Time and Grief

Most bereaved people are on the receiving end, at some time or other, of comments that suggest that ‘time will heal all wounds’ or encouragement such as, ‘you’ll be fine in a while ‘ or ‘just give it time’.

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Equally, they are frequently on the receiving end of misunderstandings about how long it may take to become familiar with a world profoundly and forever altered and not of their own choosing.

The suggestion that time heals, in my view, does an enormous disservice to the hard work and sometimes overwhelming effort that bereaved people make to adapt to their changed circumstances after the death of a loved one.   It gives time some kind of active participation in the process and makes bereaved people appear to be the passive recipients of time’s healing efforts.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Time is simply something that is measured by clocks and calendars.

It is a convention to measure existence.  Our perception of time is a fluid thing.  Time can go slowly or quickly even seem to ‘stand still.’  We talk about things being timeless.  We can recall things in our past and they can feel as fresh as yesterday or a very long time ago.

However we may understand time, I would suggest it is not an entity that can ‘do’ things.  To suggest that it works on human heartache in a positive healing way is to deny the very active nature of grieving and rebuilding our lives after a death.

The old saying “time heals all wounds” is simply not true.

Parents do not ‘get over’ the death of their child.  There is no amount of time that can pass that will alter the fact that their child has died and that they must continue to live with this unchanging reality.  Time does not stop the ache in hearts nor does it erase the missing of those we love.

Notions of time do however play a part in the grieving process.

Initially for many time will stand still…the rest of the world seems to be getting on with things while the life of the bereaved seems to have stopped.    People often comment on how their sense of time seems distorted.  It can feel like yesterday or forever ago since they did a particular thing.  The death can seem incredibly fresh and yet it can be years since it occurred.

I suspect that this may be because the intensity of grief in the early weeks, with its capacity to fill every available bit of one’s being, carries with it an inability to connect to calendar time – the passage of hours, days, weeks and months seem completely irrelevant.

Once time stops standing still, so to speak, bereaved people may not think much beyond the present day and the recent past.  It is too overwhelming to think about days beyond because that would mean thinking about a future that does not include their child.

Thinking about the recent past generally involves thinking about all that led up to the death as well as focusing on memories so as not to forget.  It is exquisitely painful to think about the many years ahead.  For quite a long time it is simply not possible to think too far ahead.

However, gradually and with tiny baby steps, those who are heartbroken do start to function again.  It becomes possible again to do the shopping, cook meals, go out, take care of surviving children etc.  Time does not do this…YOU DO and frequently with an enormously huge effort.

However, time does provide a different vantage point that enables people to look back and acknowledge the ways in which they have moved from how they were in the beginning, how they may be different in terms of thinking, feeling and doing.  This awareness may boost confidence about survivability and may herald the beginning of regaining a sense of mastery and control over overwhelming thoughts and feelings.

Many of us recognise that after a while, the time in between moments of overwhelming sorrow becomes longer and the time spent feeling overwhelmed becoming shorter.

I would suggest that it is not the passage of time that does this but your own greater familiarity with your grief, your own better ability to ensure breaks from pain and your own greater ability to re-engage with life within your broader social world.  Such capacities usually occur against a background of learning to live with the experience and discovering ways to build a life around the pain of loss.

All of these abilities are actively engaged in by those bereaved, not always consciously, but nevertheless by the bereaved.

I, as a professional Social Worker, Psychotherapist and bereaved mother of an only child am privy to the painstaking struggle that families make to reconnect with life and rebuild their lives.  Time alone does not do this!!!  To think that it does is to take away acknowledgement of all the hard work and frequently painful work done by individuals and families.

As families engage in the tough task of rebuilding, they are further subjected to time constraints placed on them by the outside world.

Most of us have had experiences where others clearly underestimate the amount of time it takes to rebuild and in particular, the time that people continue to feel sad.

We allow more time for people to adapt to workplace change or moving house than we do for grieving people becoming accustomed to a profoundly changed world.

