How to help someone deal with grief can be difficult. Should you leave people alone, or comfort them? Should you talk things through or leave them be? In truth, it depends on the person. Just ask. Bereavement is the worst time of life, yet people will tell you to ‘move on’. That’s silly, as bereavement can take years or even decades to heal from (sometimes, it never heals). Buddhists say that acceptance is the key to feeling better. Also see How to Cope When Pets Die.
- Good Grief is by a pastor, father and son who has experienced loss, and seen grief destroy others. God carried him through, can can help you too. Grief Works offers stories on the last taboo of society. Grief is a book that says if you grieve, you love.
- The Phone Box at the Edge of the World is the story of Yui, who loses her mother and daughter in the tsunami, and wonders how to carry on. She hears of a disused phone box in a man’s garden, where grieving loved ones phone up to speak to relatives, to help heal grief.
- Modern Loss is a site set up by two women, both lost parents at an early age (one due to her parents dying to accident and illness within a short time, the other whose father and step-mother were killed in a home invasion). They talk of grief in a new way.
- The Grief Recovery Method is a new method (not therapy) that never says ‘time heals all wounds’. Read their Grief Recovery Handbook.
- The Sudden Loss Survival Guide is a book to help you cope with sudden death (accidents, murder, suicide).
- GriefChat is a service to use immediately, if waiting for bereavement therapy. The Good Grief Trust also has support lines.
- The Language of Loss is by Barbara Abercrombie, who found the language of condolence irritating, after her husband died: ‘My husband had not gone to a better place, as if he were on holiday. He had not passed, like clouds overhead. He wasn’t my late husband, as if he’d missed a train. And I had not lost him, as if I’d been careless’. She yearned instead for words that acknowledged the reality of death, that spoke about the sorrow, loneliness, guilt and anger, that perhaps would point to hope and healing.
I’m not alone in my life being cut short, and I think my time has been pretty good. Most people assume they will live into old age. I have come to see growing old as a privilege. Nobody should lament getting one year older, another grey hair or a wrinkle. Instead, be pleased that you’ve made it. If you feel like you haven’t made the most of your last year, try to use your next one better. Elliot Dallen Trust
Should You Visit Psychic Mediums?
No is the likely answer. A few are genuine and work by donation through local churches. But most are scammers and give ‘answers’ by going through pockets at ‘psychic fairs’ or look up details (neighbouring street names etc) through your Paypal address. Anyone who asks leading questions has got to be suspect. Many religions disallow visiting mediums. And it’s not good to have your grief, exploited for money. Visit a priest for a cup of tea and a chat. Or visit a bereavement counsellor (free or around £40 an hour). Most psychic mediums charge £100 or more: report scams to Action Fraud.
This doesn’t mean that the spirit of loved ones are not nearby. But you don’t need to be charged to be told to ‘look for white feathers’ (if you don’t find any, then you may feel something’s wrong). Energy never dies: it’s possible if you see a bird following you after a loved one dies, it is a sign from somewhere. Just be at peace with it, and leave it at that. There’s a fine line between Biblical Hellfire, New Age crap and peace/understanding of the afterlife. The key is finding the balance.
We can look forward to verified psychics working with governments to engaging with the departed to find peace and understand the nature of eternity, rather than pass on bland condolences or upsetting revelations from the Other Side. Or maybe they have better things to do. Derren Brown
Skeptics are not a collection of grumpy nay-sayers, gathering to reject any ideas which do not gel with our beliefs. If you tell me that you have a pet dog, I’ll probably accept that claim, just on your word. If you tell me that you have a pet dragon on the other hand, I’m probably going to want to at least see the dragon, before I believe you. The Merseyside Skeptics Society
How to Cope When Pets Die
When pets die, a range of emotions take force. Not only do you have the grief, but often the guilt do. Furry friends rely on us for everything, right up to their moment of death. And so it’s you that makes the decision on what they eat, whether they are put to sleep, what vet you choose and sometimes even that you took them out one day, if they die in an accident. Although at-home euthanasia is always better, sometimes life simply does not work out as wished. The pain accompanying memories of an animal’s last moments (especially if due to misdiagnosis) can be overwhelming for the sensitive soul.
