Giving Comfort

Giving Comfort


I was 20 when Shambalah was left on the front stoop of my San Francisco apartment. She was only a few months old and funny looking, a tiny head on a big, white body. An ugly duckling, who matured into a dog so beautiful, people often stopped me on the street to ask if they could buy her.

My Shambalah saved me. She was the one constant in my often tumultuous, sometimes frighteningly sad life. We lived together in San Francisco; Albuquerque, NM; Glassboro, NJ; Chicago. She died at 15 and a half, a long life for a big dog. She had been failing for about six months, and I am certain that she stayed as long as she did out of her concern for me. When she left, my guardian angel, my spirit mother was gone. My grief was so thick, I could barely breathe.

I choked on that grief for weeks. It would hit me at the most inopportune times, walking down the street to the store, in the middle of a workout at the gym. I would swallow my anguish, then collapse once I’d made it back home.

Everyone adored Shambalah, and so I imagine my friends, my family shared verbal condolences, but I don’t remember. I only remember being alone and sick with grief.

Some 20 years later, I lost my beloved Nikos, the Thoroughbred who had walked into my life six years earlier and completely turned it upside down. He is the being who led me to my work with animals; he is the being who, day after day after day, taught me how to hear them, taught me how to begin recognizing the Divine all around me, inside of others, two-legged and four-legged, inside of myself.

Nikos had come into my life when he was 18. He’d had a hard life, both as a race horse and then a hunter/jumper. He was terribly thin, his feet hurt, his whole body hurt. He brought me to this work, he showed me how to help him, and he healed. Every time I looked into his beautiful face, my heart swung open. Every time I had to leave him to go home, my heart ached.

Living with him the last year of his life was a blessing I will always cherish. Despite other hardships, other anxieties (all of which, I realize now, were meaningless in the larger scheme of things), that year with him was one of the richest years of my life.

When Nikos fell ill, I cared for him around the clock for three months. When he left, my heart was shattered. I simply could not imagine life without him. I wanted to let go of the things holding me to this earth and follow him wherever it was that he had gone.

I am so very fortunate that this experience was vastly different from the experience of losing my beloved Shambalah. This time, I was not alone. Friends called; friends came with food and movies, with offers to care for the rest of the herd. A student in the Saturday morning writing workshop that I taught drove miles out of her way to come get me, take me to class, and bring me back. Friends spent the night with me, bought me gifts of healing stones. Friends and family sent me cards, flowers. A dear friend who was also a Reiki practitioner shared treatments with me, treatments that calmed my ferocious tears, that helped to soothe my heart.

Several friends helped me to plan a memorial service, and over 20 people filled the barn on a windy February day, to pay their respects and to offer me their support. Then we shared a glorious pot-luck meal in the house and celebrated life.

Throughout my months-long healing journey, no one said:

“Nikos is better off now. He is out of pain. He is with his friends.”

“You will see him again one day.”

“Don’t you think it’s time to get over this?”

My friends acknowledged the tremendous loss I had suffered, held out their arms to  me, helped to create a safe space for me to once again find my feet and choose to walk on this earth again.

Many in our culture fear death so deeply that they are unable to reach out to those who have suffered a loss. They may send a card, with someone else’s words on it, but they cannot find their own words and often just don’t know what to do to help.

And it seems that even those who can offer sincere condolences for the loss of a human find themselves without words when a friend or family member has lost an animal companion.

Acknowledgement of someone’s pain is so important. The words, “I am so sorry for your loss” mean the world to someone in the throes of grief. And if you live close enough, your loving presence can bring exquisite relief —your gift of food, of time, of a kind and patient ear, of a strong shoulder, a comforting touch.


I would love to hear your thoughts about ways that we can comfort each other in times of loss. What can you say? What can you do? How have you been comforted and nourished in your time of grief?

I hope you will be moved to share your thoughts.

If you have received this post via email, just click on the title to respond.



