- Chapter One
Creating a Sanctuary
- Chapter Two
The Garden of Life
- Chapter Three
Each Creature Brings a Gift
- Chapter Four
Euthanasia: The Merciful Release
- Chapter Five
The Art of Letting Go
- Chapter Six
- Chapter Seven
- Chapter Eight
- Chapter Nine
The Power of Prayer
- Chapter Ten
Communicating Without Words
- Chapter Eleven
A Hand to Hold, a Soul to Ease
- Chapter Twelve
Tools for Caregivers
- Chapter Thirteen
Good-byes and Dragonflies:
- Chapter Fourteen
Animals and Grieving
- Chapter Fifteen
The Other Side of the Bridge
- Chapter Sixteen
Blessings and Prayers
- Chapter Seventeen
It's Really All Right: A Final Tribute
RETURN TO TOP
for Blessing the Bridge
Blessing the Bridge is heartwarming
and thought-provoking, but always marked by an unshakeable assurance
that the end of life can be faced without fear. Rita Reynolds has
learned that animals, who always seem to live closest to the marrow
of existence, can teach us to accept death as an opening for love
--Gary Kowalksi, The
Souls of Animals and Goodbye Friend
This book offers a profound entrance
into the mystery of those two gleaming eyes before you. A must read
for all animal lovers. A healing book.
--Stephen and Ondrea
Levine, Who Dies and Embracing the Beloved
Blessing the Bridge
is head and shoulders above all the other books now out on pet loss.
With great respect and insight, Rita leads us across the bridge
between worlds and never for a moment lets us forget that the real
heart of this journey is its deeply spiritual center. Although we
face this bridge with our animal companions, the message Rita Reynolds
conveys about love and loss is universal. It is a message that will
fortify us for every other loss in our life--be it an animal companion,
a relationship, a job, or a dream.
--Susan Chernak McElroy,
Animals as Teachers & Healers
People seem to dread awarding human
attributes to our fellow animals. In fact, as Blessing the Bridge
so warmly and wisely shows, animals and humans share the ultimate
experience--we all die. This book softens the sting of that, and
shows how to ease the way for our animal friends.
This is a valuable book for those
of us who feel a spiritual bond with the animals in our lives. However,
this gentle, thoughtful volume is more than just a spiritual guide.
Its also a practical guide to helping an animal to die with
peace and dignity. Maybe youve had a dog come up to say goodbye
to you just before his death. Perhaps youve had a clear vision
of your cat running, free and happy, at the moment her heart stopped
beating. Ive certainly had experiences like these. Until Blessing
the Bridge, there wasnt a book that talked about these experiences.
Rita Reynolds gives the reader a lot to think about with her comforting
beliefs about the animal afterlife.
--Deborah Wood, pet columnist
for The Oregonion
author of The Tao of Bow Wao and The Tao of Meow
RETURN TO TOP
Rita M. Reynolds
Rita Reynolds is the founder of Howling Success,
an animal sanctuary located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains
near Charlottesville, Virginia. For the past 35 years her sanctuary
has been home to hundreds of animals. Reynolds is also the founder
and editor of laJoie, The Journal in Appreciation of All Animals,
first published in 1990 and distributed internationally. In addition
to her animal family, Reynolds shares her home with her husband
and two sons.
Rita Reynolds also provides individual
consulting for those who are facing serious illness or death with
a beloved animal companion. Reynolds can be reached at PO Box 145,
Batesville, VA 22924. You can also reach her by email at: Lajoieco1@aol.com.
Also, Rita Reynolds is collecting unusual or inspiring
stories about experiences with animals related to animal death and
dying, after-death communication, and after-death encounters . She
would like to consider your story for inclusion in a future book
project. You can contact her at the above addresses.
(The following is excerpted from Blessing
the Bridge: What Animals Teach Us About Death, Dying, and Beyond,
copyrighted 2001 by Rita M. Reynolds.)
Animals and Grieving
There is another facet to grief that is often neglected when an
animal dies: the grieving by other animals in the family. Time and
again I have seen animals feel loss when another leaves, the pain
sometimes so intense that it results in a serious illness, or even
their own death.