How to cope when pets die is one of life’s great mysteries. Anyone who is an empath and loves animals as much (or more) than humans, knows that the death of a much-loved animal friend can hurt as much. What makes it sometimes even more difficult is that mainstream society does not comprehend, why it hurts so much. There is nothing worse than a do-gooder saying ”it was only a pet’.
You can’t really do much, but let time let things calm down a bit. You may not lose the grief, but hopefully the shock will heal. Animals are evolved souls of unconditional love, and will forgive you (even if you can’t forgive yourself). In Buddhism, they say that accepting the pain (rather than trying to make it go away) can help. Depending on your faith, you could try prayer or simply meditating on a peaceful transition. A little send-off ritual can help. You could have a little prayer service at home (or perform it in your dog’s favourite park, forest or beach). If people don’t understand your grief, pity those who have such little empathy. Blue Cross offers tips on how to humanely euthanise horses.
Plant a memorial tree. There are charities that will plant trees in forests, if you don’t have room in your garden. If using your garden, see make your garden safe for pets to know which toxic plants to avoid near living pets (many fruit pips & seeds are toxic to pets, yew & oak are toxic to horses)
Pet Loss Bereavement Counselling
- Blue Cross offers free support by phone or email.
- Paws to Listen also offers a sympathetic ear
- EASE Support has recordings from a Pet Bereavement Specialist
- Supportline offers help by phone, for anyone with shock or grief
- Pet Bereavement Services is a company run by a vet nurse, trained in pet bereavement counselling. She offers remote services (and a free download to help children deal with pet loss).
- The Ralph Site lists pet bereavement counsellors nationwide
- Ally For All (South West) offers help, this service is run by National Animal Welfare Trust
- Chance’s Spot helps shelter & shelter staff deal with trauma of seeing so many ill & injured pets. Vets also have to deal with guilt, putting animals to sleep each day. The founder is an animal chaplain and pet loss counsellor.
- Blue Cross & The Blackford Centre for Pet Bereavement offer courses to become a pet bereavement counsellor. An ideal job if you are kind, and would like to work from home or remotely.
Should You Get Another Pet?
Sometimes it’s good to adopt or foster immediately, others not so. You have to make the decision whether you are ready, and whether other pets would be happy with new pets so soon. There is a poem somewhere from a dog in Heaven, who asks his guardian to adopt again, as the best legacy is to give another animal the same love, as your furry friend in Heaven.
Some pets left behind may prefer another animal around, it depends. Some older people prefer not to adopt again. You could get a free Dog’s Trust Canine Card that enables them to find homes on your death, by contacting a nominated guardian. It also helps to keep a codicil with your Will, on who you have nominated to look after your dog. National Animal Welfare Trust (South West) offers a similar card. Or you may wish to become a volunteer dog walker.
If you have other pets, keep a routine as those left behind will be mourning too. You howling in a corner is not going to help. Cry quietly, then go out in nature, and grieve peacefully together.
Books to Help You Cope with Pet Loss
- The Invisible Leash illustrates the spiritual connection between pet guardians and humans. After Zach’s dog dies, his friend Emily tries to comfort him with the news that there remains ‘an invisible leash’ around our hearts, connecting to pets in Heaven.
- Will I See My Dog In Heaven? is a gift book by Father Jack Wintz, a Franciscan monk (which means he has spent years studying the works of St Francis of Assisi, the Catholic patron saint of animals) to answer this question. He also writes gift books for cats and a children’s version). He has hopeful things to say.
- The Divine Life of Animals is a Biblical study by Ptolemy Tompkins, who takes us on a 20,000 year journey to ask if animals have souls. This readable (if scientific) book paints a picture of a gloriously inclusive cosmos.