Family and friends, perhaps especially after the death of a child, are often very attentive and caring in the beginning.

For many, such support tends to diminish before the bereaved stop needing it.  Friends and families may think and some directly say it, that it’s time to move on, that you need to get over it, that you have the rest of your lives to think about, other children to pay attention to etc etc

Others may give various forms of “hurry-up” messages.  They want the bereaved person get back to normal and to do so fairly quickly.  Our broader society supports and encourages this notion of a speedy return to pre-existing normalcy as if that were possible.

Bereaved people very simply need to be allowed more TIME to adapt and regenerate.  Time is not the prime ‘doer’…..it is the context within which all grieving and mourning and rebuilding take place.

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with thanks to my colleague Vera Russell

Sadness friend or foe…?

Sadness is one aspect of grief.

The sadness and sorrow after the death of someone central to who we are, is frequently of an overwhelming nature, powerfully uncomfortable and sometimes frightening in intensity.

It is also an emotion that people want to apologise for, thinking it a sign of ‘not moving on’, of weakness and inadequacy.

At its purest, sadness is love in the face of physical absence.

Grieving may be understood as what is experienced as one becomes accustomed to a world forever changed the includes the person who died with a different connection, a non-physical one.

People may die, but our relationships with them do not.

Sadness is, in fact, a useful and necessary emotion.

Leaving aside cultural rules about this emotion, the question may be asked as to what purpose does it serve?…What good does it do?…Why would nature have chosen this emotion?

The emotion of sadness occurs when we have lost someone or something that is important to us, and there is nothing we can do about it.  Sadness turns our attention inward so that we can reflect and think.  It allows a close examination of everything…which is part of what is necessary to rebuild life around the pain of loss.

Sadness slows us down; it slows down our biological systems contributing to withdrawing of attention from the outside world to our inner world.

Moreover, when we are sad, we look sad.  Our face and body language signal to those around us that we may need help, care and compassionate understanding.

We are hard-wired to respond to each other in this way.  We are biologically constructed to respond with care and concern when we see others suffering.

While many of us have been conditioned to perceive sadness as a negative emotion, it is a necessary emotion and has its usefulness and wisdom.

We are expected to be in control of our emotions and while it is important to learn how to ‘dose” ourselves when faced with intense emotions i,e. Get a break from them; it is important not to suppress them, deny or avoid them,

We, in our culture, tend to overvalue reason, logic and the capacity to be rational.  Conversely, the language of the heart tends to be undervalued.

We search and are encouraged to seek quick remedy, relief and recovery.  We don’t like to be vulnerable, out of control.  We tend to keep our intense emotions secret and unseen and may even feel ashamed of them.

We are taught that to give too much room to intense emotions may be a sign of weakness or breakdown.

We turn away rather than toward them because of cultural conditioning and because they can also be frightening.

Grieving people sometimes fear that they will be overwhelmed by emotions like passionate sadness forever.  They may also feel as if they are going crazy because of the intensity and unpredictability of intense sadness.

Our language is full of advice such as ‘get a hold of your self’, ‘get a grip’, ‘stay in control’ amongst many others.

The fear is that overwhelming emotion may be destructive.

We are sometimes encouraged to take medication that will make us feel better.  The focus is on getting rid of strong emotions rather than learning from them.  It may be difficult to believe that having strong, intense emotions acknowledged, listened and attended to, in fact, helps them diminish.

Sadness and sorrow are neither positive nor negative in themselves …it is the way we think about them that is positive or negative.  How we think about things affects how problematic they may become.

Profound and passionate sadness is not a bad thing.  It is the most normal emotion imaginable following the death of a child.  While at the beginning that sadness may fill every inch of your being, it does not stay the same shape and colour for the rest of time.

Feeling emotional pain is not a sign of being sick…it is a sign of having loved deeply.  It is the other side of love and as noted previously plays an important role in rebuilding life around the pain of loss.  It allows an inward reflection on such questions as  ‘Who am I now?’, ‘How am I different?’, ‘What do I need?’, etc. and it acts as a signal to the world around that compassionate care is required.  This care includes the time and space to, for a while, withdraw from our normal concerns.

