Investing the Legacies From Our Animals

April 12, 2010 by  
Filed under Grieving

to Enrich Our Souls & Life on Earth

by Teresa Wagner

www.animalsinourhearts.com
copyright 2010

Like many people, it comforts me to have certain things around me to memorialize my beloved animals who have died:  framed photos, photo albums, portraits, memorial candles, urns, grave markers, jewelry with their paw prints or name, scrapbooks or memorial boxes filled with treasured mementos, holding memorial services, sharing stories about my animal, etc. There are, of course, countless, meaningful ways to memorialize a loved one which can bring us comfort and honor our animal.  However, nothing is a higher tribute to a loved one who has died than to identify, acknowledge and use the legacies they left behind, the legacies that live on in our hearts.

I don’t think I’ve ever talked with a person who’s lost their animal who wouldn’t say that the number one legacy from their animal is love. When we think of the legacies of love our animals gave us, it can be healing to reflect on: How that love was expressed or manifested? How was it unique? How was it shared? What did we learn from it, and how can we integrate and apply that learning into the fabric of our lives? Memorializing is comforting, and mourning is normal and necessary. But memorializing is not the same as investing the legacies we’ve been left so they can grow. If we inherit a million dollars and stash it under our mattress it will not grow. But if we invest it in good works it will grow in ways that may continue to enrich us and others forever.

When my cat Muffin died many years ago I was utterly lost in the pain of it. In time, however, when I realized that the legacy left to me was the unconditional love he showered me with, which was my first experience of unconditional love, I knew I had a choice: to be in pain from this huge loss the rest of my life, or, to learn to give myself what he gave me. That is often what keeps us so painfully stuck in our grief--thinking that we can’t possibly keep the emotional and energetic gifts we received from our animals after they’ve died. We can. When I finally realized that it was time for me to learn to give myself what Muffin had given me, I began my journey to learn to love myself. I learned that without him loving me to the depths that he did, I never would have learned that I was lovable. And what a waste it would have been to wallow the rest of my life about the loss of him giving me that love in person, rather than learning how to love myself even as I grieved his physical presence. This did not make my grief go away. I grieved for him for a very, very long time. But it did fill me with a great sense of hope and fulfillment--that I was using what he gave me to grow.

A year ago, I experienced another unexpected opportunity to identify and use a legacy left to me. On one of my whale swim trips we came across a month old humpback calf who was tortuously entangled in fishing gear--float line embedded deeply into his flesh and through his mouth, and trailing 150 feet of line and two huge fishing traps. For four hours a captain than a dive master valiantly tried to free him of this but was only able to cut off the trailing lines and the traps. This weak calf, whom we call Little One, died ten days later. 

Witnessing this, both physically and in my ongoing conversations with Little One and his deeply grieving mother over time, rocked me to my core. I knew that I could no longer simply enjoy the spiritual high of being with these beloved humpbacks. I needed now to speak out for them about how supporting commercial fishing--i.e. eating any type of fish--not only litters the oceans but causes the slow, tortuous death of whales, dolphins and other marine animals. This little whale left me the legacy that loving in good times is not enough, that when I love, I need to be willing to speak up on behalf of those I love, whether speaking the truth is popular or not. I have found that it was a lot easier to just love the whales and let the activism to others. But I cannot not speak the truth after what I witnessed. This is Little One’s legacy to me.

The choices I have made to use the legacies left to me are merely my personal examples. They may or may not be choices others would make. The point is to discover and cherish the unique legacies left us, and to use them for the betterment of ourselves and the world around us. What better way could we honor the animals who have brought us so much love than to invest their legacies?

 

Healing Exercise:

Ask yourself these questions, defining ‘legacies’ as:

Gifts we’ve received from an animal, things we’ve learned about ourselves, about relationships, about life, about death, about our beliefs, about who we are, about who we want to be:

  • What legacies have you received from the life you shared with your animal?
  • What legacies, if any, did you receive even from the experience of the loss itself?
  • What legacy have you received from the death of any wild animal?
  • How can you use these to enrich your soul and your life on earth?

To further explore these issues you may want to:

Participate in the 8 hour teleclass workshop Legacies of Love:

http://www.animalsinourhearts.com/workshops-events/descriptions/legacies-of-love.html

Listen to a download of the audio book Legacies of Love:

http://www.animalsinourhearts.com/store/downloads/legacies-of-love.html

Read through the web pages on Comfort and Support in Your Time of Grief:

http://www.animalsinourhearts.com/comfort.html

Comments

8 Responses to “Investing the Legacies From Our Animals”
  1. chetandbev says:

    Hi Teresa,
    Thank you so much for your kind, healing words. My dear, sweet Golden Retriever, Tucker, crossed over about 2 1/2 years ago. I have some healing to do and I feel certain your words will help me. I ordered your Legacy of Love audio book and your Pet Loss Memorial Candle to light in his honor. It’s very beautiful and the inscription is so touching.

    Have you had an opportunity to communicate with Tilly (Tillikum), the Killer Whale at Sea World? What a trajic event on so many levels. I just breaks my heart to know how sad and extremely desperate he is to change his situation. What are your thoughts about this?

    With deep appreciation,
    Bev Szymanski

  2. TeresaWagner says:

    Because of our history of talking so many times over the years with your beloved cats, it’s very easy to understand what your are describing (and it would have been clear even without that because you’ve written about it so well). Sometimes the distractions and busy-ness of life do overshadow our loss and our grief. And for all of us, it is surely not only possible but easier to avoid delving deeply into our pain to fully process our grief. And sometimes, we are simply ready for the next layer of healing when we’re ready. It sounds like Dusty guided you to be in the class for the insights that have come to you, and knowing him, and his huge love for you, he will also guide you through the rest of it.
    May you be filled with the peace of grace as you go through that door.

