You probably don’t need to hear all about my troubled childhood (full of depression and other unhappinesses), but I will sum it up by telling you that I went from adolescence into young adulthood with a set of emotional armor thick enough to survive a trip to Iraq.
Then I started practicing yoga in my mid-20s, my armor slowly began to melt away and my heart began to open. That is when my two cats – Sidd first, then Sasha – came into my life. And I poured my newly aroused loving affection on to them.
The interesting thing about heart opening is that it creates an ability to engage in relationships even if you know they are temporary. In Sasha’s case, the relationship was really temporary – only 10 short years.
He died last month after suffering from cancer.
I knew Sasha would not be with me forever, but what I didn’t expect was how much I would feel the loss of him when he died.
People often dismiss the deep pain from losing a pet – but they are dead wrong.
It’s a unique kind of pain, one that gets triggered all day long, by little things, you know, like waking up to the absence of Sasha’s plaintive hungry mew in the morning, expecting to see him sitting in his favorite place when I walk down the hall, realizing I only need to buy food for one cat from now on.
I even feel a twinge of pain when I realize I can now do things I wasn’t able to before with Sasha around, like putting cut flowers in a vase (Sasha would try to eat them and knock them over every time to make a huge mess of splattered leaves, petals and green water).
Life is a process that follows the same general path for all of us: birth, growing up, adulthood, getting sick (most likely) and then dying (whether slow or sudden). In yoga we refer to it as the cycle of creation, preservation and destruction.
It happens to all living beings. But, be that as it may, when it happens to a being that we love it is usually really painful.
So what does yoga have to say about how to deal with the loss of a beloved pet being?
There are many different answers to that question, and it depends on which school of thought one follows. Some might say, for example, ignore the pain because it’s all an illusion or let go of the pain because we shouldn’t be attached to anything, including our pets.
But I tend towards the open-up-to-all-that-comes philosophy, so what I’ve learned from my years of yoga, meditation and mindfulness studies about the best way to lose a pet is this:
Feel your pain as deeply as you can; cry because you feel it and it hurts; notice when the pain has gone. (note: pain will always go away…eventually)
The hardest part is resisting the urge to push away your pain, distract yourself from it, or refuse to accept that it’s there or that it’s okay for you to feel it.
Listen, if you don’t allow yourself to feel it then it will burrow somewhere deep in your psyche and come back up at some unexpected (and possibly inappropriate) time. I’m also a strong believer in the idea that repressed pain will eventually manifest itself as an unwelcome condition or disease in the body.
So how long should you feel the pain? That depends too. I think the depth of pain is directly related to the depth of a relationship so it will be felt in accordance with how deep you felt the love for your pet. Whatever it is, feel it for as long as it is there. Don’t shy away.
I loved Sasha a bunch, so I was swallowed up by sadness for more than a few weeks (I tried to write this blog post several times and had to put it down because the pain was still too intense).
I put up little memorial photos around my apartment and potted a hibiscus plant in Sasha’s honor in order to keep my pain close to the surface so I could feel it all up. The pain has eased little by little until now only a bit of pain remains when I think or talk about him.
Eventually, the only thing that remains is the memory – of Sasha’s life and of my pain losing him.
When the intensity of losing a beloved pet has passed, then it becomes easier to think about it as the beautiful part of life that it is. A life that we see around us constantly changing, going through a beginning, a middle, an end and then another beginning.
Like the tulips I planted last fall.
They began to bloom at the end of April, right after I returned from India (which is also when Sasha’s condition started to worsen). They were brilliantly gorgeous for about 10 days. And then they started to wilt and lean, the petals started to droop and eventually started to fall off.
The morning Sasha died the tulips lost the rest of their petals, marking the end of their gorgeous flower life (and symbolically, also of Sasha’s). But was it really the end?
No. The tulips will return next spring. Their green leaves will soak up energy from the sun then fall asleep for the rest of summer, fall and winter until they are miraculously awakened to push through the earth and blossom again.
There is something beautiful in this cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth, even if its presence in our own lives is overwhelmingly painful sometimes. By feeling the pain of a pet’s death deeply, allowing it to run its course and then noticing when it’s gone, you will be able to touch that beauty in a deeper way.
And that’s the best way to live through the loss of your pet.
Sooooo, if you want to know more about how yoga, meditation and mindfulness can help you through life’s cycles then send an inquiry here.
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