In spending time with intense and profound emotion, it is possible to discover or renew the capacity for gratitude, joy, faith, courage and compassion.

Healing is a journey through pain not a departure from it.

The purpose of intense emotion is not to make us miserable forever but to help us heal.

with special thanks to my social work colleague Vera Russell

A mother’s tale of growth after the death of her son…

The below writing is a heartfelt story from a mother who has buried her child; I include her story in its entirety simply because her message is so very important.  Apart from some grammatical errors, nothing has been changed.


A Story from Elise and her beloved son Luke who now resides in the realm of spirit.

I wrote the following FB post a few months after two incredible experiences that shifted my grief journey into a much lighter, grateful, and peaceful place.   Last August I did a type of grief therapy called Repair & Reattachment Grief Therapy with Rochelle Wright, she wrote a book about it with Craig Hogan.   (I know, without a doubt. I was lead to her by my Luke, but that is a whole other story); it re-framed all of the terrible memories of my son’s last hours on earth.   The bad memories are completely gone and replaced with amazing new memories of me with my boy.

Then only a month later, I attended the Afterlife Research and Education Symposium (again, a ton of signs lead me there including Rochelle asking to talk about Luke and me in her presentation at the conference).   Both the therapy and the conference were the first time I had travelled anywhere since Luke passed.   I had a ton of anxiety about travelling and leaving my young son and while it had been over 2.5 years and I almost cancelled both trips right before, but I was completely pushed to go by Luke/Spirit.

It turned out to be completely life-changing for me. I think learning all we can about the afterlife and becoming truly grateful for our earth experiences can shift us into a life filled with supernatural miracles instead of just human suffering. May you find comfort if you choose to read further. I am so thankful for my sweet, beautiful boy who was my teacher then and continues to be now. ❤️


I have been mulling some things over the past couple months and thought I would write it out hoping it may help someone else. I have had quite an intense shift in my perspective which has made my life and my grief journey so much better. In mid-September, I attended the Afterlife Research and Education Symposium in Scottsdale, Arizona.


For the first time, I was surrounded by people (a lot of them…over 500) who believe that our deceased loved ones still exist and are interacting with us with signs and messages of love.   Yes, they have shed their physical bodies, but their Spirits are alive and well on “the other side.” Spiritual signs are not new to me.   I experience so many spiritual communications between myself with my boy Luke in my daily life.


I kind of feel like a “weirdo” for thinking this which is quite odd to me because many people and most religions do believe in life after death but seem not to have much to say about the people who have transitioned over. It was very comforting for me to be in a place where I felt like I belonged and where the atmosphere radiated loving energy.

Most of the people at this conference had lost someone incredibly important to them which lead them to seek out learning more about the afterlife, and I met several sweet grieving mothers while there.   One conversation, in particular, did get me thinking because I was a bit surprised at what I said.   I sat down about 10 minutes early before the presentations on Saturday afternoon began.  Another young woman sitting next to me struck up a conversation. She asked me what brought me to the conference and I told her that my oldest son was in Spirit and of course her immediate reaction was sadness and response of “I am so sorry.”

I nodded and said thank you and then shocked myself by saying “Actually I am not sorry and let me explain why.” This writing may come out clumsy, so I apologize in advance but know it is all from my heart.   I will no longer say I am sorry about my beautiful boy Luke anymore and I will not let the moment of his physical death overshadow the amazing 5+ years he had on earth and the beautiful eternity he is experiencing now.

He was, and still is, my biggest blessing and I am not sorry about that at all. His life and “death” catapulted me into intense learning, growth, and transformation and I am not sorry about that. I had learned so much and am still learning and, even more important, yearn to learn which wasn’t even a concept in my life when Luke was still here physically.