I will testify from experience that all manner of animals regard
death -- both their own and that of others around them -- with more
than just fascination or fear. When Corky, my beloved canine friend
of fifteen years died the day after her birthday in April 1995,
I brought her body home from the animal hospital. I wrapped it carefully
in white cloth, and laid it on the front porch. The other dogs knew
she was gone and would not cross the place where her bed had been,
even though it was in a major traffic area between the kitchen and
front porch. I had already removed the bed and washed it. It had
been the same situation following Waggys death. After she
died, not one dog would climb into the chair she had rested in that
final year. Finally, I took the chair from the living room.
With Corkys passing, the hour before her last trip to the
hospital had been violent and confusing. She had a sudden grand
mal seizure and the other dogs were frightened by it. When Doug
and I returned later that night after having her put to sleep, the
remaining members of the dog family were exceptionally quiet, too
quiet. I could have used some noise and distraction!
The following day I dug the hole for Corkys body in a beautiful
bed of violets. I was about to lay her body in the grave when I
looked up, sensing a strong presence nearby. There was Sam, always
my guardian and alpha dog, watching intently. As I had done for
Stef with Little Eddies body, I let Sam see Corkys body,
explained as best I could what I was about to do, and then folded
the sheet back over our friend. Sam seemed to understand, telling
me so by looking straight into my eyes and then bowing his head,
Sams way of communicating with me. Together, we buried Corky
and honored our very special friend.
Steffie chose to leave a healthy young body to be with Little
Eddie, understanding that he was no longer alive once we presented
his body to her. I believe it was at that moment that she made her
decision to die. I was impressed by Thomas the cats reaction
to Penny Reynolds death. He had stayed close by us throughout
her dying. At the time I thought it amazing that one animal would
care so much about another, giving her support throughout her dying.
I was especially impressed that a cat would care that much about
Thomas was remarkable in many ways and had shown a strong attachment
to other animals before Penny. His best buddy, Benjamin, another
black-and-white stray cat we had adopted, was killed by a car. When
his body was laid on our neighbors lawn by some thoughtful
person, Thomas lay down right next to Benjamin, his front leg draped
across the cold body. When our neighbor found them, Thomas was so
quiet she thought he was dead as well. We had to lift Thomas off
of Benjamin, explaining as best we could that his friend would not
be coming home. Thomas moped for weeks after the incident before
apparently resigning himself to life as an only cat. Naturally,
in our house this would never be a permanent situation, and within
a month we had taken in another stray feline in need of a family.
Thomas was, in fact, the first animal to show me that humans are
not the only ones to mourn the loss of a friend. Animals feel the
void left in the wake of death. Therefore, it is vital to take such
grieving creatures right on through the resolution process. This
means that as a caregiver, I am always acutely observant of any
signs of grief in the other animals, such as despondency, loss of
appetite, sudden aggressive behavior, sudden loss of weight, a desire
to remain in dark corners, refusal to socialize with other animals
or people. They may develop a dull coat, or severe allergies, or
begin to lose eyesight or hearing. If all disease is preceded by
a breakdown in the mental/emotional bodies as so many doctors and
psychologists in the field of mind/body medicine now know to be
true, then it is not such an outrageous proposition that in animals
physical decline would follow intense grief.
Resolution in such cases asks great patience on the caregivers
part because any explanation regarding death will naturally involve
abstract principles and animals best understand humans when clear,
precise mental images are offered to them. But I never hesitate
to speak with the other animals in my family in a direct and honest
manner, forming the clearest images I can. The conversation is always
one-sided: I talk, my animal friend watches me patiently, sometimes
grooms him or herself, or takes a brief nap. But I never fool myself;
they do understand and they very much appreciate my concern for
So when I speak with them, I trust that the creature in question
will understand the images I form as thought, and sense the color
and tone reflected by my words. I remind my friend that the one
who has died did so in their own time, with their own purpose, and
is delighted to be just where he or she is. I reassure them that
they can experience the soul aspect of their departed companion,
as I know Thomas was aware of Penny leaving her body.