16 Replies to “Giving Comfort”

  1. Hi Pam, I know that you know I have suffered with my share of losses. While I don’t have anything particularly valuable to add to the comments of your blog as I’ve never had anyone say or do anything that profoundly impacted me while grieving. However, I have found, for myself, that immersing myself in the animals life for a time has helped me to grieve. I usually create something, either a video testament to their life, or a scrapbook, or collect all their photos and stories into one place. It is always very healing for me to do that. I have also noticed, for me, that some animals I am sad that they are gone, but the grief isn’t deep, while others the grief is unbelievably shattering. I think I’ve narrowed it down to the expected and unexpected. Some animals have come into my life only briefly. Leroy for example. I was sad that he was gone, and for the sadness in his life, but I wasn’t grief-stricken. I somehow knew he would only be with me for a short time. Even Traveler, who was a young horse and died of an impalement injury at 2 1/2 years old. I was sad for the loss, frustrated and angry over how stupid it was, beat myself up over what I could or should have done differently, but I wasn’t grief stricken. Somehow I knew that he wasn’t supposed to be with me, and I beat myself up again that I was too stubborn to find him another home better suited to him, and that killing himself was the only way out. I was grief-stricken over Turbo and Ana. Neither should have gone, and I held a very deep attachment to both of them. I actually felt deeply that Ana was Turbo again, or part of him. I still well up when I think of them, and miss them terribly. And with the dogs, Barney and Misha it was their time to go, they were older and tired (around 12 and 17 respectively). Samantha was only 8. I only expected her to live to 4, she had a heart defect. She blessed me for 8 years, and I still miss her terribly. Sometimes I see her in my little Papillon, Buggy. And my daughter lost her Papillon, Panda, to Lyme Nephritis 18 months ago, which devastated her, but that is why Buggy is here now. And I feel bad about that.

    So anyway, I guess what I meant, is that I feel a deep grief over those that have gone unexpectedly, but those that have lived a full life, or I knew that they were not meant to stay here, I was sad about their passing, but didn’t have that deep, wracking, earth-shattering grief.



    Of the five elements, none is always predominant; of the four seasons, none lasts forever; of the days, some are long and some short, and the moon waxes and wanes.
    Sun Tzu, The Art of War

    1. Thank you for sharing this, Michelle. I appreciate your generosity.

      When I was three years old, I lost my older sister, who was six, to a traffic accident. She ran across the street and was hit by a car. No one in my family knew how to grieve, and so we carried this anguish around inside of us for years and years and years.

      When I lost Shambalah, it was the first opportunity I had to grieve in a normal way, at the time of the loss. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much assistance.

      But when Nikos died, an entire village opened their arms to help me.

      Amazingly, the little girl who was terrified of death (because her sister disappeared, “went to live with the angels,” and was never heard from again) has grown into a woman who works with dying animals and speaks to those who have passed. I owe all of this to Shambalah and Nikos.

      I have lost other animals as well, animals that I cried for but then was able to find peace in a matter of weeks. I think it is because, while all the animals in my life are my teachers, Shambalah and Nikos were my Teachers, with a capital T. Without their guidance, I honestly have no idea what would have become of me.

  2. Pam, thanks for writing such an authentic, obviously heartfelt post. Since your worked with our Codi you know the whole story there, and it’s actually a story that continues as not a day goes by that I don’t think of her despite her being going almost seven years. When she passed on the vast majority of people who know us were very kind and sympathetic, and, occasionally there was someone who would say something to the effect of, “So, are you going to replace her?” That question would just rile the heck out of me, and can still trigger a bit of anger in me when someone asks it even to this day. As I said in recent radio interview about my book Codi’s Journey, when you really love an animal, if a person asks such a question, in my view it’s really no different than asking a person who just lost a close relative if they plan to replace him or her. It’s just not appropriate. Thanks for the opportunity to share this.

    1. I share your astonishment, Jeff, that some people can be so thick. I guess it is our job to help them understand.

      When I lost Nikos, I cancelled the writing group that I facilitated because it was meeting the next day. The group sent me a beautiful bouquet of flowers and a card.

