found his
body on the road and had buried it. They did not show me his body nor
did they allow me to watch them bury it. I cried for 3 days until I
could cry no more. I was 9 or 10 years old and this was my first
conscious experience of intense grief, and I don’t remember my parents
explaining anything or being supportive in any way. I do remember them
saying, “He was just a cat.”
When I was
younger, I remember visiting my grandparents in their apartment in
Manhattan and being taken into a small room where my grandfather lay in
bed. He was dying. I remember him saying goodbye to me, and I knew I
would not see him again. I remember his large hands. That’s all I
remember. If my mother felt grief at her father’s passing, I never knew
anything about it.
had many cats and dogs in my youth, and many of them died, no one ever
talked about grief or how to grieve or the importance of grieving. I
don’t remember anyone ever trying to comfort me, either.
mother’s mother died I was an adult. I remember being at the cemetery
as her seven adult children and their spouses stood at the grave site
arguing and bickering about who had done for the most for their mother
during her life. Perhaps that was part of their grieving process, but
then all I had ever witnessed in their behavior were a constant stream
of petty arguments. It appeared to me at the time that this grave site
scene was disrespectful, but who was I to judge them?
How are we
supposed to learn how to grieve if no one ever shares with children
their own experience of grieving? How are we supposed to accept death
as a part of life when it is hidden away in hospitals and hospices and
nursing homes? The only ones we ever see die are our animals, and then
we are left alone with our grief, for the most part, and told that we
shouldn’t feel grief because “it’s just an animal” whom we have lost.
When Echo, my
horse for 22 years, entered her late twenties (she departed at age 32),
I forced myself to face the reality that I would probably outlive her.
I had literally centered my world on caring for her and loving her. She
was, in many ways, my “significant other.” I didn’t want to be here, on
Earth, without her, and I knew I needed to do something about this
feeling before her time of passing arrived.
My first step
was to find accept that I had a problem and I had to do something about
it. I was experiencing an “attachment” to Echo which made me feel
incomplete and lost at the thought of being without her.
is the spiritual word for “addiction.” We can love someone and not be
addicted to them. We can be addicted to someone and not really love
them at all.
addiction is a dependency. We can be addicted to gambling, drugs,
sugar, coffee, chocolate and other foods, cigarettes, shopping,
stealing, and other things that make us feel “high”. We can also be
addicted to certain people and certain types of relationships. Even
though addictions are accompanied by chemical changes in our body,
addictions can be cured or healed.
that what I was feeling was a dependency on Echo, an addiction.
Although I loved her unconditionally and would do most anything to keep
her happy and well and feeling good, I still was addicted. I knew that
at some time, I would have to let her, or even help her go. It would be
unkind to do anything else, and I would have to put her before myself if
I really did love her.
are not based on Love. We can love someone with every fiber of our
being, and still have a sense of our own value and worthiness. We can
have a sense of completeness and still have very loving relationships.
But if we feel incomplete with the ‘other”, if we do not feel whole and
healthy when we are on our own, if we base our relationship on
neediness, incompleteness, and lack, then we do not have a healthy
relationship at all; we have an addiction.
I knew I had
to do something about this situation. I also know that if I did
nothing, I would dissolve into despair upon Echo’s passing and I wasn’t
sure I would recover.
years before Echo was ready to leave, I began reading books about death
and dying and grieving. I learned that to heal my dependency on Echo, I
needed to shift from attachment to detachment.
does not mean that we stop loving someone or that we love them less. It
means an end to psychological dependency. It means developing a sense
of my self a complete within myself. It is a process that begins with
acknowledging the dependency and then taking steps to begin to love
myself until I felt whole and complete separate from Echo.
I started by
offering my relationship with Echo to God. I asked for help in letting
go of this addiction. I acknowledged that I was a full, complete person
without her. I asked for help accepting that I could find other reasons
to continue living after she passed into Spirit. I did what I most
feared to do – I took responsibility for my own life.
As I worked
with these understandings and the emotions they evoked, I came to
realize that my Love for Echo was Divine – completely unconditional and
without limits. It didn’t depend on what Echo did or didn’t do. It
didn’t depend on her being in a physical body. It was Love that existed
just because I saw her as totally beautiful, perfect, and radiant. I
looked into her eyes and saw God looking back at me.
When you look
at another and see the Beloved, you are beginning to recognize God’s
presence everywhere. When you see God in another’s eyes, you are
shifting your vibrational level to higher frequencies of Consciousness.
Then you can
begin looking into a mirror, into your own eyes, and acknowledging God’s
presence within yourself. When you see God’s presence within yourself,
your sense of Self Worth expands.
I am not
speaking of an ego trip here. I am talking about connecting with your
Soul, your Higher Self, your very “I Am Presence” and acknowledging that
you and everyone else are the Divine Spark living in a body. This is
not the same as saying, “I am God and everyone else is less than God.”
This is saying, “I see God in everyone.”
It took time
to make this transition. When Echo’s time to leave the physical plane
arrived, I was ready to let her go – to help her go. Then, for the
first two weeks after she was euthanized, I was euphoric, as the event
of her passing had been a profoundly beautiful experience. (See “Echo’s
At the end of
those two weeks, I went to the Equine Affair in Springfield,
Massachusetts. Being around all these folks with horses made me
suddenly aware that I no longer belonged there. To be in the horse
world, you have to have a horse. And I no longer had one.
suddenly, I began to grieve. I grieved Echo’s passing. I grieved my
lost of the world of horses. I grieved the loss of my entire way of
life which centered around horses, horse riding friends, and Echo,
It was not an
easy process. I grieved intensely for a full year. I created a journal
honoring Echo’s memory. I wrote her letters. I talked to her, for her
spirit was all around me. (Echo had offered to continue to work with me
from the other realms.)
At first, I
was angry. Why did I have to remain here and Echo could leave? Was
there some purpose to my staying? Finding that purpose was important to
my grieving process.
I also felt
guilty. When I look back now at the things I felt guilty about, they
were small, really silly things that had happened over the 22 years of
our relationship. I went over every event in our life together where I
felt guilt or regret or any sense of failure.
enough to ask Echo for forgiveness, as she would tell me there was
nothing to forgive. Instead, I had to forgive myself – for not being
“perfect” according to some crazy standard in my head. When I could
forgive myself, then I could move on with the grieving process and with
Grieving is a
journey. It is based on the illusion that we have “lost” someone or
something. In reality, no one is every lost. All spirit continues
forever. We appear to be in contact with friends and family from time
to time, and at other times, we appear to be alone. Meanwhile, in the
higher realms, we are always together. And since time, too, is an
illusion, we must teach ourselves to remember that, in reality, we are
I still miss
Echo’s physical presence at times, but I am no longer in a state of
dependency. I have a clear sense of who I am, what my mission is, and
that I am complete and do not need another to fulfill me. When I take
walks, I sometimes sense Echo galloping past me down the street, her
flagging, tossing her mane at me. Soon she turns around and comes back
and we walk together and have a visit. It is always a joyful time.