Do animals grieve?

Published by Chapster on 2006/7/18 (12132 reads)

I am saddened when I think of our busy culture that increasingly balks at pulling to the side of the road when we encounter a funeral procession. I shudder that our society so often uses cremation as a means to expedite the tasks, costs, rituals, and expression of emotions that accompany grief. In hurrying past these important aspects of the life experience, we rob ourselves of processes that are so innate, so primal, so fundamentally human (and divine), that in damming them up, we destroy a part of ourselves. These rituals are an essential core part of our humanity. Without them, we might reasonably ask, "Are we still human?"

A good friend and I were discussing the grief process the other day. He was speaking of families that he had known who had multiple and frequent losses. He was pointing out that different people handle the long term effects of grief differently. By way of example, he spoke of families that had come to accept loss as part of the cross that their family bore. They'd all show up at every funeral, they'd say nice words, and they would go back into their lives. Of course, different ones dealth with the loss more or less emotionally. But they had learned that this was part of the scheme of life: enjoy each day, live to the fullest, embrace your love, and know that it will end.

One of the things that most amazes me as I talk with so many bereaved folks is the naturalness of healing. Sometimes it takes more or less time, sometimes with more or less help. But, all in all, all things being equal, we get better. We never really lose our loved ones. The New Testament says that "We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses." The longer I live, the more convinced I am that we are surrounded, that these witnesses to our lives, are never far away.

In many cases, those who are actively dying, report becoming aware of that body of folks who've gone on before. Sometimes as much as a year beforehand, patients speak of talking to loved ones who've preceded them in death.

There's arguments about whether this is due to anoxia (lack of oxygen) or medications (such as pain medicines). Unless one has chosen to a priori conclude that such things are impossible, it is hard to prove one way or another. Indeed, perhaps there is some of both. I suppose it could even be due to wishful thinking. But, whatever the physiology or psychology behind it, the testimony of large numbers of people over hundreds of years is that they share these kinds of experiences. Over many years of caring for the dying, if I did not have some belief in transcendance, in something beyond, I would quit tomorrow.

Tags: grief   bereavement   dog   animal   elephant  

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