But sometimes, despite my efforts, the grieving will carry animals
out of life. The situation with Sally illustrates this well... .
RETURN TO TOP
(The following is excerpted from Blessing the Bridge: What
Animals Teach Us About Death, Dying, and Beyond. Copyright
2001 by Rita M. Reynolds and NewSage Press.)
The Other Side of the Bridge
When an animal approaches that bridge of transition called death,
I remind myself that my friend is simply coming to a juncture between
worlds. She is not disappearing into nothing. And I trust that the
beings of light are also present to help ease her over. My job is
to visualize that expansive bridge and the spirit guides.
When I am able to be fully mindful of such a process, sensations
of grief, anger and loss simply evaporate, at least temporarily,
so that I can help make my companions passage out of body
as easy and comfortable as possible. When the transition is complete,
and she has separated from her body, all I need to do is return
my focus to the beings of light. Miraculously, the grief momentarily
lessens; I know they are here for me, too.
Yet, when the death of an animal is complete, I often feel suddenly
and desperately alone. The silence and stillness of the lifeless
body, the finality of death, can be overwhelming. Eventually, I
emerge from the whirlwind of such an intense time. Relieved that
the animals soul is free of pain and suffering, now I can
begin to mend my own pain of loss through the ceremonies of grieving,
burial of the body, and establishing a memorial.
But one sweet cat named Patches taught me, through her passage,
that even though an animal has died, I, as caregiver, still have
work to do. The focus of the work is on behalf of that animals
soul. Where is that soul once death is complete? And, how is that
soul adjusting to her new surroundings? Patches showed me that immediately
following death, the animals soul may still be very close.
And, that soul may need my help to adjust to her new state of being.
I called Patches my Halloween cat. She was a thin tortoise shell
with high, puffed-out cheeks, and wide yellow eyes. At fourteen,
she loped rather than walked across the floor and she had the loudest,
most persistent purr of any cat I have ever known.
Patches and her sister, Snowball, came to live with us when they
were thirteen. Both adjusted well despite the unexpected and traumatic
changes of entering our busy sanctuary at such an advanced age.
Shortly after joining our family, Patches developed a hyperthyroid
condition that required careful monitoring and daily medication.
Once again she took the situation in stride, always eager to greet
us as her best friends, purring and meowing her contentment.
Early in 1999, Patches began to lose ground with her weight and
her breathing. She had difficulty eating despite an excellent appetite
and increasingly became too wobbly to do her famous lope across
the floor. Michael and I took her to the animal hospital, and returned
home to await the diagnosis. When Dr. Helle Stewart, an associate
of Dr. Partridge, called, her news was sad. Patches had developed
a condition causing air to be gathering outside her lungs. Because
of this, Patches had partial collapse of both lungs and increasing
overall distress. She could no longer eat and breathe comfortably
at the same time, and every movement was painful. At her age, there
was no successful treatment available.
Dr. Stewart suggested that we consider having Patches released
from her pain. Michael and I agreed with her recommendation for
euthanasia, but we wanted to be there. I needed to let Patches know
what was going to happen. Dr. Stewart kindly agreed to keep Patches
on oxygen until we arrived.
Patches is a wonderful cat, Dr. Stewart said when
we entered the exam room. But she doesnt like us working
on her. She will probably struggle when we give her the shot, and
it could get rough. She started to lift Patches to take her
into another room.
No, I replied firmly, we want to be with her,
thats why were here. Then even I was surprised
when I heard myself say, Ill talk to her, let her know
exactly whats going to happen. It will probably make a difference
in how she reacts. It always does. I had never told this to
a veterinarian before, even though I knew it was true. I had always
been too shy. Dr. Stewart hardly knew me, but to her credit she
only nodded, and offered to let us have a few minutes alone with
When she left the room, Michael and I talked to Patches. By now
Patches was so weak she needed to be supported while she gasped
for breath. We stroked her and gently assured her that soon all
her pain would be gone. I told her that Dr. Stewart would give her
an injection to help ease her out of her body. You wont
need that old, frail body where you are going to, Patches,
I told her. You are going to a wonderful place where you will
be so happy! She wasnt tense, but didnt seem to
be listening either. I continued talking to her. I knew she heard
me on some level of her being. You need to help Dr. Stewart,
I said, by being very calm and just letting go. Michael and
I will be here to help you, and you know we will always love you.