    Much love to all of you,
    Teresa

  3. TeresaWagner says:

    Hello Dear Judy,

    Because of our history of talking so many times over the years with your beloved cats, it’s very easy to understand what your are describing (though it would be clear even without that history as you’ve written it so well). Sometimes the distractions and busy-ness of life do overshadow our loss and our grief. And for all of us, it is surely not only possible but easier to avoid delving deeply into our pain to fully process our grief. And sometimes, we are simply ready for the next layer of healing when we’re ready. It sounds like Dusty guided you to be in the class for the insights that have come to you, and knowing him, and his huge love for you, he will also guide you through the rest of it.
    May you be filled with the peace of grace as you go through that door.

    Much love to all of you,
    Teresa

  4. dragonfly says:

    Hi Teresa ~ your eloquence moves me. I really love the concept of a legacy. It is so true and so helpful.

    My beloved cat friend Misty left me with her legacy: she lived her life with exuberance, no matter what, and died equally flat out and on purpose. I grieved for two long years, and she came – at the beginning more than once a day – to lick my face and tell me how wonderful it is on the other side of death.

    So I continue to live my life as fully and joyfully as Misty did, with a whoop and a holler!

    Jackie Branagan
    http://www.dragonflyessence.com

    • TeresaWagner says:

      Dear Jackie,
      Thank you for your comments. I’m glad you like the concept of a legacy. Many years ago when I was beginning to write my audio book, I kept asking myself, “what is it we are left with? They are gone from our earthly lives, but so much is still here, so much remains. How might I best label it?” As soon as I asked the question, the phrase legacies of love just came. I’m glad it helps you.
      And I love hearing about Misty’s legacy of exuberance! And how lovely that she continued and continued to visit you with her licks and assurances. And how equally wonderful that you continue to live with the same full and joyful exuberance! I imagine Misty is looking on with pride.
      Love and blessings to you,
      Teresa

  5. kellbex says:

    Hi there,
    I was wondering if anyone knows of the beautiful poem that Teresa said at the end of the call today…it was so moving.
    Thank you.
    Kelly

    • TeresaWagner says:

      Hello Kelly,
      Here are the poems and excerpts that I read during the teleclass. I hope one of these is the one you may be referring to:

      I shall see beauty but none to match your living grace.
      I shall hear music
      but none as sweet
      as the droning song
      with which you
      loved me.
      I shall fill my days
      but I shall not,
      cannot forget.
      Sleep soft, dear friend.
                      ~author unknown

      My family is not confined to mother, mate and child; but it includes all creatures be they tame or wild; my family upon this earth includes all living things, on land, in the ocean deep, or borne aloft on wings.   ~Alicia Carpenter

      Eckhart Tolle. Stillness Speaks

      When a form that you have unconsciously or consciously identified with as part of yourself leaves you or dissolves, that can be extremely painful. It leaves a hole, so to speak, in the fabric of your existence. When this happens, can you face and accept that hole, that strange empty space? If you do, you may find that it is no longer a fearful place. You may be surprised to find peace emanating from it.

      Whenever death occurs, whenever a life form dissolves, God shines through the opening left by the dissolving form. That is why one of the most sacred things in life is death. That is why the peace of God can come to you through the contemplation and acceptance of death.

      Rosamund Pilcher, September
      I have slipped away into the next room.  Nothing has happened.  Everything remains exactly as it was. I am I, and you are you and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.  Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.  Call me by the old familiar name.  Speak of me in the easy way which you have always used.  Put no difference into your tone.  Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.  Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.  Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.  Let my name ever be the household name that it always was.  Let it be spoken without effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.  Life means all that it ever meant.  It is the same as it ever was. 
      There is absolute and unbroken continuity.  Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?  I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just around the corner.  All is well.

  6. Judy Ruta says:

    First off, thank you Teresa for today’s teleclass. Before the class began, I had no idea about how immence my need was to hear your words!
    Thank heaven I never have had to “justify” my grief to fellow humans as my family & friends all love animals. During my Misty’s last few days, I remember my Dad saying to me that he wanted me to understand that he knew that my Misty “was just about everything” to me. By “just about everything’, he said it that way because I had 2 other cats at the time too.
    I receieved “hospice” in our home for Misty before she died, many kind words, cards, meals sent over, etc. as support during her final days & afterwards.
    When my Dusty passed, the support was there as well only in a bit of a different way due to the circumstances of his death being so sudden. I shall be forever grateful for your phone call the night he died.
    My point in saying all this is that even with all of the love, support, compassion & understanding that I received, I realized today while listening to you that I am still hurting deeply & working on the acceptance piece regarding my Dusty’s passing over. (It will be 5 years on May 31st.)
    The distractions of life over time kept me busy but also kept me more able to avoid dealing with the physical loss of him.
    I felt guided to be a part of today’s teleclass but did not fully understand the reason. Now I know why. I believe my sweet Dusty gave me the nudge I needed to do what was necessary to take this class.
    With my Misty’s passing, I honestly feel that I was able to “get away with” much of the grieving process due to her reincarnation only 10 months later as my little Angelina. The grief was huge & agonizing, but short due to her coming back to me.
    The pain of loosing my Dusty I realized today, I can now finally & fully face & more actively move through the grief because of the knowledge I received from today’s class. It doesn’t seem scary to take on anymore. I found much comfort in what you conveyed to us.
    I keep hearing in my mind that you said acceptance opens the door to grace. I think I’m now ready to open the door all of the way.
    Many thanks, Teresa.

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