Pet Loss Support Available

A recent experience supporting a friend who has lost her small dog, a treasured soul companion who had seen her through many life crises, has served to highlight how important it is to be provided with some strategies to cope at this time.

It is now well documented that those of us who enjoy living in harmony with multi-species suffer very intensely when animal companions are dying. Many find the void almost unendurable to cope with. Unfortunately, not everyone understands the depth of grief associated with the passing of an animal companion.

If you are anticipating or coping with a significant loss in your life and wish to better understand the grief that accompanies such loss, you may need to spend some time connecting with someone who has had personal experience.

Having experienced considerable loss, I have found my own way through grief many times.  As one who’s always wanted and needed animals in my life, over the years I’ve loved, lost and mourned a number of cherished companion animals as well.

Last year I formally graduated as a Master of Social Work but over the years I have helped individuals understand and cope with their grief.  As a former volunteer at the Melbourne City Mission, I worked with carers who were mourning the loss of their partners and family. I have also supported a number of friends who have lost cherished animals. The Temple of Solace offers visitors who have signed in a safe place to express their grief.  All you need is a WordPress account.

My years of bereavement counseling have taught me that grief is indifferent to the species of the loved one who was lost. I believe that anyone who loves greatly in life and grieves deeply in loss is deserving of whatever respect, caring and support I can offer.

This site was designed to meet the needs of those who are mourning the loss of their loved ones, whether human or animal.  Whatever your particular circumstances may be, I hope that you will feel welcome and that you will find some comfort here.

If you need personal support I charge a minimal, one-off fee and I will maintain contact via email and offer creative suggestions to help ease the pain.

Taking Time To Listen

An elderly woman calls her country’s emergency hotline. Her 95-year-old husband is suffering from “complications”, she informs the operator.

But when police show up on her doorstep, they discover the man was not in need of medical attention at all. The couple was just so lonely they fabricated the story out of desperation for someone to talk to. So the cops did what anybody with a heart and a pulse would do; they sat with the couple “for a brew and a chat“.

This true story out of the UK is a bittersweet tale that betrays a widespread but largely hidden social tragedy; we are failing our elderly.

A 2013 survey by Australian community care franchise Just Better Care found that loneliness and social isolation was the primary concern of elderly people living at home, eclipsing financial worries, lack of independence, and loss of mobility.

Read More and take action

Insights into Loss and Grief

After facing one death of a significant other after another, and another, words stuck well below my throat. I was silenced and spent many years lying fallow. Time, adjustment, resettling and reading articles like these have helped to finally break the silence.

Most of us live in parts of the country where there is a distinct change of seasons. Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall each have their own unique qualities. Grieving is also like the seasons – there are a variety of events that we experience as we grieve, much as we experience a series of events as the seasons change.

So, as we explore these seasons of grief, let us turn our reflections to the power of these seasons of grief – pre-grief, a time to grieve, a time to heal and renewal.
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Sometimes when I can’t sleep I walk through my grandparents’ old house in my head. I sit in the breakfast nook and watch as my grandmother shakes from a jar the handful of raw almonds she would eat each morning. Or I watch myself – I’m six and wearing a dress Grandma crocheted for me – pester her for the liquorice allsorts she always kept at the back of a cupboard.
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Summer’s here and Canada-wide, tomatoes are in the ground, mine included.

I live alone now, and at 61 years of age, I have little need for all the food I gr ow. But I do love my own produce, my pesto made with home-grown garlic and basil, which lasts me into the following summer.

I have been thinking of my connection to the land, of closely observing the daily, seasonal and yearly changes that occur. I like that every day something is happening: Another rhododendron opening its buds, the daffodils dying back, the asparagus poking out of the ground, the hummingbird flying past to the flowering red currant, beetles mating.
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The Soul Rests Eternal

“… the landscape that emerges through my music is rather like the misty dawn of a new day; a day not yet ripened by the sun, but one that shows the promise of a warmer future – a way through the emotional morass.”

