The Role of Animals in Grief and Bereavement
Human grief is often one of the first things we are trained to recognize after the loss of a loved one. Funeral homes and funeral planning experts have countless resources on hand to help direct people toward bereavement services, medical professionals, and counselors who can help people cope with their emotions.
One area that is receiving increased attention in recent years is the role animals play—both in the bereavement process and as beings capable of mourning. If you are an animal lover, you may find that one of the best ways to cope is to find solace with your four-legged friends.
Animals as Bereavement Counselors
Pets should never be considered an alternative to more formal mental health care, but they can provide quite a bit of comfort in the days after the loss of a loved one. Many animals have the capability to detect emotions in humans, including those that occur during the death of a relative or family friend. This is especially true if you are interested in adopting the pet of the deceased. Some people make advance arrangements for their pets as part of their funeral pre-plans or their will. Others simply have pets who must be looked after once they are gone. Either way, these animals can provide close emotional ties to the deceased and comfort for the newly bereaved.
Adopting a pet can also be a great way to honor a loved one and to start a new part of your life. No animal can replace the person you lost, but if the deceased loved cats or dogs or fish, adopting a friend in his or her honor can really help you move forward with your life.
Do Animals Mourn?
Almost everyone has heard the word-of-mouth stories about a dog who knows the moment its owner dies, or who refuses to leave the casket of a human until it is buried deep underground. Cats, too, have been known to exhibit strange behaviors at the time of or in the days following death. And while some people swear that these are manifestations of mourning and grief, others consider it more of a survival instinct.
Either way, dogs and cats aren’t the only ones to exhibit grief. Elephants have been shown to mourn the loss of a child or relative by refusing to eat or move. Other animals reported to exhibit grief include polar bears, chimpanzees, gorillas, magpies, llamas, and dolphins.
Why or how these animals mourn is a mystery—but one that isn’t so farfetched for anyone who has recently experienced a loss. Oftentimes, one of the best places to look for solace is in nature, where the circle of life and the role that religion and spirituality play in grief is more evident.
The loss of a loved one can be a traumatic event, and it’s one that should never be undertaken alone. If you need support while making funeral plans or in the months of bereavement that follow, there are resources—human, animal, and in any form you need—to help.
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By Amy Johnson