Honoring the Human-Animal Bond: It’s Okay to Feel Sad
Grieving a lost companion animal is a sure sign of your basic humanity.
“I believe we should honor the human-animal bond because the relationships we have with our companion animals provide a key that unlocks the door on the mysteries of life. Our beloved pets offer us opportunities to learn very important lessons in life and to experience reciprocal expressions of unconditional love and support while doing so. It is of utmost importance to find the balance between integrating the pain of death while also celebrating the joy of life and being grateful for what we hold dear.”
Dr. Stephanie Koempel is on a mission. Several actually, but in this case, she is on a mission to provide a safe space where people who have lost their companion animals can share their pain, their memories and ultimately their joys in remembering the love and devotion that have enriched and enhanced their lives. On her website and her other works, she connects her followers to the concept of the rainbow bridge.
In Nordic mythology, the Rainbow Bridge was the road taken to reach Valhalla. In modern terms, it has taken on an additional meaning. The poem, The Rainbow Bridge (Anonymous N.D.) describes a place that companion animals go upon death where they lovingly wait for their human companions to join them. Dr. Koempel’s forthcoming book Somewhere over the Rainbow Bridge: When Pets Love and Leave Us, offers a beneficial opportunity for pet owners to realize they are not alone through reading about the experiences of others. This is her goal with her website, Honoring the Human-Animal Bond http://honoringthehumananimalbond.com and social media pages as well. “I want to normalize the grieving process and to provide comfort and support through learning from actual pet owners how the human-animal bond is not broken upon death,” she says. “My book has a balance between honoring the lives of 12 companion cats and dogs and gracefully holding space for the expression of grief. It is not a downer but merely a reflection of both the joy and sorrow of life. It’s a true testament that death may be permanent but love is eternal. I want to share these same testaments on my website as well. Ideally, I’d like to create a community where we can honor our companion animals and heal our grief.”
In this fast-paced world, where burnout is a daily factor, bonding with a companion animal becomes an important release from the cares and troubles that surround everyday life. When that companion crosses the rainbow bridge, the loss can be as unendurable as when a family member dies. “Grieving the loss of a pet is a unique experience in that it is a universal loss felt by all pet owners that have been faced with the death of a pet, yet it is not as socially acknowledged through religious ceremonies or ritualistic burial procedures. Despite the fact that research has shown that pets are considered family members the custom of bringing food or sending flowers to families experiencing the death of a human family member does not usually apply if the family member is a pet. At least on the website, everyone can share their stories and ease their pain in a supportive and like-minded community.”
Dr. Koempel has written extensively about the bond in her blog entries as well as her book. She has personally lost seven companion animals and has counseled many grieving families through their own losses. However, she also emphasizes the joy that companion animals bring into our lives and wants her site as well as her book to share those tales as well.
“There is a tendency in humans to compulsively be filling every second of one’s life through constant stimulation which prevents us from truly living in the purity of the moment. I believe that is where the bonds we have with our animals change our lives. Our beloved companion animals graciously live in the present moment and have the ability to bring us right out of our constant head chatter where we are wasting time regretting the past and fearing the future. Our pets are masters of just being present and living in the moment.” She adds, “When we lose that unconditional love, we need to grieve and yet understand that the bond still exists no matter what.”
“Honoring the human-animal bond in its simplest form is expressing gratitude for these special relationships with our pets. Honoring the human-animal is about giving ourselves permission to feel the deepest of pain when a pet dies knowing that the degree of pain is merely a reflection of the degree of love we have for our companion animals. The most common thread amongst the grieving pet owners I have worked with is that the human-animal bond is unbreakable even upon death.”
You can find words of comfort and advice on her Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/HonoringtheHumanAnimalBond/ and Twitter account: https://twitter.com/HumAnimalBond