Take the time to read the delightful new interview in the Salon du Muse at the Soul Food Cafe. Heather Blakey, web mistress of  Soul Food, takes the time to interview British composer, Mike Sheppard. This interview explores spirit and soul and shines some light on the path for those suffering from bereavement.

My Old Dog Is Dead

“And now my old dog is dead, and another I had after him, and my parents are dead, and that first world, that old house, is sold and lost, and the books I gathered there lost, or sold- but more books bought, and in another place, board by board and stone by stone, like a house, a true life built, and all because I was steadfast about one or two things: loving foxes, and poems, the blank piece of paper, and my own energy- and mostly the shimmering shoulders of the world that shrug carelessly over the fate of any individual that they may, the better, keep the Niles and Amazons flowing.”
— Mary Oliver (Blue Pastures)

Jaari and Douglas

Old dogs lie buried in the garden here, a place where, in another lifetime, my husband, children, companion animals and I once lived, where my parents once came to share our lives and bear witness.

Dougie and I grieved for each one who departed; when we sold and left the only home he had known behind.

We moved to a sheltered place and comforted one another.

Now my old dog is dead too. I know! I held him close to my heart as he died.

Dougie is gone, joining those, so many whose hands/paws we held, watched as they went.

Soon I will be leaving this place that offered safe harbor, taking his ashes to mix with the ashes of others.

I am moving to make yet another fresh start, selling more, giving away more, but, taking memories of happy family days to weave and wrap around me.

I will go to another place where I will scatter mixed ashes and, little by little, piece by piece, rebuild.

From the Ashes

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I remember standing at this spot in 2005 with Darryl. His cancer had returned and we came here so that he could show me exactly where he wanted to be scattered. I remember we cried and held one another and I promised that I would meet him here one day, that we would sit with our feet dangling in the cool water.

According to his wishes we scattered Darryl late in the winter of 2007 after his death on January 19th 2007. If you look carefully you can see some of those ashes on the stones at the edge of the water.

When the Victorian Bushfires ravaged this whole area on February 23, 2009 I was shattered, but had little comprehension of the ferocity of the fires that razed this area. It took me awhile to visit, mainly out of respect for the people who actually lived here and lost their homes. But then, during the week before I sold our home in Fitzroy North, I felt compelled to drive back and see what remained.

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Incredible as the destruction was, I found that the place retained its Qi, that the beauty had not been erased. Perhaps more importantly there was plenty of evidence of regeneration. My fears were quelled and I knew that we still could meet here again and again.

Meditating on Loss

Time has done little to ease the sense of loss that I have felt since the death of my husband Darryl. Two years after his death I am facing another major transition as I prepare to sell and leave the home we established over twenty six years. Carnforth is on the market and I am closing a book, shutting the pages of an era. At this time the words of John O’Donahue palliate. Knowing others know makes all the difference.

When you lose someone you love,
Your life becomes strange,
The ground beneath you becomes fragile,
Your thoughts make your eyes unsure;
And some dead echo drags your voice down
Where words have no confidence
Your heart has grown heavy with loss;
And though this loss has wounded others too,
No one knows what has been taken from you
When the silence of absence deepens.

Flickers of guilt kindle regret
For all that was left unsaid or undone.

There are days when you wake up happy;
Again inside the fullness of life,
Until the moment breaks
And you are thrown back
Onto the black tide of loss.
Days when you have your heart back,
You are able to function well
Until in the middle of work or encounter,
Suddenly with no warning,
You are ambushed by grief.

It becomes hard to trust yourself.
All you can depend on now is that
Sorrow will remain faithful to itself.
More than you, it knows its way
And will find the right time
To pull and pull the rope of grief
Until that coiled hill of tears
Has reduced to its last drop.

Gradually, you will learn acquaintance
With the invisible form of your departed;
And when the work of grief is done,
The wound of loss will heal
And you will have learned
To wean your eyes
From that gap in the air
And be able to enter the hearth
In your soul where your loved one
Has awaited your return
All the time.

