Please allow author Cheryl Hiebert to share a chapter excerpt from her upcoming book, Losing Willow: Grieving The Loss Of An Animal Companion. Here, Cheryl illustrates the journey the book will take you on…
As I sit on my patio and contemplate what to write and where to start I realize that everything looks the same…the lawn is mowed, the trees are beginning to display tiny bits of green, the pots of pansies are in their usual spots blinking back at me. But the key piece is not here…as is evidenced/punctuated by what Willow and I called “bunny buttons” strewn in the garden and on the lawn. Normally the little bunny droppings would be his first agenda item in the morning. We shared the pansies and other garden edibles with them…and in turn, they left behind tasty little nibbles.
Every little thing reminds me of the most amazing 10 years of my life. I rejoice in every single memory. For the past 14 months I thought things were going to get easier for me and now putting all of this into words is opening up the wound again. They say we heal in layers, so here I go. I bravely delve into the deepest parts of me, dragging up bits of pain, multitudes of memories and an ache that never quite dissipates. This rawness and these words spill from my heart. The words are for others to read; to help them heal, and to acknowledge that losing an animal companion in one’s life is as tragic as any human loss…and perhaps more so. The words come through me, for us all.
Our first bond other than with a parent is often with a pet…a dog, a cat, a bunny, a turtle, a fish, a horse. They come into our lives and we have the opportunity to care for another. We get to love something that we claim as ours. Our hearts begin to open in a new way. This new relationship is one that gets us outside of ourselves and our daily concerns. We learn to feed and provide fresh water, brush and groom, clean a cage, and go for walks, maybe some obedience or riding classes. It changes us and helps mould us. The bond that is created is one where we get to call the shots…no one is telling us how to be or act. We can laugh, cry, run, be silly and laugh. There is no judgment and hey, if we make a mistake we are still loved! They create the space for us to take off the mask.
We start to learn about unconditional love – little by little – we build trust and we are shown that this trust is consistent and unwavering. Their needs come first and we learn to be unselfish. Our schedules begin to mesh and the oneness that is learned is a valuable lesson that can perhaps take us to deeper places in our human bonds.
This relationship transforms us. It is truly a spiritual experience. If we begin to let our hearts open in this way, we change. We can’t not change. It has been said that the animals we bond with have often even been with us before – what a concept. How do we wrap our minds around this? Well, we can’t, it is heart-based and we may simply know. The lives and hearts of so-called hardened criminals in prison open – the success rate of having the human/animal bond cannot be understated. Dogs brought into seniors’ centres cause so much joy. They bring down our heart rates, they draw our attention away from our aches and pains – they help us heal mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually.
My journey with Willow transformed me in ways that are indescribable.
(I sit back and think about what I have written so far and a sideways glance at the word count at the bottom of the screen says 444…a number that corresponds with the realm of the angels. No surprise there…Willow was one furry little angel in my life AND the lives of many others.)
One little note: I find it difficult to use the word pet as I believe it does not fully honour the beings that they are. They are angels in furry bodies – I am convinced of this! I prefer animal companion and other more respectful terms – but for clarity I will use the universal recognizable word: pet.
In my experience I have found that many do not fully understand the depth to which our human animal bonds extend. Listen to anyone talk about their puppy, dog, cat, bunny – it doesn’t matter the animal really. Watch them as they soften, their voices change, they share cute stories – their whole demeanor shifts! I want people to get this – love is love as my good friend Wendy said to me one day. No matter what the being is that we share time with; love is love. I thought about that and I agree wholeheartedly. This bond deserves to be honoured and respected the same way any human to human bond is. When we lose that being then we can also say: grief is grief, loss is loss. Why could or would anyone say that the animal human bond is less than a human bond. But it happens and it did to me: “oh, he’s just a dog, aren’t you over it yet, it’s time to move on, just get another one”…and on and on.
When we embrace them and allow our hearts to open, we transform.
My life’s work includes a healing practice where I help people one-on one and I teach a variety of workshops designed to assist people in finding their path and anything that helps to get them there. Willow was an integral part of all this – he inspired me to do this work. If I had not had him as my teacher, my path would have been very different. I credit him, for me being here, in this place. In my own healing journey there were times when I did not want to be on the planet anymore. At the low points when it felt life was too much to handle…I would look into his golden eyes and see his belly rising and falling with each breath and know that I had to be here for him. In truth, he was really here for me.
An example of how our bond extended to us doing healing together: a healing story from my journal:
Journal entry: I had one client who came in and was highly agitated that a dog was in the room…as long as he stayed away from her and sat on his bed, she was fine. He would attempt to come over, she would get tensed up and I would send him back to his bed. He sat bolt upright and kept staring at her until she asked me why. I had always called his stare the Vulcan stare. I told her he was trying to win her over. She vehemently said “I don’t like dogs,” over and over again. Of course I was laughing inside knowing that he would probably win her over. Anyway, she came a few times and during one session she was sitting on the futon he came over and before I could stop him, he gave her a quick lick on one of her feet and walked back to his bed and laid down. As it turned out she had huge issues around her feet being touched, so this was the ultimate for her. The next time she came in she was softer with him and when he approached her she said, “fine you can lick my foot, just hurry up and get it over with”…so he did and walked back to his bed. I knew he was breaking her down. As time went by she became more and more attentive to him, actually giving him a little pat and a treat. She got used to the lick on her foot every time she came – it became part of their bonding. Over time she began telling me she was having dreams about him, about other dogs and then began researching what kind of dog she might get in the future. She had taken a Reiki class from me and at one point her neighbour with a black lab called her in distress, and she went over and did some Reiki healing work on the dog!! How the tables had turned. Willow had helped her heal and now she was giving back to another dog. Willow was a dog with an agenda and a button pusher when he needed to be.
Coming soon: another chapter excerpt from Cheryl’s Love as a Gift chapter!
I don’t know about you, but tears came to my eyes when I read this. Cheryl’s book is going to touch so many people in a most profound way. Of this I could not be more sure. I truly hope that as of May 24th you will take the time to go to this link – http://www.nexttopauthor.com/profile.cfm?aid=2975 – and vote for Cheryl in The Next Top Spiritual Author Competition so that she can win a publishing contract for her book. She needs your support and is very grateful for it!