The millions of beautiful moments I had with him while he was here on earth and the connection we continue to have completely trumped the moment of his physical death.

Yes, I still feel intense sadness that I do not get to talk with him and hold him and watch him grow up here on earth. I will never deny my longing to have him physically here, but my gratitude that he was mine in the first place and is mine forever makes it all worthwhile.  I have realized that I never fully comprehended what being thankful meant before.

I am so incredibly thankful for my beautiful sweet boy and all that he has taught me and continued to teach me. I am so thankful he chose me to be his Mama, and he gave me the gift of telling me that fact a week before his unexpected passing.   I am so blessed with such a special little boy with a supernatural understanding of Heaven, to the point where I know for a fact he came from Heaven and then went back again.

He was pure love and joy in human form, and his amazing soul still can shine his light down on me which gives me the energy to keep going. Yes, he left his earthly life earlier than what I would have liked, but I know God called him Home because his work here completed and that it is only because of him (in both physical presence and his spirit presence) that I am growing into the person I am now.

I may not yet know what I am here to accomplish, but I do know that it will be revealed in time and that Luke is with me every step of the way.   I still feel his incredible love and am surrounded by it and reminded of it daily. His signs of love reaffirm his existence, and I am so lucky that I know without a doubt that I will be with my boy again one day.

I used to wish for that day to come soon but I no longer do. I used to think that there was absolutely no way I could survive “x” number of years without my Luke but now know after surviving almost three years now and learning all that I have, that I can survive and WILL SURVIVE because my soul knows I still have work to do and lessons to learn.

I am letting my life unfold instead of trying to control everything as I did in the past. I know I will be lead to the places I need to go and to the people I need to meet for my continued healing and the healing of others. I am keeping myself open to whatever crosses my path and know that even when “bad” things happen, blessings can still abound.

I will always try to find the bit of good in what seems bad and to see the potential for growth in everything that occurs. Everyone has their journey and lessons to learn, and I am grateful to be able to share with you all that I have learned so far.

Sending blessings and love out to Facebook land today!








Photo by Lora Denton Photography ~ Sept. 2017



Victor Zammit is the author of the Friday Report, a weekly report that has been printed every Friday for the past 18 years.  This weeks report can be found at this link.            http://victorzammit.com/November24th2017


Over the last five years we have seen the closed minded skeptics getting fewer and fewer, while orthodox religions are also losing numerical support.

Collectively we are going through an expansion of the mind unseen in human history. Fewer people are accepting traditional creation stories and religious beliefs. At the same time they are refusing to accept the materialist explanation that everything in the universe came by chance. 

Fundamentalists and other traditional religious believers blame the reduction in the number of their followers on the evils of materialism. However people are saying that they are not finding traditional religious information convincing and relevant.

This is why objective, repeatable afterlife research is more important than ever. People are opening their minds, seeking a new understanding of who we are, and our place in the universe. People are looking for the TRUTH and the TRUTH about the afterlife sets us free from fear of death and despair about life.


Today I have a short story for you…

A blind boy sat on the steps of a building with a hat by his feet. He held up a sign which read, “I am blind, please help.”

There were only a few coins in the hat – spare change from folks as they hurried past.

A man was walking by. He took a few coins from his pocket and dropped them into the hat. He then took the sign, turned it around, and wrote some words.

Then he put the sign back in the boy’s hand so that everyone who walked by would see the new words.

Soon the hat began to fill up. A lot more people were giving money to the blind boy.

That afternoon, the man who had changed the sign returned to see how things were.

The boy recognized his footsteps and asked, “Were you the one who changed my sign this morning? What did you write?”

The man said, “I only wrote the truth. I said what you said but in a different way.” I wrote, “Today is a beautiful day, but I cannot see it.”

Both signs spoke the truth. But the first sign simply said the boy was blind, while the second sign conveyed to everyone walking by how grateful they should be to see…

When your life seems full of troubles, it seems difficult to maintain an attitude of gratitude, doesn’t it? All we see are our problems, like a blackened storm cloud casting a dark shadow over our lives.