Grief: Longing for the lost one

…. The time of grief is awkward, edgy and lonesome. At first you feel that it is totally unreal. With the belonging severed, you feel numbed. When you love someone, you are no longer single. You are more than yourself. It is as if many of your nerve endings now extend outside your body towards the beloved and theirs reach towards you. You have made living bridges to each other and changed the normal distance that usually separates us. When you lose someone, you lose a part of yourself that you loved, because when you love it is the part of you that you love most that always loves the other. Grief is at its most acute at death. There is also a whole, unacknowledged grief that accompanies the breakup of a relationship. This indeed can often be worse than death, at least initially, because the person is still around and possibly with someone else. The other is cut off from you. Grief is the experience of finding yourself standing alone in the vacant space with all this torn emotional tissue protruding. In the rhythm of grieving, you learn to gather your given heart back to yourself again. This sore gathering takes time. You need great patience with your slow heart. It takes the heart a long time to unlearn and transfer its old affections. This is a time when you have to swim against the tide of your life. It seems for a while that you are advancing, then the desolation and confusion pull you down and, when you surface again, you seem to be even further from the shore. It is slow making your way back on your own. You feel so many conflicting things. You are angry one minute; the next moment you are just so sad. After a death there are people around you, yet you feel utterly isolated: no-one else has the foggiest notion of your loss. No-one had what you had, therefore, no-one else has lost it. Yet when friends try to gently accompany you, you find yourself pulling back from them too. In a remarkable collection of modern elegies to mourn the loss of his wife, the Scottish poet, Douglas Dunn, ends his poem ‘The Clear Day’ with this verse:

I shall sieve through our twenty years,

until

I almost reach the sob in the intellect,

The truth that waits for me with its loud grief,

Sensible, commonplace, beyond understanding.

Because your loss is so sore, something within you expects the world to understand. You were singled out. Now you are on your own. Yet life goes on. That makes you angry: sometimes, you look around at your family or the others who have been hit by this loss; it does not seem to have hurt them as much. But you remember that behind the facade they are heartbroken too. You have never experienced anything like this. During grief, the outer landscape of your life is in the grip of grey weather; every presence feels ghostly. You are out of reach. You have gone way into yourself. Your soul lingers around that inner temple which is empty now save for the sad echo of loss.

Grief is a journey that knows its way

Despite its severity the consolation at a time of grief is that it is a journey. Grief has a structure; it knows the direction and it will take you through. It is amazing how time and again, one of the most consoling factors in experience is that each experience has a sure structure; this is never obvious to us while we are going through something. But when we look back, we will be able to pick out the path that offered itself. Experience always knows its way. And we can afford to trust our souls much more than we realize. The soul is always wiser than the mind, even though we are dependent on the mind to read the soul for us. Though travel is slow on the grief journey, you will move through its grey valley and come out again onto the meadow where light, colour and promise await to embrace you. The loneliest moment in grief is when you suddenly realize you will never see that person again. This is an awful shock. It is as if all the weeks of sorrow suddenly crystallize in one black bolt of recognition. You really know how total your loss is when you understand that it is permanent. In this life there is no place that you will ever be able to go to meet again the one who has gone. On the journey of grief this is a milestone. You begin thereafter to make your peace with the shock.

We grieve for ourselves

Gradually, you begin to understand more deeply that you are grieving primarily over your own loss. The departed one has gone home and is gathered now in the tranquillity of the Divine Belonging. When you realize that it is for yourself that you are grieving, you begin to loosen your sorrowful hold on the departed one. Part of what has had you holding on so desperately is the fear that if you let go, you would lose them for ever. Now you begin to glimpse the possibilities of being with them in a new way. If you loosen the sad grip of grief, a new belonging becomes possible between you. This is one of the most touching forms of belonging in the world: the belonging between us and our loved ones in the unseen world. It is a subtle and invisible belonging for which the crass obviousness of modern culture has no eye. Yet this invisible belonging is one in which so many people participate. Though the silent weeping of your heart lessens, you get on, more or less, with your life, a place is kept within you for the one who is gone. No other will ever be given the key to that door. As years go on you may not remember the departed every day with your conscious mind. Yet below your surface mind, some part of you is always in their presence. From their side, our friends in the unseen world are always secretly embracing us in their new and bright belonging. Though we may forget them, they can never forget us. Their secret embrace unknowingly shelters and minds us.

