Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Do Animals Grieve?

Jim's den was so him that
I could not go into the room
without crying. Three
months after his death, I redid
everything and turned it into
a library. I love being in
there now.
Jim's dog Bonnie, searched for him for weeks after his passing. She wouldn't eat, wouldn't sleep, and prowled the house almost non-stop, trying to find where he might be hiding. I did the only thing I could think and sat down beside her and told her Jim was gone and wouldn't be back. She looked for him anyway.

I don't know if animals grieve, but if they do, Bonnie was a perfect example. Her usual bright-eyed, perky-eared demeanor turned into one of soulful, sad eyes, droopy ears and tail, and her general appearance was one of great sadness. I know no other way to explain how she seemed to feel other than to describe her physically.

One of my niece's suggested I give her something of Jim's to lay on, but I'd already turned the kids and grandkids loose on Jim's wardrobe and had given what was left to our church's care closet. All I had kept, other than some items that were special to me, were his bathrobes. They still had Jim's scent on them and when I brought one out and put it where Bonnie liked to sleep, she walked around it three times, sniffed it and sniffed it again, then lay down, curled up, and went to sleep. That was the end of her searching for Jim. In her mind, she'd found him.

In the beginning, Bonnie had been shy with Jim, preferring my company to his. All we knew from the Humane Society was that she'd recently had puppies, she'd been turned in by a man, and that she was a Velcro dog, sticking to whomever she took a liking to. She was afraid of Jim's walker and his wheelchair, refusing to go anywhere near them. In frustration, I called the Humane Society and asked them what to do. An animal behaviorist came to the house the next day and within an hour, she had Bonnie eating treats from the wheelchair seat and at the foot of Jim's walker. The dog's gluttony finally got the best of her.

Jim had never allowed our
animals near the table
until Bonnie came along.
It was then that he changed
the rules.
Truthfully, the behaviorist had shown us how to train Bonnie to our commands and within a couple weeks, she was sitting, lying down, and guarding the house. Within a few months, she had taught herself to be a tattle-tale, barking when Jim got out of his chair unattended or when he decided to go outside without someone with him. Should the nurse be in another room making his bed or in the kitchen fixing him food, and Jim decided to head off to his den by himself, Bonnie barked until someone showed up. She followed him to the kitchen, the bathroom, the porch, his den, and the bedroom. Wherever Jim was, Bonnie was. They had become inseparable.

Nurse Maryann had taken
care of Jim for three years
before joining the army. She
was one of Jim's favorites.
She taught herself to become his companion dog. She watched him like a hawk when the two of them walked around the neighborhood, always in the company of the nurse and Jim's sturdy walker. She watched him on wheelchair days as she walked beside the wheel. If Jim was outside, Bonnie was too. She refused to be left at home. Wherever Jim went, Bonnie followed. Except into the car. For some reason we never understood, Bonnie was terrified of cars. Something in her past, we supposed.

Then came the day when I realized just how well Bonnie had trained herself to watch out for Jim. He had gotten out of his living room recliner and both the nurse and I watched as his legs buckled beneath him and he went down onto the thick carpeting with a thud. I knew he wasn't hurt; so did the nurse. Bonnie was barking, looking at me, then the nurse, then back at me and so forth. When she saw that we were doing nothing, she walked over to Jim, grabbed the back of his jeans in her jaws, and began pulling him back towards his chair.

Bonnie had become the companion dog, the watch dog, the bodyguard, and gentle creature God had wanted us to have. And while I believed that she had been given to Jim for the reasons I've stated, it was only after his passing that I realized she was also a gift to me. The peace of the Lord that fills my home allows me to lay down my head and sleep at night. And even though I know it is the Lord who watches over me, it is His intelligent golden dog who sounds the alarm.

Every night my four cats
snuggle in bed with me, all curled
up and dead to the world while Bonnie
sleeps with one ear tuned to the
house and yard. At least three
times that I recognize in this past
year, her vicious growling and fierce
barking have driven someone or
something from my door. How grateful
I am to have her.

"Unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain." Psalm 127:1

Author's note:

Last week I received an email with a link to some man's blog. I know not who the email was from, nor do I know the writer. The blog's general consensus was that Christians are not to grieve when their loved one departs the earth, but we are to rejoice that he or she is in Heaven with the Lord. Grieving dishonors God, said the blog, and is naught but our carnal nature coming through. By the time I had finished perusing the lengthy writing, I was angry that such a misleading piece of rhetoric was floating around out there in cyber space.

