Pets Help Us to Grieve

Our pets give us the chance to practice losing. As our kids grew, hamster burials gave way to dog funerals in our home. The funerals didn’t get any easier, but the practice was good.

Animals suffer too. We see videos of elephants mourning their losses. All creation groans on this side of revelation. Does the groan come from the gap we sense between what is and what will be? Is it the groan of birthing pains?

Think of the different things about what you loved that you have at some point lost. Not just a person, but the quiet thrills of discovering new things about that person. Not just your health, but your ability to run long distances or throw frisbees. Not just your hope, but finding it subtly replaced by cynicism that feels like a rock in your shoe.

That loss needs attention. And because of that, often, grief is irrepressible, even if it may need help if it is to surface. Grief almost always find its way to daylight, even if in a dysfunctional way.

Bodies aging require grieving for the spirit to keep up. God designed us so that we are constantly losing parts of ourselves. We slough off skin daily, giving us the opportunity to transition by degrees to a spiritual realm that stands on tiptoes waiting to receive us.

God sees our lives and losses and wants to help us. Yes, it’s hard to process and easier to bury. So God gives us dogs who have the gift of burying and digging up stuff. And they can help us to do it too.

Because their lives are so much shorter than ours, we pet owners get to practice losing them over and over. I’ve owned four dogs. My dog Asha is 14 now. She still has enough of a spark that she wants to play (usually about 5 pm). Daily she wags her tail and looks at me. Yet I know at best we’ve got a year or so more before we lose her and I get to grieve again.

We need to grieve the lack of grieving. We are losing so much – losses that hurt when touched. But God gives us little aids and prompts like the dogs and cats that have shared so much of our lives with us. I think its his way of touching us when the humans in our lives, with all of their issues, fail to show up with the hug we’re needing.