Dr. Stewart reentered the room with a veterinary technician. They
stood on either side of Patches while I sat at the head of the exam
table, cradling her head in my hands. I spoke quietly to Patches,
continually telling her that everything was okay, that she could
relax and begin letting go of her body. Just as Dr. Stewart was
ready to insert the needle into Patches hind leg, once again
I surprised myself by saying aloud, Okay, Patches, this is
the part where you help Dr. Stewart. If there were any lifted
eyebrows, I didnt see them.
Patches neither whimpered nor flinched as Dr. Stewart gave her
the shot. I watched Patches eyes as she changed her focus
from me to within herself until the pupils became fixed and her
head eased over in my hands. Her soul was gone. While her heart
continued to beat for a few seconds, again I spoke aloud to her,
encouraging her to let go.
Dr. Stewart sighed with relief. I love it when its
easy like that, she said.
It always is, when you let them know what is happening each
step of the way, I said. Dying is much less frightening.
Michael was called from the room and Dr. Stewart said quietly,
Ill just give you some time to be with Patches,
a gesture I truly appreciated. Now I was alone with the small, lifeless
body of my Halloween cat.
I closed my eyes and visualized on her sweet face. Suddenly, I
saw her in my mind: She looked luminous and healthy. She appeared
to be sitting up on her haunches and looking up and around her as
she moved her head back and forth repeatedly. I received the strong
impression that she was confused, wondering, Where am I? Whats
happened? How did I get here? She seemed disoriented by her
new surroundings, although she was not frightened. I again focused
all my thought toward her, saying, Youre perfectly safe,
Patches. Youre in that wonderful place I told you about. Notice
how easily you can breathe now.
I couldnt seem to get her attention, although I felt as
if my words were reaching her. She continued to turn her head back
and forth, looking everywhere, but her expression began to shift
from one of confusion to one of absolute wonderment and joy. She
Patches, I said, sending my thought as strongly as
I could, look around you. There has to be a being of light
there. Go with that being, follow that light-the light is
there to guide you on. Again I felt as if she had received
my message even though she did not seem to be aware of me. I had
the comfortable sensation that from now on that the soul that was
Patches, was going to be fine.
At that precise moment, the vet technician entered the room, and
I opened my eyes.
TOP OF PAGE
The process of death and the efforts of a caregiver transcend
all religions and philosophies. The Buddhists, in particular, work
with a person to help him or her prepare for death and leave the
body. Buddhists continue to assist that soul for days and sometimes
weeks following death, through the next stages that soul will experience.
An excellent, detailed explanation of this practice can be found
in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche.
I had read of this practice before knowing Patches but had never
applied it. My experience with her confirmed for me the importance
of continuing my support of the soul until I sense that the animals
soul feels safe and at peace.
Patches heart stopped within seconds of being given the
injection, typical with euthanasia, causing her to experience confusion
by so sudden a jolt out of her body. If she had experienced a natural,
slower dying, I believe her soul would probably have spent considerable
time moving between earth and the etheric, preparing for the transformation.
When the final crossover did occur, the etheric plane would, by
then, be at least somewhat familiar and the transition less of a
shock. This seemed to be my mothers experience during her
passage. After ten intense days of obviously moving in and out of
her body at precise intervals, my mothers soul seemed to finally
simply ease away.
Because of Patches I now ask for time alone with the animal once
euthanasia is complete. I continue to send reassuring thoughts to
help that animals soul safely on his or her journey. Hopefully,
every veterinary hospital will eventually have a room set aside
specifically for times when an animal must be euthanized. Such a
room would provide a quiet, less austere atmosphere, with a tape
or CD player available for playing supportive music or chanting.
Such a room would also have a comfortable chair to allow a people
to be more relaxed with their animal companions prior to, and after,
euthanasia. I believe that someday veterinarians will understand
the importance of hospice support for animals and their humans-before,
during, and after that animals death.