The bright moment in grief is when the sore of absence gradually changes into a well of presence. You become aware of the subtle companionship of the departed one. You know that when you are in trouble, you can turn to this presence beside you and draw on it for encouragement and blessing. The departed one is now no longer restricted to any one place and can be with you any place you are. It is good to know the blessings of this presence. An old woman, whose husband had died thirty years earlier, told me once that the last thing she did each night before sleep was to remember him. In her memory she went over his face detail by detail until she could gather his countenance clearly in her mind’s eye. She had always done this since he died because she never wanted him to fade into the forgetfulness of loss.

While it is heartbreaking to watch someone in the throes of grief, there is still a beauty in grief. Your grief shows that you have risked opening up your life and giving your heart to someone. Your heart is broken with grief because you have loved. When you love, you always risk pain. The more deeply you love, the greater the risk that you will be hurt. Yet to live your life without loving is not to have lived at all. As deeply as you open to life, so deeply will life open up to you. So there is a lovely symmetry and proportion between grief and love. Connemara is a dark landscape full of lakes and framed with majestic mountains. If you ask a person here how deep a lake is, they say that they have often heard their ancestors say that the lake is always as deep as the mountain near it is high. The invisible breakage of grief has the same symmetry. Meister Eckhart said: ‘Depth is height’ and there is a haunting poem from the third century BC by Callimachus which imaginatively captures grief and the richness of absence as memory:

They told me, Heraclitus,

They told me you were dead.

They brought me bitter news

to hear

And bitter tears to shed.

I wept as I remembered,

How often you and I

Had tired the sun with talking

And sent him down the sky.

But now that you are lying,

My dear old Carian guest,

A handful of grey ashes,

Long, long ago at rest.

Still are your gentle voices,

Your nightingales, awake –

For death he taketh all away

But these he cannot take.

(Translated by William Cory)

Seeking Meaning

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Legend hath it that Cerridwen had two children. Creiwy was the most beautiful girl in all the world. Afagddu, her son, was the ugliest boy. They lived on an island in the middle of Lake Tegid. To compensate for Afagdddu’s ugliness, Cerridwen decided to make him highly intelligent. So according to a recipe contained in the books of Vergil of Toledo the magician (hero of a twelfth century romance), she boiled up a cauldron of inspiration and knowledge, which had to be kept on the simmer for a year and a day. Season by season she added to the brew magical herbs gathered in their correct planetary hours.

When finally Gwion thrust into his mouth some drops of the mead he at once understood the nature and meaning of all things past, present and future.

The 19th of January is the anniversary of my husband, Darryl’s death. He lost a fierce battle with cancer and I am still to understand the meaning of all things past, present and future.

In honour of his memory I am asking those, who want to help in some way, to stop and think of us and add some magical herbs and other ingredients to this cauldron, in the hope that one day all will become clearer.

Remembering Darryl
January 18th 2009
love you today and always Darryl
Heather

Send a Message on the Wing of a Raven

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Dear Ms Raven,
I just want to let you know how much it means to me that you come to my mother’s house each day and that you are there to greet her when she opens her curtains. You are making a huge difference to her life and in turn, to mine. Mum feels she has a real purpose as she shops for small treats to keep you and your partner happy.

Thank you for trusting me and letting me take these photographs of you. Mum wants me to have your image put on to magnets so that she can admire you on her fridge and show everyone just what a magnificent fowl you are. I think we might have quite a selection of your images on all sorts of thing here at Soul Food.

fly free and keep safe
return and keep tapping on my mother’s chamber door.

