Thursday, August 1, 2013

When Animals Grieve - Insect "Undertakers"

Insect "Undertakers"

Indeed one of the smallest living creatures on our planet — the lowly ant — has demonstrated behavior that bears a striking similarity to that of humans dealing with death. Ants are social insects, living in colonies where each ant has a certain social role to play, as well as specific chores to carry out. And some ants are responsible with handling the colony's dead. These tiny undertakers are tasked with removing deceased ants to whatever is designated as their "cemetery'”. Those who study ants, particularly warring ants, also report that this species of ants remove their dead from the battlefield, dragging them back to their colony.

There's a species of European wood ants that tends to get involved in long bloody ant wars. And in those cases, the victorious ants bring the dead ants back home to eat because they're rich in protein. This type of behavior — eating their dead — seems to be specific to that particular type of ant, rather than reflecting general ant behavior.

Honeybees, another species of social insects, are so fastidious about their living quarters that if an intruder such as a field mouse enters a hive and dies inside it, the resident bees will try to remove the remains. Should those removal efforts be unsuccessful, the bees will embalm the corpse in resin collected from neighboring trees, according to professor Gene Robinson of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 


(Next Week... Tears in the Ocean")

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

When Animals Grieve - Elephants


Elephant Mourning


Among the best examples of grief in wild animals is found in elephants in the wild. Joyce Poole, a renowned animal researcher wrote the following:

“As I watched Tonie’s vigil over her dead newborn, I got my first very strong feeling that elephants grieve. I will never forget the expression on her face, her eyes, her mouth, the way she carried her ears, her head, and her body. Every part of her spelled grief. Young elephants who saw their mothers being killed often wake up screaming."

British and Kenyan scientists have observed elephants guarding the bodies of their dead. The researchers also report seeing elephants becoming agitated and appearing to investigate the dead animal, even touching the skull and tusks with their trunks and feet in a ceremonial way. Elephants have also been observed emitting secretions from their temples while near the body of a dead animal.

The scientists report elephants gently investigating the bones with their trunks and feet while remaining very quiet. Sometimes elephants completely unrelated to the deceased will still visit their graves, and when an elephant is hurt, other elephants will aid them.  Although scientists have found no evidence supporting the long-held myth, perpetuated by the Tarzan movies of the 1940s and `50s, that elephants visit “elephant graveyards”, they do report that the elephants’ interest in the ivory and skulls of their own species means that elephants would be highly likely to visit the bones of relatives who die within their home range.

Their grief is visible when the elephants shed tears, bury their dead, go into depression or starve themselves in reaction to a loss. One elephant at an Indian zoo was so distraught over the death of her friend that she refused to eat or drink, leading to her own death.

David Field, head of animal care for London and Whipsnade Zoos in the U.K., wrote this in The New Scientist:

"Elephants are highly intelligent and highly tactile animals. The fact they are able to distinguish between their own skulls and those of other species is not surprising. Elephants themselves are a matriarchal society filled with aunties and family members who have close bonds within a group. Therefore, a death in the family could have an impact on social bonding and structure within the group, just as it does in human families."

Anthony Hall-Martin reported the following from an elephant death ritual he witnessed in Addo, South Africa:

"The entire families of a dead female elephant — including her baby — were seen gently touching her body with their trunks, trying to lift her. As they gathered around the dead mother, the herd began to rumble loudly. The calf was observed to be weeping and made sounds that sounded like a scream before the entire herd fell silent. Then, as a group, the elephants began throwing leaves and dirt over the body and broke off tree branches to cover her. They spent the next two days quietly standing over her body, leaving only to get water or food, but they would always return."


(Next Week... Insect "Undertakers")

Thursday, June 13, 2013

When Animals Grieve


Many years ago, after our house cat had been run over, two friends — without knowing about the other gifted us with two kittens from two different litters. Once they became big cats, we allowed them to play in the backyard and then, after we knew for sure they would return home after roaming during the day, we took the next step and installed a "kitty door" so they could come and go as they pleased. 

About four years later, after we had all become accustomed to the pair sleeping at the end of our son's bed, they were late coming home. About 10 p.m. we finally heard the kitty door and went to greet them, knowing they would be hungry. 

What greeted us was something I had never dreamed of seeing. I was immediately thankful we had not allowed Erik to stay up and wait for his pets. Sylvester, the smaller silver male, seemed to be fine, but Midnight, the larger black male, had obviously been the victim of a sick-minded torching after being doused with gasoline. Midnight wouldn't eat, drink the milk our vet had recommended to dilute the poison of the gasoline, nor could he walk normally. Sylvester (nicknamed "Silly Kitty") had no appetite either and, instead, stayed right beside his lifelong companion. 

We stayed awake the whole night, trying everything we could think of, but Midnight did not respond. Finally, the big black cat got up and hobbled to the door. Silly Kitty was right behind and, together, they disappeared into the first rays of dawn.

That was the last we saw of them both and, after shedding tears and cursing the perpetrator, we were thankful our young son had not seen the cruelty and the distressed condition poor Midnight was in or the painful grief Sylvester was experiencing.

Countless animal lovers have reported similar signs of grief in their own beloved pets. Scientists confirm that many animals do show visible behaviors that suggest grief well beyond a simple awareness that a fellow animal is dead or ill,

According to Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., in an Oct. 29, 2009, issue of Psychology Today, there is no doubt that many species of animals have rich, deep emotions, including grief.

Why do animals grieve?

