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The Other Side of Grief

Grief. We all go through it sooner or later. In my animal communication practice, I often work with clients who are grieving — usually because their pet has died. This is of course to be expected. But there is also another side of grief — animals who are themselves experiencing profound grief and loss. The good news is — as with people who are struggling with loss — we can do something about it.

I first started seeing this when I began working with “rescues” that had been through profound trauma in their early lives. Clients had been hiring me because their pets were often crying in the middle of the night, appeared to be having nightmares, or were just anxious in general. Once I found out more about what these resscues “stories” were — the events of their early childhood — what I discovered was that their symptoms were stemming from unexpressed grief over the traumas they had lived through.

It makes sense. If you stop to think about it, people can and do have outlets for their grief and sadness. They can talk with friends, family members, spiritual advisors or therapists. They can join grief groups where they are able to fully express their emotions, and learn from others who are going through the same thing. We have rituals such as funerals where we honor the one who has passed. Animals have no such outlet. They have to hold it in until it builds up to such a degree that it comes out in one way or the other. Nightmares, PTSD, high anxiety, physical illness, and acting out are some examples of this.

Recently I’ve been working with a client who hired me for help with her four male cats. They had been peeing all over her house. She had known about it, of course — but when she used a black light to highlight all of the “evidence” in order to do a thorough clean, she was astounded at how much there was. It covered large portions of most walls, the baseboards, and even her kitchen back splash. She was exhausted from this cycle and at her “wit’s end.” (This is typically when I get the call.) She had been doing the “right thing” — using enzymatic cleaners — but the behavior was ongoing and she couldn’t keep up with it. The stress was affecting her sleep and making it difficult to function at her job. She was disheartened that all her efforts had failed and phoned me in crisis.

The client’s husband had died approximately nine months prior, after seven years of battling cancer. It was absolutely terrible for this client to lose her husband so early in their marriage, and now the stress with the cats was making her seriously consider whether she needed to give one or more away…much as she loved them — and she really loved them — she was facing hard decisions.

I explained to the client that I have had success with turning this around (once I know the cause — and there is always a cause) but that it would certainly take more than one session due to the severity of the situation and the fact that there were 4 possible “offenders” playing off each other. It does take patience and persistence to work with this issue, but she was fully on board with whatever it would take, however long.

In working with her 4 boy cats, what I uncovered was that they were very angry — and their anger actually stemmed from grief. In my first session with them, I found that there was one rather stoic “good boy”, but the rest were acting out and triggering each other — particularly one who the client had rightly suspected might be the ringleader of this activity. I spoke with the cats and heard each one out as to what they had been feeling. The “ringleader” almost immediately said “I’m so MAD that Mark died and left us. Yes, he had been sick before but he always got better and it was such a shock when he actually passed away. I actually didn’t think that would happen because he had always bounced back and I thought we were all helping him to heal.” This cat was literally “pissed off” and didn’t have any outlet for his grief, and he started spraying out of pure frustration. Two others had joined in and it became almost a game to see who could top each other. This went on for months before I was called.

Our first time together ended up being like a therapy session as I let them all finally be heard. They talked about how much time they had spent sitting on lying on Mark and being of comfort to him while he endured rounds of chemotherapy. The love they had felt for this man was profound, and their grief was as well.

The astounding thing was that despite my warning that this was not going to change overnight, the client did see immediate and significant improvement. She excitedly reported that they had been so much better after my initial session with them — they generally seemed calmer and happier — but the main thing was that they had immediately ceased peeing, which gave her great relief.

My next scheduled session with them was to be more of a “healing” appointment. During the session, I asked them one by one to say anything they wanted to say to Mark and to talk about any “unfinished business” they had on their minds. I was guided to act as a channel for their grief and they literally cried through me. The cat who had been acting out the worst was the most verbal and emotional of the four. He cried and sobbed through me as I reassured him that though this was painful, he would feel better for getting it out. It was a deeply moving experience for me. And cathartic for the cats.

You’ve probably heard it said that grief is a process and that it is not linear in nature. The work I’m doing with these four dear kitties continues because this is a complicated situation and there are some unrelated medical issues we are also addressing. But the client reports that there have only been a couple of small slip-ups here and there, and that as soon as I have another session with them, it gets them back on track. Overall, the house is more calm and serene and she feels supported by having a trusted ally to help her with these four boys, who are learning to live with the absence of an important family member.

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