And the times when everything just seems to be going smoothly? We often take these precious moments for granted too, don’t we? Caught up in the bliss, comfort, and familiarity of it all, we can simply forget to be thankful.

So what, then, is gratitude?

Simply put, gratitude is a habit. It’s a way of looking at the world and all the good things in it with a feeling of appreciation, regardless of whether or not your current situation is to your liking.

Gratitude is a heart-centered approach to being at peace with yourself and with all you have. When you practice this feeling of gratitude, it attracts even MORE things into your life for which to be grateful.

Go ahead, try it out right now. What or who do you have in your life to be thankful for? 🙂





Nick Ortner

Holiday hints from James Van Praagh

“You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?”
“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol


Stressing at the thought of spending time with your extended family over the holidays? For many, the dynamic can be disappointingly predictable. Family situations tend to trigger emotions – an

offhand comment from a parent or sibling can cause a cascade of painful memories, insecurities and emotions. This year, I urge you to treat these trigger points as opportunities to break dysfunctional behavior patterns that (like Jacob Marley’s chains) hold you back from approaching the holidays – and every day – with joy and love.

Experience your own holiday breakthrough with these four simple steps:

1) Manage Your Expectations. Thoughts and words are powerful things, so don’t set yourself up for failure by imagining what could go wrong. If you anticipate that your sister will make a snarky comment about your outfit or your father will grumble that the turkey you slaved over is dry, the law of attraction will deliver those things right to you. Instead, imagine how you want things to go – you’re more likely to attract a good result! But don’t expect one day to heal the wounds of a lifetime. That leads us to step 2.

2) Stay in the moment and take things at face value. If a friend or relative is being polite and helpful today, don’t look back to a time when they were not. Also, don’t take things personally. A friend asked me for advice one year because she was considering “uninviting” her favorite cousin and her husband from Thanksgiving dinner because the husband’s behavior was “offensive.” When I asked her to describe the behavior, she explained that he didn’t engage in conversation, ate very little, and never complimented the food. I advised her to try not taking anything he did personally – assume he wasn’t hungry, was shy, had food allergies, whatever it took to coexist with him so she could continue to share the space with her cousin. After the day was over, she called me and said “Everything went fine! We ignored the fact that Bill was quiet and didn’t eat much, and just let him be. After a while he actually seemed comfortable, and after dinner he opened up to us more than he ever had before.”

3) Ask yourself – “What is the lesson here?” Create a new tradition for yourself and declare Thanksgiving the time to give gratitude for lessons your family has taught you. If Dad can’t help himself from criticizing your choice of careers, be thankful that his actins have forced you to be strong in your determination to live your own life. If your sister acts like a spoiled brat, silently thank her for teaching you how be an adult and take the high road.

4) Remember to push the pause button. Without anticipating them, be mindful of your triggers. If they occur, hit the pause button. Stop, take a few breaths, and look at the entire situation. See it for what it is and ask yourself how to use this OPPORTUNITY to break a past behavioral pattern. Don’t react the way you always have. Instead pause, look for the lesson, and send that person your love and compassion.

With mindfulness, unconditional love and the intention of breaking old patterns you can fill this season with light – and I know you’ll enjoy watching friends and family experiencing the ripple effect of your love and compassion!

Grief and Holiday seasons…

“Holidays are time spent with loved ones” was imprinted on our psyche from a young age. Holidays mark the passage of time in our lives. They are part of the milestones we share with each other and they generally represent time spent with family. They bring meaning to certain days and we bring much meaning back to them. But since holidays are for being with those we love the most, how on earth can anyone be expected to cope with them when a loved one has died? For many people, this is the hardest part of grieving, when we miss our loved ones even more than usual.How can you celebrate togetherness when there is none? When you have lost someone special, your world losses its celebratory qualities. Holidays only magnify the loss. The sadness feels sadder and the loneliness goes deeper. The need for support may be the greatest during the holidays. Pretending you don’t hurt and or it is not a harder time of the year is just not the truth for you. If it wasn’t harder you probably wouldn’t be here. You can and will get through the holidays. Rather than avoiding the feelings of grief, lean into them. It is not the grief you want to avoid, it is the pain. Grief is the way out of the pain. There are a number of ways to incorporate your loved one and your loss into the holidays.

Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah, New Years

These are the biggest and usually most challenging of all. You can and will get through the Holidays. Rather than avoiding the feelings of grief, lean into them. It is not the grief you want to avoid, it is the pain. Grief is the way out of the pain. Grief is our internal feelings and mourning is our external expressions.

Ways to externalize the loss – give it a time and a place
  •  A prayer before the Holiday dinner, about your loved one.
  •  Light a candle for your loved one.
  •  Create an online tribute for them.
  •  Share a favorite story about your loved one.
  •  Have everyone tell a funny story about your loved one.
  •  At your place of worship remember them in a prayer.
  •  Chat online about them.
Ways to Cope

Have a Plan A/Plan B – Plan A is you go to the Thanksgiving, Christmas Day or Christmas Eve dinner with family and friends. If it doesn’t feel right, have your plan B ready. Plan B may be a movie you both liked or a photo album to look through or a special place you went to together. Many people find that when they have Plan B in place, just knowing it is there is enough.

Cancel the Holiday all together. Yes, you can cancel the Holiday. If you are going through the motions and feeling nothing, cancel them. Take a year off. They will come around again. For others, staying involved with the Holidays is a symbol of life continuing. Let the Holiday routine give you a framework during these tough times.

Try the Holidays in a new way. Grief has a unique way of giving us the permission to really evaluate what parts of the Holidays you enjoy and what parts you don’t. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to handle the Holidays in grief. You have to decide what is right for you and do it. You have every right to change your mind, even a few times. Friends and family members may not have a clue how to help you through the Holidays and you may not either.

It is very natural to feel you may never enjoy the Holidays again. They will certainly never be the same as they were. However, in time, most people are able to find meaning again in the traditions as a new form of the Holiday Spirit grows inside of them. Even without grief, our friends and relatives often think they know how our Holidays should look, what “the family” should and shouldn’t do.

Do’s and Don’ts
  • Do be gentle with yourself and protect yourself.
  • Don’t do more than you want, and don’t do anything that does not serve your soul and your loss.
  • Do allow time for the feelings.
  • Don’t keep feelings bottled up. If you have 500 tears to cry don’t stop at 250.
  • Do allow others to help. We all need help at certain times in our lives.
  • Don’t ask if you can help or should help a friend in grief. Just help. Find ways; invite them to group events or just out for coffee.
  • Do, in grief, pay extra attention to the children. Children are too often the forgotten grievers.
 Valentines Day

Valentines Day is a day to honor our spouse, girlfriend / boyfriend or anyone we are romantically involved with in the present. The past can represent a hole in your heart where your loved one used to be.

  • Write a love letter
  • Smile a smile for them
  • Light a red candle
  • Tell someone about them.

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day

Mother and Fathers Day are often thought of as an invisible sad day of mourning while many people are rushing around trying to get that perfect gift or make sure they remember to send mom / dad a card. There are over one hundred million Americans that for them, this is a sad day. Either because they have a mother or father who has died or a child has died.

  • Find ways to honor and remember your mother/ father or both.Think of ways to honor your child.
  • Light a candle
  • Say a prayer
  • Donate time or money in their name.
  • Do something you loved to do together on that day.

It isn’t as important how you remember, you honor them by the fact that you remember.

Just Remember

Holidays are clearly some of the roughest terrain we navigate after a loss. The ways we handle them are as individual as we are. What is vitally important is that we be present for the loss in whatever form the holidays do or don’t take. These holidays are part of the journey to be felt fully. They are usually very sad, but sometimes we may catch ourselves doing okay, and we may even have a brief moment of laughter. You don’t have to be a victim of the pain or the past. When the past calls, let it go to voice mail…it has nothing to say. You don’t have to be haunted by the pain or the past. You can remember and honor the love. Whatever you experience, just remember that sadness is allowed because death, as they say, doesn’t take a holiday.

