Sacred Words for the What's Next

SENDING OFF OUR ANIMAL COMPANIONS

When grieving, it can be hard to know just what to say. So, look to the world's wise sages and poets. Use these poems and prayers as is, or adjust them as your inspiration.

Image by Clemens van Lay

Sarah offers...

The first words I offered for death were "May the Force be with you, chipmunk." Nope, I'm not kidding. I was in elementary school, and I had just com across a little road-killed critter in the road. Gently placing him in my lunch box, I had carried him home and buried him in my mother's rose bushes.

(You can read the full sacred+snarky story of my journey to becoming an animal chaplain in Sacred Sendoffs: An Animal Chaplain’s Advice for Surviving Animal Loss, Making Life Meaningful, and Healing the Planet.)

 

I'll still avow "May the Force be with you, chipmunk" were the perfect words―meaningful to me and reverent to the little one. In the end, that's all that's required for our sacred words. Of course, over time, I've learned plentiful prayers and poems for transitioning "pets," humans, and other animals to the What's Next. Yet, even when I use the words of wise sages, profound poets, and sacred texts, I tend to riff on them in the moment, allowing myself the grace to be flexible. While speaking, I adapt to how I am feeling in the moment (or perhaps being led by the divine mysterious Force, I now know by myriad other names?) 

That said, it's always helpful to have somewhere to start.

01.

Sacred Sendoff, by animal chaplain Sarah Bowen

Dear little one,


Please know that you have been loved by the Universe. You have been loved by the ones who you lived with and the ones who have tried to heal you. From here, we wish you a most auspicious next lifetime. May you be free from pain. May you be free from fear.


May you now experience a sacred sendoff.


Amen.

02.

Memorial Reflection for A Cat, Courtesy of Narnia, assembled by animal chaplain Sarah Bowen, based on the words of C.S. Lewis, British writer and lay theologian

“Far away, and down near the horizon, the sky began to turn grey. A light wind, very fresh, began to stir. The sky, in that one place, grew slowly and steadily paler. You could see shapes of hills standing up dark against it. All the time the Voice went on singing…
 

The eastern sky changed from white to pink and from pink to gold. The Voice rose and rose, till all the air was shaking with it. And just as it swelled to the mightiest and most glorious sound it had yet produced, the sun arose…


A sun like this had never been seen. You could imagine that it laughed for joy as it came up. And its beams shot across the land and it could be seen for the first time. It shown across a valley through which a broad, swift river wound its way, flowing eastward toward the sun. Southward there were mountains, northward there were lower hills. But it was a valley of mere earth, rock, and water; there was not a tree, nor a bush, not a blade of grass to be seen.

 

The earth was of many colors; they were fresh and hot and vivid. They made you feel excited; until you saw the Singer himself, and then you forgot everything else.


It was a Lion. Huge, shaggy, and bright, it stood facing the risen sun. Its mouth was wide open in song.”

-pause-


Let us reflect on the wonder of creation, as we point our minds and spirits toward the great spirit that unites it all.

03.

Short meditation moment for a Sacred Sendoff, by animal chaplain Sarah Bowen

Starting with a deep breath in,
we feel the slowing of thoughts, and the focusing of mind.


After a long exhale out...
we embrace surrender and a reach out for guidance to calm our anxious thoughts, we listen for the Source to come speak into our minds, strengthening us and supporting us through the grief felt for [animal name].


May we feel strength rising up within our hearts,
and comfort appearing into our body as we send off [animal name] to the What's Next.

 

And so it is.

04.

Children's prayer for a lost dog/cat, by animal chaplain Sarah Bowen

Dearest [Mother/Father God],

Maker of all living things, We ask you to bless [animal's name]. We ask that you help heal [animal's name] any sadness or pain.

 

If [animal's name] was unable to come home, but has found new people to live with, please help that family to love [animal's name], and to keep him/her/them safe. Help them to learn what his different barks/meows mean, and how to pet him/her/them the way that brings comfort and happiness. Help [animal's name] to love this family. Help [animal's name] know how to behave indoors, and to be grateful for the care he/she/they is given.

 

Blessed are you, God, and all your creatures!

 

Amen.

05.

Serenity Prayer for Pet Loss, by animal chaplain Sarah Bowen, inspired and adapted from a prayer attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr

[Higher Power],


Give me the grace to accept with serenity that [animal's name] has left his/her/their body.


Give me the courage to channel my grief into loving others and advocating for change that reduces suffering for all the Earth's creatures. Hel me change the things that should be changed.


And give me the wisdom to be gentle with myself when acceptance is hard to find, and courage seems unattainable. Help me live one moment at a time, one day at a time, transforming my hardship into a pathway to healing for myself and others. Help me take this difficulty as it is, not as I would have it.

06.