- Will I See My Dog In Heaven? is a gift book by Franciscan Br Jack (he also writes book about cats and for children). He has hopeful things to say, for people who need comfort after losing animal friends.
How to Help Someone Who is Dying
To help someone who is dying often is very hard, especially if he or she is someone you know or love. But how can we help, in a country that tends to shove old and sick people away in homes, out of sight and out of mind?
In other countries, death is far more public. People in the East are never shocked at seeing a dead body, and Buddhist monks often go and look at dead bodies in the morgue, to meditate on death. It may sound gory, but it’s about accepting death. Because we don’t accept it here, it’s pushed away, and those who die suffer as a result.
- The Lost Art of Dying argues that our lives do not have to end in sterile units with intrusive interventions. We are not going gently into that good night – as reliance on modern medicine can sometimes prolong suffering, and strip us of our dignity. Centuries ago, a text was published offering advice to help the living prepare for a good death ‘ars moriendi’. It made clear we should live well and then die well. The author uncovered this Medieval book and inspired by its holistic approach to the final stage that we all face, she draws from this forgotten work and combines its wisdom with knowledge gleaned from her medical work.
- The Top Five Regrets of the Dying is by hospice worker Bronnie, who has been with dying people for many years, in their thousands. She found that nearly all of them had the same five regrets, and wrote this book to share. You can imagine what they are (should have worked less, loved life more, good friends.
- Life, Death, Whatever is by a joint effort of a writer and funeral directory, who share sad, surprising and uplifting stories, revealing lessons they have learned from love and loss. We are all going to die and that’s ok. So let’s talk about it. This is a book about life and living, as much about death and dying. A reflection on the beauty, blessings and tragedies of life and the fragility of what we hold dear.
- The Art of Dying Well is packed with helpful insights and inspiring true stories, on how to age well, pick a younger doctor and how to make your death a sacred rite of passage, rather than a medical event. Based on the author’s experience of caring for aging parents, this empowering guide clearly outlines the steps to prepare for a beautiful death.
Shelter Yourself from Life’s Storms
To shelter yourself from life’s storms is a good idea, to protect your emotional health. We all go through storms, whether on a personal level or a global level. Sometimes there is no point telling people to be happy, if a loved one has just died or something traumatic has taken place. In this case, it’s a really good idea simply to comfort and support. Also see the post on how to cope when pets die.
Although it’s popular these days to ‘only surround yourself with positive people’, this is not very kind to those who are going through rough times. At a time of great concern, this philosophy means leaving millions of depressed, lonely and isolated people left behind. To be truly ‘spiritual’, you stay with them. And hold them or talk or listen through their struggles, even if takes months or years to shelter from life’s storms. That’s real spirituality, not leaving them to fend for themselves.
No storm can last forever. Keep in mind that trouble comes to pass, not to stay. Don’t worry. No storm, not even the one in your life, lasts forever. Iyanla Vanzant
The State of Disbelief is by psychotherapist Juliet Rosenfeld, whose husband died of lung cancer 7 months after their marriage. As she navigated her own devastating experiences, she found herself disagreeing with the oft-quoted ‘working your way through the stages of grief’. Instead, this is a beautifully written meditation on what the investment of love means, and how to find your own path after bereavement.
- This I Know: Notes on Unraveling the Heart is a beautifully written book by Susannah Conway. A gifted writer, her world fell apart a few years back, when the man she loved suddenly died from heart problems. Her whole life took a different direction in minutes. This is the story of how she gradually returned to the real world. And how she can help you find comfort.
- 10 Scriptures to Help You Survive the Storms of Life is by Andriana, who runs a lovely little blog, adored by thousands who receive weekly doses of encouragement and devotionals to survive life’s tough stuff.
- The Umbrella Women is a charity that literally gives umbrellas to homeless people, to shelter from the real storms. For every umbrella they sell, they gift one to someone in need along with packs of shampoo, deodorant, socks, water and snacks. Just imagine if you are homeless on the street, how much difference it would make to sleep under an umbrella.