Heather

In a world of rampant greed and ‘me’ orientated thinking the Soul Food Cafe remains a beacon that guides people towards a different style of living. Soul Food was forged in a furnace of events that continue to reverberate through the corridors of my internal world. Soul Food was seeded in the seed bed of ‘Writing for Well Being’ courses and has grown, in labyrinthine circles to form the shape that exists today. Today the Soul Food Cafe provides water for thirsty travelers who have spent a long time in the deserts and the pebbles that are thrown in her waters form concentric ripples that impact on more and more pilgrims seeking respite from the ‘I’ society.

A new initiative, as a part of the Temple of Solace, is a program called, for want of a better title, ‘Spreading the Comfort Rug’. The plan is to provide a program, create a lonely planet guide to how to clean up the ‘me’ society and help ensure that people feel that they are genuinely appreciated and cared for.

To begin today I suggest that you visit one of those places that have a free postcard stand. We are going to make good use of these free cards.

At the expense of appearing greedy select half a dozen cards.

Take them home and sit and think about who you feel is a mentor. For example I am in awe and wonder at the generosity of Margaret Olley, one of our famous Australian artists. As a result of reading this article I am going to send Margaret Olley one of the cards telling her how much I admire what she is doing. First of all I have to find out how to mail to her but I am sure someone will be able to help me acquire her address.

Then I am going to send two other cards to two other people who have actively nurtured and cared for me during Darryl’s long illness and as a sense of profound loss and grief engulfed me. I may go a step further and let a few other people know just how much their support has meant to me.

Follow my lead and send three cards over the next few days. Consider sending one to someone every week. Then take a moment, come back in here and share with us how doing this made you feel.

One Becomes Forbearing

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Create emptiness up to the highest

Guard stillness up to the most complete.

Then all things may rise together.

I see how they return,

Things in all their multitude:

Each one returns to its root.

Return to their root means stillness.

Stillness means return to fate.

Return to fate means eternity.

Cognition of eternity means clarity

If one does not recognize the eternal

One falls in to confusion and sin.

If one recognizes the eternal

One becomes forbearing.

From Tao Te Ching as translated by Richard Wilheim

Waldon went off to live deliberately. Joseph Campbell spent years in the wilderness! I have come to Wartook. Here at Wartook I see and feel what these men felt, understand why they stepped off the well beaten path and isolated themselves. They came because you have to come and create emptiness, be still, with nature, in order to fuse with it and liberate creativity, give one’s art life through merging one’s spirit with nature.

Here at Wartook I know that the spiritual plane is not on some elevated platform, far from my grasp. Here, within the shadows of Mt Difficult I know that spirit walks where I walk, sees what I see, breaths the air I breath, communicates with me through something as simple as a blade of grass, a spire of bamboo grass being caressed by the gentle breeze. Here in this quiet space I can hear her gentle laughter, echoing within the empty spaces.

Here at Wartook I gather dead leaves to accelerate the fledgling fire that warms my womb like cabin. I take dead leaves, hold them in the palm of my hand, crush them and feel them disintegrate. It is self-evident that spirit abandoned these leaves, left them to fuse with the earth, to be gathered by me to fuel flames and heat my coffee pot. I look and understand that the dead leaf is nothing but an empty shell, the remains of an organism that once breathed life, danced upon a bough, amid other leaves, drank the sweet life giving oxygen that surrounded it.

Having taken the dead leaves, gathered the brittle twigs, that once carried the tree’s life blood, I stop, quizzically ponder and in doing so, learn that in the same way our bodies, once emptied of spirit, will stiffen and wither.

Ash’s head drooped within milliseconds, the proud body crumpled and curled, his spirit rose within an invisible vapor, like a curl of smoke from a chimney and drifted out into the cosmos. Dog, human, leaves are a part of the great cosmic force and that cosmic force is a part of dog, human, leaf, until it decides to depart, leaving a shell to be disposed of.

How does this knowing affect what I do here in Wartook? Why am I writing about it? I am writing, quite simply, because the spirit of Wartook, the custodian of this remote valley, has taken it in to its head to sit me in class, insist that I observe, sit wrapped within a snow dome, a galaxy of bright stars. Spirit seems to think that I need to understand that, while my ego would like to think otherwise, I have no real existence outside nature, beyond that galaxy of stars that cloak me.