Animal Memorial Prayer, by animal chaplain Sarah Bowen

To the mystery that creates and re-creates us,
the source that laughs with us and weeps with us;


To the divinity who walks with us each step of our journey,
energizing us when our strength fails:


We gather today, our hearts breaking with grief,
And our voices crying out words of lament.


And so we ask that you please flow in and around us today.
As we gather to remember [animal's name].


Help us to see through the veil of tears that there is hope
for life continuing, and that we must each fully live our lives,
one day at a time, in this world,
until such time where we are led into the world yet to come.

07.

Prayer for Sadness, by animal chaplain Sarah Bowen, based on "The Prayer of St. Patrick"

Dear [God],


Please help me rise today.

Please give me strength, help pilot me.

 

Please lend your eye to help me see.

 

Please lend your ear to help me hear.

 

Please lend your hand to help me guard myself against my own self-criticism.

 

Please be a shield for me, against the oppressive darkness of my sadness.


Please help me continue to rise to live life.

 

And know that if I succeed only in praying this prayer to you today, then my day will be a success.

 

Let me remember to be easy on myself and set reasonable goals for today, knowing that there will be other days when I will feel more like myself to accomplish the many things weighing heavy on my mind.
 

Please help me rise to the challenge of living without my beloved [animal's name].

 

Amen.

08.

"Help me Find You" Prayer, by animal chaplain Sarah Bowen

Dear God, that being or Force or whatever that is called by so many names around the world,


I’m perplexed about how it happened. One day I was a little child who believed in you, unicorns, the Easter Bunny, and Santa Claus. Then slowly, I learned that unicorns weren’t “real.” That the Easter Bunny and Santa were just my Mom and Dad. And I think somehow I just lumped you in to that same category of “not real”.


And now I’m confused. I want you to be real. Because I need some help today. I lost my dear [animal's name] and I'm in pain. 

 

But I don’t know what you are. I can’t believe in the God of my youth―some white-haired old man in the sky. But what are you? I’ve never heard you talk, so help me understand how to speak with you. Help me find you and know you. Help me be open minded.
 

I’m going to get silent now, and see if I can feel you. I’ll keep doing this each day. Please show up.

09.

Memorial Meditation for Pet Loss, by animal chaplain Sarah Bowen

Sitting comfortably, we begin with awareness of the breath...


Feel the breath as it enters cool and then warms while gently traveling down into the lungs...


Fill the lungs with a deep inhale, bringing in peaceful energy and focus...

Feel the energy that is in your body...


Feel the energy that is around you in this safe space...


Bring those energies together and feel them as one.


Now feel the healing energy of the Source entering the top of your head...


And continuing down your face, your torso, down your legs, and finally in your toes...


Your entire body now shimmers with divine healing energy.


Allow this energy to touch the grief you feel about [animal's name].

Bring your awareness to this feeling in your body...

 

Feel the energy and breath shimmer around this feeling...

Remember that all beings share the act of breath, until the day when that breath ceases to be in one's body.

Yet, consider for a moment the possibility that our breath, our life force, our beingness is not restricted to the body. Picture one breath leaving your mouth and nose, intermingling with the air, which holds uncountable breaths.

Consider the possibility that life is like this. Never ceasing. Instead, transforming mysteriously into an intermingling of beingness, for which we lack the concepts or words to perfectly explain.

 

Everytime you connect to your breath, you connect to the breath of [animal's name], still present in the oneness of all breaths that have been breathes.


Exhaling, feel your body releasing layers of worry about [animal's name]. Know that anytime you want to, you can connect to this eternal shared breath.


Stay with this breath for a few moments...


When you are ready, slowly return your focus to this room.

10.

Universal Invocation, by Annie Besant, British theosophist, women rights activist, and writer

Oh! Hidden Life, Vibrant in Every Atom,
Oh! Hidden Light, Shining in Every Creature,
May Each of Us, Who Feels as One with Thee,
Know that We Are Therefore, One with Every Other!

11.

Blessing, by Rita M. Reynolds, author and founder of Howling Success Sanctuary in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains near Charlottesville, Virginia

Bless kindly all those who love animals.

Those who help turtles
cross over our roadways,
who save insects from drowning,
or take in “just one more”.

Bless all who help creatures
abandoned or lost,
and those who, with trust,
find no cost too great.

Bless those who feed birds
on deep winter days,
who heal injured wildlings
or play music to whales.

Bless those who save spiders,
and treat snakes with respect,
who see grace in the pigeon,
and speak kindly of moles.

Bless all those who hold creatures
high in their thoughts,
and unselfishly share
from the depths of their heart.

12.

A Christian Reading for Animal Memorial, from the Gospel of Thomas, Saying 3

Jesus said, "If those who lead you say, 'See, the Kingdom is in the sky,' then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, 'It is in the sea,' then the fish will precede you.

 

Rather, the Kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the children of the living Father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty."
 

Jesus said, "Recognize what is in your sight, and that which is hidden from you will become plain to you. For there is nothing hidden which will not become manifest."

