I sit here, two months after my beloved golden retriever died, reflecting on her life, the lessons she taught my family, the love she so graciously gifted to everyone she met, and I finally feel peace. Two months ago, however, her unexpected death was a heinous jabbing affliction in my heart that left me feeling quite empty, at least at first. How could I ever fill the space where her fluffy, warm being had once existed?
But now that time has passed and I’ve healed a bit, I realize she has not died, nor have any of the furry loved ones I’ve loved over the years.
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They have simply changed form.
A Hollow Perspective
Western society fears death, views it as “the end,” even for those who believe in an afterlife. Regardless of religion or spiritual practice, many westerners feel overcome with grief when someone dies. We are raised and conditioned to run from death, treat it as the enemy. Then, when death knocks upon our family’s door, as it inevitably does, we react with feelings of denial, hollowness, sadness, and sometimes anger. What does this perspective do for us, though, other than generate feelings of despair and fear?
To cope with my sweet best friend’s death, I turned to ancient perspectives, and that has helped me experience a full and joyful heart once again.
A Shift in Perspective
I first looked to my ancestors’ attitudes regarding death to open my mind a bit. For thousands of years, people in India have approached physical death as an acquaintance we will all come to meet over and over again. My extended family in India do not fear death. They don’t avoid talking about it the way many do here in the west. Instead, they embrace death as another part of life, a natural step in the process of spiritual existence and evolution. They view life as energy, and they believe that energy does not die; it merely changes forms. Though my cousins, aunts, and uncles grieve and attend funerals, they seem to skip right over the feelings of anger, denial, shock, and emptiness that are so common in the West, and jump more quickly to peaceful acceptance.
I then shifted my attention to a dear friend’s beliefs. As an Ojibwe, he, like my relatives in the East, views death as just one of many milestones we all must experience in this esoteric thing we call life. For millennia, his ancestors have viewed life and death of the physical form as steps on a long journey. With offerings of traditional medicines, food, and love, he mourns a loved one’s physical loss and then peacefully, even humorously, accepts that they have simply moved forward on their journey. He looks to the sky, to the brightly-colored winged creatures and sparkling shooting stars, for signs that his loved ones are still near.
To Find Your Dog, Look Into Your Heart
To feel peace with my sweet dog’s death, I made a conscious decision to view her departure differently. Instead of seeing it as “the end,” as a terrible and painful conclusion, I choose instead to regard her as more than just a physical body. I have opted to realize all the love, affection, and laughter she gave us is still very much alive, in my heart. Her spirit is not dead, is not gone; it’s vibrant and whole, existing within me and those she loved.
All I have to do is look deep within to feel her presence and know she has not died at all; she is still very much here, lingering quietly and eternally within my grateful heart.