As I sit within the dome of bright stars, I am certain about some things. I am certain that Ash only exists as remains, lying within a grave over which birds carol their evensong, above which magpies call, announcing the arrival of dawn. Yet I am just as certain that a part of Ash came, to greet me, as I entered Rose Gully Road. He lies here now, beside me, tail wagging, adoring eyes watching, protecting.

As I sit within the dome of bright stars, I know that Darryl’s body, dissolved in to ash, was scattered upon the water of the Stony Creek, floated, like a raft, along with the currents and vanished. Yet he exists within memory, within the stories, told of him. He is not with me yet he is always present, a guiding hand, a reassuring voice, a gentle touch. Where Darryl once stood, where Ash once lay, there is a void, an emptied space. Yet this void is not formless, anymore than the heavens that surround me are formless or empty. They are filled to over flowing, bright stars bursting forth light, forming constellations, patterns, pathways to distant worlds.

The void is just another manifestation of nature, another form of energy, and a place I keep returning to, a well from which to drink and replenish.

Spirit thought I needed to know that from voids, shapes rise, that while I have no existence outside nature I will exist long after I am gone, just as Darryl and Ash will exist for many life times. I have listened to spirit, to the custodian of Mount Difficult. I hear and know that shapes rise, return from the void. The shape that is rising is still imperceptible, is barely discernible, but it is taking a familiar form and within that form is life, the one, the very same spirit who has taken me captive here in Wartook.

Ash is Resting Now

Ash is now resting at Wartook, in the Grampians, in Western Victoria. I took him with me because I was working in that region and he deteriorated dramatically overnight. A humane vet euthanased him in the back of my car and the people on the property where I was staying buried him in a grave, under a pine tree, facing Mt Difficult.

I seem destined to keep looking in to the void. I know there is something within it but I am having a bit of trouble discerning what it is. Ash did trust me and you are right, I did not let him down. The vet injected him in the back of the car so he was in his own cocoon, his weary head dropped and he went to sleep. Facing Mount Difficult is full of meaning for both of us.

For years I had this numinous dream, which involved climbing and traversing something like Mt Difficult. I would come to a plateau, only to discover that I had to go on, that there was another peak to master. Having Ash succumb to throat cancer, watching him waste and decline in such a similar way to Darryl was particularly tough. The parallels wereextraordinary.

So now there is this emptiness again. Adoring eyes are gone. Ash was legendary when it came to watching over and guarding me. He did what so many could not do. He sat with me during tough times. What sort of universe removes him in this way? How is someone supposed to findmeaning in an action like this?

Yet, within the darkness there has been a glimmer of light. Being here, at Wartook, meant that I had very real support and was able to bury him in a particularly lovely place. He has not gone in to some landfill and I am not left with the ashes of Ash. I have some of Darryl’s ashes at home. I think maybe the children can scatter me with him here. It has all been just so difficult.

For Anne – Mourning Her Mother’s Passing

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At the appointed time we must each return to our source.
For Anne who is left behind.

Deep peace I breathe into you
Oh weariness here, O ache, here!
Deep peace, a soft white dove to you;
Deep peace, a quiet rain to you;
Deep peace, an ebbing wave to you!
Deep peace, yellow wind of the east from you;
Deep peace, blue wind of the west to you;
Deep peace, green wind of the north from you;
Deep peace, red wind of the south to you!
Deep peace, pure gold of the sun to you;
Deep peace, pure silver of the moon to you;
Deep peace, pure green of the grass to you;
Deep peace, pure brown of the living earth to you;
Deep peace, pure gray of the dew to you;
Deep peace, pure blue of the sky to you!
Deep peace of the running wave to you,
Deep peace of the flowing air to you,
Deep peace of the quiet Earth to you,
Deep peace of the sleeping stones to you,
Deep peace of the Goddess to you,
Deep peace of the God to you,
Deep peace of the Flock of Stars to You.
Deep Peace of the Spirits to You.
Deep Peace, Deep Peace.

– Old Irish Blessing of Peace