13.

"Kaddish for Every Day," by Debra Cash, arts writer, lecturer, design researcher and longtime member of the extended havurah community (Jewish)

Build me up of memory
loving and angry, tender and honest.


Let my loss build me a heart of wisdom,
compassion for the world’s many losses.


Each hour is mortal
and each hour is eternal
and each hour is our testament.


May I create worthy memories
all the days of my life.

14.

Today when I could do nothing, by Jane Hirshfield, American poet, essayist, and translator.

Today, when I could do nothing,
I saved an ant.

It must have come in with the morning paper,
still being delivered
to those who shelter in place.

A morning paper is still an essential service.
I am not an essential service.

I have coffee and books,
time,
a garden,
silence enough to fill cisterns.

It must have first walked
the morning paper, as if loosened ink
taking the shape of an ant.

Then across the laptop computer — warm —
then onto the back of a cushion.

Small black ant, alone,
crossing a navy cushion,
moving steadily because that is what it could do.

Set outside in the sun,
it could not have found again its nest.
What then did I save?
It did not move as if it was frightened,
even while walking my hand,
which moved it through swiftness and air.

Ant, alone, without companions,
whose ant-heart I could not fathom —
how is your life, I wanted to ask.

I lifted it, took it outside.

This first day when I could do nothing,
contribute nothing
beyond staying distant from my own kind,
I did this

15.

A reading from The Tao of the Force, by Justin Dockins

Do you imagine the universe as agitated?
Go into the desert at night
and look at the stars.
This practice should answer
the question.
The Jedi settles her mind as the
universe settles the stars in the sky.
By connecting her mind with the
subtle origin of the Force,
she calms it.
Once calmed, it naturally expands,
and ultimately her mind becomes
as vast and immeasurable
as the night sky.

16.

A Playful Psalm, by Danny Maseng (to be read playfully and lightly)

Hey, you! Hey, you!
Hey, you on high—come down here you on high and I on low,
Down low and you are high
That's no way for a you and me to be
That's no way for a me to be with thee, with thou
I thought this was a two thing being one on one
Not you and me divided
My beloved is for me, you know, and I'm for you
Not me in beige and you in blue
Hey, you! What's with the distance?
What's with the attitude, your altitudiness?
Come out, come out wherever you be,
Whatever you are,
Whenever you is you was the wiz,
The one, the star!
Numero Uno, Domine Allah
You the name!
Echad, Wachad,
My Dharma essence, Brahmanescence,
Effervescence,
Rex Tremendis, holy Tatta Mamma sister spirit
Drop the veil, cause of causes
Jump the gap
Pull up a chair, a mat, a Zafu,
Make yourself at… you know,
Stay a while, what's the rush?
The similes can wait, the metaphors can pale words, I have no words,
no...
You who are beyond compare—haven't I seen you everywhere before?
Just kidding… no, not really
Talk to me, you who never tell me anything
Let's talk... OK, I'll go, like, first
So... what's up?

17.

no help for that, by Charles Bukowski, German-American poet, novelist, and short story writer

there is a place in the heart that
will never be filled
a space
and even during the
best moments
and
the greatest
times
we will know it
we will know it
more than
ever
there is a place in the heart that
will never be filled
and
we will wait
and
wait
in that space.

18.

All Creatures of Our God and King, by William Henry Draper, English hymnodist and clergyman

All creatures of our God and King
Lift up your voice and with us sing,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thou burning sun with golden beam,
Thou silver moon with softer gleam!
O praise Him! O praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thou rushing wind that art so strong
Ye clouds that sail in Heaven along,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou rising moon, in praise rejoice,
Ye lights of evening, find a voice!
O praise Him! O praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Let all things their Creator bless,
And worship Him in humbleness,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son,
And praise the Spirit, Three in One!
O praise Him! O praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thou flowing water, pure and clear,
Make music for thy Lord to hear,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou fire so masterful and bright,
That givest man both warmth and light.
O praise Him! O praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Dear mother earth, who day by day
Unfoldest blessings on our way,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
The flowers and fruits that in thee grow,
Let them His glory also show.
O praise Him! O praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Let all things their Creator bless,
And worship Him in humbleness,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son,
And praise the Spirit, Three in One!
O praise Him! O praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

"Acknowledging the loss provides our animal companions a sacred sendoff that honors their life and our relationship with them."

SARAH BOWEN, animal chaplain & author of Sacred Sendoffs

More Resources for Words

Hey, book addicts, you may also find these resources helpful:

Blessing the Animals: Prayers and Ceremonies to Celebrate God's Creatures, Wild and Tame (Lynn L. Caruso)

Prayers for Animals (Carol Adams)

Peace to All Beings (Judy Carman)


Channel your passion for animals and the planet into a caring and supportive profession. Train to become an animal chaplain.