Even without grief, our friends and relatives often think they know how our holidays should look, what the family should and shouldn’t do. Now more than ever, be gentle with yourself. Don’t do more than you want, and don’t do anything that does not serve your soul and your loss.

Article from grieve.com


It is your grief, your choice, be kind to yourself, do what feels right for you. emkarblogis-1

The Spiritual Nature of Animals

ANIMAS: An excerpt from THE SPIRITUAL NATURE OF ANIMALS by Karlene Stange, DVM

Author Karlene Stange’s spiritual journey began during her work as an ambulatory veterinarian, driving her pickup truck through southwestern Colorado, attending to animals in need of medical care. She has experienced the challenges, sorrows, and joys of working with creatures great and small, and she feels a powerful kinship with these beautiful beings beyond flesh and fur and feathers. Her book, The Spiritual Nature of Animals: A Country Vet Explores the Wisdom, Compassion, and Souls of Animals, chronicles her spiritual path working with animals, through the lenses of various teachings of religious and cultural traditions, as well as her own encounters with the magnificent Rocky Mountain terrain and the quirky characters — both animal and human — who inhabit it.

We hope you’ll enjoy this excerpt from The Spiritual Nature of Animals, in which Dr. Stange shares how her spiritual journey working with animals began.


I set out to understand the spiritual nature of animals, and in so doing, I discovered my own. Creatures great and small dragged me down a rabbit hole and through sacred tunnels into a world of dragons, shamans, gurus, lamas, monks, nuns, demons, priests, rabbis, preachers, scientists, clairvoyants, channels, mystics, animal communicators, and spiritual teachers. Those adepts schooled me and gave me refuge from the drama and trauma overburdening me. They introduced me to the anima — what Jungian psychology refers to as the animating principle present in all living beings.

Anima is the Latin root of the word animal. It means soul, breath, and life. Veterinarians share a personal relationship with the anima; we watch it drain from a body only to meet it again as a newborn foal or pup. Yet veterinary education rarely mentions it. We learn detailed information about bones, blood, and the other physical components, but little is said of the nonphysical aspect — the animas of animals. I now believe it is the most important part.

Firemen do not enter burning buildings or ascend to the tops of tall trees to grab a hunk of meat known as a “cat.” They rescue a beloved family member, a companion. The incorporeal light in an animal’s eyes reaches into our hearts. It touches us more deeply than any physical thing. We humans have the capacity to connect with the spiritual nature of animals; it makes us happy.

I wanted to be an animal doctor before I knew the word veterinarian. As a young girl in Wisconsin, I remember attending a stallion showing. The handler enumerated the attributes of the handsome gray Arabian stud as I stared at a gray-haired man in the audience. He appeared humble and placid and wore a vest monogrammed with the veterinary emblem. I learned that he was the local large-animal veterinarian. Although I did not know him, something about his wise yet nonjudgmental demeanor attracted me, and I longed to be like him. I had yet to learn how the fires of veterinary practice would burn and melt me before forging me into the person I aspired to become.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the suicide rate for veterinarians is four times higher than the national average. This may be due in part to the gory wounds and difficult procedures, the death and euthanasia, and the stress of long hours treating emergencies, but it may also be because of something I call “compassion overwhelm.” We care too much. We tend to be compulsive overachievers who sacrifice our lives for the job, as did the cattle practitioner I read about once in the AVMA obituaries who drowned trying to save a calf stuck in a muddy pond. Or perhaps suicide appeals to us because of our familiarity with death.

