Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Our friends on the farm north of Kingston purchased a pair of Belgian work horses, Dan and Jenny, more than a decade ago. They used them as draught animals for a few years before they became prodigious hay-chomping pets. Although they were reluctant to do so, earlier this year they sold them to a young couple who wanted them to pull a wagon for tours with kids. It sounded like a great transition but a few months later Dan developed cancer, lay down one day, and died.
The couple and our friends were heartbroken. So was Jenny. The couple used a backhoe to dig a huge hole in which they buried Dan. Jenny was inconsolable, squabbling with the other horses on the farm. Then she took to standing near Dan's grave for hours on end.

Can animals other than humans grieve? This example sure seems to say yes, other sentient beings experience loss. We have our rituals to acknowledge loss but that doesn't explain the mystery of grief. Of course virtually every human culture addresses our mortality and the life to come. But we must journey through our grief first.

Have you had experiences with grieving critters? How are you at dealing with loss? Is it getting easier or harder as the years pass?


IanD said...

That's an extraordinary story! What a great tool for me to use in the future with students who may be dealing with loss and grief. Wow.

My most recent loss was my uncle in the summer of 2010. In those moments where I was clear-headed and reasonably free from upset, I came to realize that my grief was really centered on myself. It was about me, and the time I wouldn't get to spend with him in the future. It was also about the surge of memories from my childhood to the present day that I had difficulty controlling.

As for him? I came to see that he was free and clear of hardship, discomfort, pain, and the realization that he wasn't going to set foot in his own home ever again. In the end, death was a blessing for a guy who, at 54, wasn't going to see his life get any easy as he got older.

Lynnof60 said...

In the business we were in there were many stories of pets grieving pets. Many times multi pet households would bring the surviving pet in and have them spend some time with the deceased pet (oh yes, that was an absolute tear jerker) I totally believe they can and do grieve. We are a three dog (and one cat family) When Petula goes, Lucy will certainly miss her warm body to curl up against. When it's Lucy's time Molly will miss her play mate. When Molly goes to join them Wentworth (the cat) may feel a sense of relief. Can I also say that when these members of our family go (as they will) we will grieve each of their wonderful personalties and what they have brought to our lives. Like your friends, we will be brokenhearted.

Laura said...

I love this story. I think the simplicity of animals teach us so much, in our ever complicated human world. Honour your loved ones. Stand by their graves. Grieve.

I think of my Mom and Dad's Chocolate Lab, Molly, wandering around the house looking for my Mom after she had to move into a nursing home. Each time the door opened, she seemed to think it was Mom coming home. She grieved, and yet also supported my Dad in his grief with such loyal comfort. Today she is more attached than ever to Dad. She doesn't want to "lose" him too.

lionlamb said...

My wife Ruth commented to me on how thoughtful and helpful all of your comments are. Agreed.