I don’t have a special way to handle the death of a loved one. I think the experience is different for everyone but it’s good that we have the chance to know our loved one is gone and have the right to deal with it as we choose.
My brother in-law, Keith, recently passed and we all are very sad but we know he is gone and we have the right to deal with it as we choose. I never considered how important this knowledge was until I found out not all members of our families receive this knowledge or get to exercise the right to deal with tremendous loss as they see fit.
I consider our pets as members of the family. I’ve read polls that show this is a consideration I share with many people world-wide. We love our pets as family.
When a family member passes, we know it and we are sad. When a human passes, most pets do not know that their family member has passed but only that their human is no longer present in the home. It must be very lonely for a pet to constantly look out the window, wait by the door and wonder what happened to this mutually-treasured relationship.
The answer to this sad situation is simple- bring your pet to see the recently departed. It does not need to be during the funeral ceremony or even the family service-a private viewing is probably best. I spoke with Erling from Johnson Funeral Service this week and he told me that he sees pets brought in fairly often to view their human’s remains. He told me you can see the relief in the pets as they realize that their human is not lost; their human is no longer alive but he/she is also no longer lost. I think all animals have dealt with death for centuries and can eventually accept it. However, if the disposition of a loved one is unknown it is like a nail that sticks in our mind; a sort of emotional torture that no one deserves. The simple act of a pet sniffing their human seems to provide the pet with the answers they need and starts their path to acceptance.
Gauge is one of my brother in-law Keith’s best friends. I say “is” not “was” because love is not defined nor restricted by the borders of our world nor the understanding of the human mind. Love is everlasting. Gauge was very sad in the time after Keith left home and later died. I knew Gauge to be an athletic boxer breed of dog and in the last few months the bounce seemed to have left his stride. Ben is Keith’s son and brought Gauge to see Keith prior to the funeral. I did not witness the viewing however I saw Gauge soon after and the change in his demeanor was remarkable. He was bouncing and playing, carrying on the joy of life for himself and for his old buddy, for his human father-Keith.
I think the way we regard pets in the death of a human is maybe not so different from how we explained death to children. We’ve told them that the recently-departed had gone away or gone to sleep. I think this shrouds death is such mystery that it creates roadblocks to understanding death and eventually accepting the death of a loved one. In pets, I believe their capacity to accept death is present while the ability to accept the unknown, as in humans, is not present. The loss and the loneliness of having their human mysteriously plucked from their life is an accidental, unintended cruelty. It is a roadblock easily solved by one last glimpse at their beloved friend, a final viewing. Isn’t that what we all want?