What if this erroneous bit of writing was sent to someone not so familiar with the Bible as a long-time Christian or a person who's faith in Christ was young and not yet set in stone. What if the person dealing with the loss of a loved one didn't know much about God, yet was searching for answers to a peaceful heart? The condemnation of our tears and natural grief set down in this writing gave such a distorted view of God that those seeking solace would either feel guilty for weeping or give up on Christianity as being heartless. 

By the time I had finished reading the lengthy article, I had come to the conclusion that the author had never lost anyone he loved more than life itself. How careful we must be in our dealings with those who grieve to never give the impression that we ourselves, walk on some higher spiritual plane than the average person, let alone the griever we are immediately addressing. Of course I rejoiced that Jim was with the Lord, but I mourned the loss of my soul mate--as has every widow I've personally spoken with. How uncaring and snobbish are those who play the Pharisee, pretending to speak for God as though the scriptures do not reveal His heart and nature to any who take time to read and listen.

And while I could write a whole study on how God views sorrow, grief, and mourning, I offer just a few verses that I have found comforting in my own journey through loss and please note that I address this only because I fear others who grieve the loss of a loved one may have received the same disconcerting email link that I did. 

We have a Savior who fully understands how we think and feel. Hebrews 4:15 says, "This High Priest (Jesus) of ours understands our weaknesses, since he had the same temptations we do, though he never once gave way to them and sinned. So let us come boldly to the very throne of God and stay there to receive His mercy and to find grace to help us in our times of need."

We have a God who watches over us day and night. Psalms 56:8 says, "You have seen me tossing and turning through the night. You have collected all my tears and preserved them in your bottle. You have recorded every one in your book."

Our God declares there is a time for everything under the sun. In Ecclesiastes 3:4 it says, "There is a time to cry; a time to laugh; a time to grieve; a time to dance."

Jesus said in Luke 6:21, "What happiness there is for you who weep, for the time will come when you shall laugh with joy."

Jesus told His disciples in John 14:16, "I will not abandon you or leave you as orphans in the storm--I will come to you."

In John 14:27, Jesus said "I am leaving you with a gift--peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give isn't like the peace the world gives. So don't be troubled or afraid."

Paul wrote in Romans 12:15, "When others are happy, be happy with them; if they are sad, share their sorrow." (Most Bibles say "weep with those who weep.")

Jesus said in Matthew 5:4, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."

Although there are many types of grief, such as that for a mate or a parent or grandparents or a child, each type of grief is accompanied by intense emotions. They are the emotions put into us by God himself and if availing ourselves of them were dishonoring to the Lord, then my question is "Why do we have the ability to cry? Or laugh? Or love?" Either all of our human emotions are viable in God's eyes, or none are. I choose to believe God's word over some uninformed man's  blog.


  1. Sandy, you are so right! I'm disturbed that an article with such completely incorrect information has been written--and then read by others who will be hurt and feel guilty because they don't understand the truth. Hurt and guilt are some of the stumbingblocks to healing.

    Christians and non-Christians all grieve! I had a long-time marriage of nearly twenty-eight years. Like you, I had not thought about being a widow, and the impact of my husband's death was devastating. How can anyone love someone with all of their heart and not grieve when the person is gone? I felt as though part of myself died along with my husband.

    We grieve because we have loved, and grieving has nothing to do with our faith. The Bible tells us that Jesus mourned. And God comforts us so that we can comfort others.

    Thank you for setting the record straight and speaking the truth.

    I know the road is more painful than can be imagined. My grief journey was the toughest thing I ever had to face, but I want to encourage you. It is possible to work through the pain (over whatever period of time it takes for you) and live a full and reconnected life in the future.

    Since writing is natural for you, hopefully you'll be inclined to continue writing about your loss. Writing is a powerful way to help work through the pain.

    Feel free to write to me at any time if you'd like a soundboard or someone to talk to who has been where you are now. If I can help in some way, I'd like to. As I have discovered, God is never finished with us as long as we're here.

    Bless you,
    Judy Brizendine

  2. Yes, I believe animals grieve just as much as people do. Why wouldn't they? Our animals have such feelings and do things with much thought. Our dog, Nikita, misses us if one of us just goes to the store, and especially if we are gone too long. So I can imagine what she would do in that situation as she is very attached to my husband. It is good that you have such a trusty watchdog and companion.

  3. Katlupe, if anyone would have told me animals grieve earlier in my life, I would have raised my eyebrows in puzzlement. But after watching Bonnie, I know that they go through some sort of doggie mourning. It took her months to switch her affections to me, but she is now my dog--although she still sleeps on Jim's bathrobe. It's been washed so many times it can't possibly have any of Jim's scent left on it, but it seems to be a comfort to her. I think animals are smarter than we give them credit for. Blessings, Sandy