Some researchers theorize grief reactions may allow for the reshuffling of status relationships or the filling of the reproductive vacancy left by the deceased, or for fostering continuity of the group or herd. Others say grief and mourning strengthens social bonds among the survivors of the herd as they gather to pay their last respects to their dead, enhancing group identity at a time when the herd could, indeed, be weakened. Not all that different from what happens in human groups when a family, school, workplace or neighborhood is shaken by a significant loss.

(Next Week... Elephant Mourning)

Monday, December 17, 2012

Helping Yourself Heal During the Holiday Season



Holidays are often difficult for anyone who has experienced the death of someone loved. Rather than being times of family togetherness, sharing and thanksgiving, holidays can bring feelings of sadness, loss and emptiness.

Love Does Not End With Death
Since love does not end with death, holidays may result in a renewed sense of personal grief-a feeling of loss unlike that experienced in the routine of daily living. Society encourages you to join in the holiday spirit, but all around you the sounds, sights and smells trigger memories of the one you love who has died.

No simple guidelines exist that will take away the hurt you are feeling. We hope, however, the following suggestions will help you better cope with your grief during this joyful, yet painful, time of the year. As you read through this article, remember that by being tolerant and compassionate with yourself, you will continue to heal.

Talk About Your Grief
During the holiday season, don't be afraid to express your feelings of grief. Ignoring your grief won't make the pain go away and talking about it openly often makes you feel better. Find caring friends and relatives who will listen-without judging you. They will help make you feel understood.
Be tolerant of Your Physical and Psychological Limits

Feelings of loss will probably leave you fatigued. Your low energy level may naturally slow you down. Respect what your body and mind are telling you. And lower your own expectations about being at your peak during the holiday season.

Eliminate Unnecessary Stress
You may already feel stressed, so don't overextend yourself. Avoid isolating yourself, but be sure to recognize the need to have special time for yourself. Realize also that merely "keeping busy" won't distract you from your grief, but may actually increase stress and postpone the need to talk out thoughts and feelings related to your grief.

Be With Supportive, Comforting People
Identify those friends and relatives who understand that the holiday season can increase your sense of loss and who will allow you to talk openly about your feelings. Find those persons who encourage you to be yourself and accept your feelings-both happy and sad.

Talk About the Person Who Has Died
Include the person's name in your holiday conversation. If you are able to talk candidly, other people are more likely to recognize your need to remember that special person who was an important part of your life.

Do What Is Right for You During the Holidays
Well-meaning friends and family often try to prescribe what is good for you during the holidays. Instead of going along with their plans, focus on what you want to do. Discuss your wishes with a caring, trusted friend.

Talking about these wishes will help you clarify what it is you want to do during the holidays. As you become aware of your needs, share them with your friends and family.

Plan Ahead for Family Gatherings
Decide which family traditions you want to continue and which new ones you would like to begin. Structure your holiday time. This will help you anticipate activities, rather than just reacting to whatever happens. Getting caught off guard can create feelings of panic, fear and anxiety during the time of the year when your feelings of grief are already heightened. As you make your plans, however, leave room to change them if you feel it is appropriate.

Embrace Your Treasure of Memories
Memories are one of the best legacies that exist after the death of someone loved. And holidays always make you think about times past. Instead of ignoring these memories, share them with your family and friends. Keep in mind that memories are tinged with both happiness and sadness. If your memories bring laughter, smile. If your memories bring sadness, then it's alright to cry. Memories that were made in love-no one can ever take them away from you.

Renew Your Resources for Living
Spend time thinking about the meaning and purpose of your life. The death of someone loved created opportunities for taking inventory of your life-past, present and future. The combination of a holiday and a loss naturally results in looking inward and assessing your individual situation. Make the best use of this time to define the positive things in life that surround you.

Express Your Faith
During the holidays, you may find a renewed sense of faith or discover a new set of beliefs. Associate with people who understand and respect your need to talk about these beliefs. If your faith is important, you may want to attend a holiday service or special religious ceremony.

As you approach the holidays, remember: grief is both a necessity and a privilege. It comes as a result of giving and receiving love. Don't let anyone take your grief away. Love yourself. Be patient with yourself. And allow yourself to be surrounded by loving, caring people.

Helping Yourself Heal During The Holiday Season - by Dr. Alan Wolfelt
Center For Loss & Life Transition - www.centerforloss.com

Monday, November 12, 2012

MORE THAN A FUNERAL DIRECTOR

Funeral directors are not clergymen, and most are not psychologists, although they may have had some training in psychology. However, the great majority are competent to act as counselors to people during a critical time in their lives.

All of us have problems and most problems are treated by laymen (spouses, friends, neighbors) in informal settings.  The funeral director's role as a counselor is extremely important.  He has certain advantages over specialists in performing some counseling functions; he is at a disadvantage in attempting to perform others.

The funeral director has become a counselor because of circumstances.  Some funeral directors feel uncomfortable in the role and would prefer to avoid it.  Others accept it as part of their function and even find they have a gift for it.  The process is really one of self-selection.  The funeral director who seems to welcome issues of grief is probably equipped to deal with them.

Monday, November 5, 2012

DEALING WITH BURNOUT

Sometimes, when a family members take care of a dying person day in and day out, they experience a kind of burnout.  This is something that the dying person's family must watch for carefully.  Relatives and friends can work with a dying person for only so long before reaching the limits of their endurance.  Just as a body becomes fatigued, so the spirit can be overexposed to the strain, worry, and anguish that nursing care demands.

In order to minimize the chances of this happening, people doing the nursing must learn to pace themselves and to gauge their limits.  If, after long periods of taking care of a sick person, they observe a tendency toward increasing irritation, or chronic fatigue, or depression, it means that a pause is in order - a day off, a quick vacation to clear the head, a change of scenery.  It doesn't mean you care less, only that you want to care for the person in the best way possible.