No matter the reasons, my experience convinces me that an understanding of the spiritual nature of animals benefits the mental and emotional health of veterinarians and animal-loving people who anguish over the suffering of pets and wildlife. Furthermore, veterinary clients may harbor strong religious beliefs that influence their decisions, and we must show them respect and speak to them with wisdom. I hope the insights shared here provide comfort to those who live with, tend to, and love animals. Perhaps, once they learn of their beneficial qualities, some may even come to see and appreciate the simple beauty of maggots and other parts of nature we often abhor.

My goal, then, is to explore the world’s religious, spiritual, philosophical, and scientific teachings about the nonphysical makeup of animals for the highest good of animal care, the human-animal bond, and the well-being of all concerned.

Each chapter explores a different religious belief system and offers three main approaches to the material. First, each chapter begins with a description of that belief system. In order for the reader to fully comprehend the tenets of Hinduism, Judaism, shamanism, and so on, the vocabulary must first be defined. Therefore, each chapter includes some history and definitions followed by an investigation into the religion’s beliefs regarding animals. Then, throughout, I provide stories from my veterinary practice, offering further illustration of the concepts for contemplation. The third element explores the unfolding of my own spiritual growth — a concept I learned in the process — and how it changed me.

The struggle inside me first started in the 1990s and early 2000s when I practiced large- and small-animal ambulatory medicine out of a pickup truck in a rural mountain community in southwestern Colorado. Horses, llamas, alpacas, dogs, and cats were my primary patients, along with other wild and domestic flying, swimming, and crawling creatures. I drove day and night to attend to animals in beautiful places around Durango, Colorado, where the Animas River carves the landscape.

The majority of my time spent researching spiritual teachings took place on the job in a pickup truck where the only way to learn was from audiotapes. Time off included further seeking by reading, praying, attending church services, meditating, chanting, going on a vision quest, attending retreats with a Tibetan lama and Buddhist nuns, questioning psychics and shamans, pursuing an animal communication apprenticeship, and conducting interviews with experts in numerous fields of spirituality.

During this period, I drove an average of a hundred miles or more a day. Fortunately, the scenery made that part of the job a pleasure, although the dirt routes on winding, mountainous terrain were often treacherous. The views of snow-covered peaks and enchanted valleys, tall ponderosa forests, and aspen groves soothed my stressed mind. Guardian angels held the wheel as I watched a bald eagle circling above or stared at an osprey sitting on a snag next to the Animas River. The occasional coyote made me giggle as he scooted across a field, looking over his shoulder as though trouble were on his tail. A bobcat, a bachelor band of elk, or a family of deer crossing the road at times caused me to hit the brakes. Drives to ranches were adventures into fantasylands of hidden canyons and mysterious ravines where cell phone service was lost. A tourist once told me, “You live in a postcard.” To which I replied, “And I drive each day in the mud, dust, and snow that keep everyone else from living here.”

My home is in La Plata County, a community full of colorful characters: ranchers whose families have lived here for generations, Native Americans, mountain hermits, Hispanics, and nonlocal people who moved to the country from cities. The stories I share about these people are true; at least, this is the truth as I remember it. Only the names of people, animals, and some places have been changed to protect privacy. One group of folks who live here, not found in cities, are cattlemen who breed livestock in small family-run operations. Their relationship with the animals they raise for income is often misunderstood. Humans and beasts depend on one another; one does not survive without the other. The rural life itself is foreign to many. The jobs of the mobile large-animal doctor intertwines with the country ranch life, and both involve hard physical work caring for beasts that can be dangerous. The veterinary workforce has evolved to focus more on pets in cities, and a shortage of rural veterinarians creates challenges for folks living in the country.


As a child, Karlene Stange, DVM, author of The Spiritual Nature of Animals, wanted to be an “animal doctor” before she knew the word “veterinarian.” Today she incorporates acupuncture, traditional Chinese herbal medicine, and nutritional therapy into her Rocky Mountain practice. She often speaks at conferences and lives in Durango, Colorado. You can find out more about her work at www.animasanimals.com.

Excerpted from the book The Spiritual Nature of Animals. Copyright © 2017 by Karlene Stange.