      When the group resumed the following week, I was still quite shaky. As I said in the article, one of the students came to pick me up and drive me to class. (I lived an hour and a half away from our meeting place.)

      When we were gathered, several people again offered their condolences. One woman, a fairly new writer to the group, a woman who had lost her husband several years earlier, and who never quite understood my attachment to my animals (my dog, Elika, accompanied me to the sessions) sat quietly looking at me and then said, a hush in her voice, her eyes filling with tears, “It’s just like losing a person.”

      The thought of that moment still brings tears. By recognizing my pain, she herself felt pain. This is what empathy looks like.

  3. Pam, ooops, sorry for the typos above! “Since your” in line one should be “Since you” and “going almost” should be “gone almost.”

  4. Your story is so beautiful and heart felt Pam.
    Grief is different for everyone and we are not equipped to deal with death and loss.
    My beautiful dog Montie, was tragically killed 17 years ago at the age of 10. He went everywhere with me and we shared a soul connection and one that I had never experienced before with another pet. He developed separation anxiety after we moved interstate and chewed a hole in the front door to escape and go looking for me. I was at a friend’s 40th birthday and when I got home, Montie was gone. I knew in my heart I would not find him alive. I searched the streets for hours in the dark and thought he may have gone to my best friend’s house. It was then I saw a shadow in the gutter and my heart sunk as I realised it was him. I am crying now thinking back on that night and reliving what was a nightmare at the time. I was a total mess and so grief stricken. I had the wonderful support of friends and family who sent me cards, flowers and even an ex painted a portrait of Montie and I. I had an understanding boss who accepted I needed a week off work to grieve and seek counselling. Nothing worked or could help me get the images of finding him dead, nor release the guilt I felt for letting him down. My other little dog Odie adored him and she laid on his grave in the back yard for days which was heart breaking to see. I froze and felt sick every time I had to drive down that street to get home and I just couldn’t move on. Then a friend of mine suggested I see a spiritual healer and although I was very sceptical I went along out of desperation. When I arrived at the door she said who is that little dog by your side. It was Montie and I broke down and cried like a baby. Denise could communicate with those who had passed and although she did not speak to Montie, she helped heal my broken heart and educate me about the spiritual world. I had a great sense of relief knowing there was a doggy heaven and that he was with me in spirit.
    Denise has helped me since in so many ways and she was the turning point for me to be able to move forward from the grief and pain.
    About 6 months later I stumbled across a puppy who totally manipulated me into buying him, even though I was adamant about not wanting another dog. That puppy is now my 16 year old Morgan, who somehow captured Montie’s spirit and whom I have another deep soul connection with.
    Both of them are my inspiration for starting my own business a year ago,” Furry Souls”. It is in memory of and dedicated to Montie. Through his death and the aging of Morgan, I decided there was a need to provide beautiful memorial products for pets who deserved the very best when they passed. It was a huge life change for me having previously been in fashion retail for almost 30 years, travelling the world for the latest trends. Who would ever have thought my life would change so much and I hope Montie would be proud. I still think of him always and thankfully the pain has gone, but now the memories I have are beautiful and full of love.

    1. What a beautiful story. Thank you so much for sharing this, Janine.

      I am so grateful that you found a healer who could help you to move forward. I do that work as well, using Reiki treatments to help soothe the grieving heart, and help a person or animal to achieve peace.

      I have no doubt that your beloved Montie is very proud of you. We have much in common. I changed my life and started my business, Winged Horse Healing, in honor of my Nikos, who was alive at the time and had told me that he was Pegasus 🙂

      The depth of their love, the depth of their teaching is truly awe-inspiring.

      We are both blessed.

  5. Thanks Pam and I truly respect what you do and am in awe of your gift to heal and communicate with animals. I get goose bumps reading about Nikos – magnificant.
    When Morgan chooses to leave this world, I will be very interested to see if you can connect with him.
    We are blessed and I feel so grateful to be for filling my true hearts desire!!!!!!!!!

    1. I would be honored to speak with your Morgan. I hope, though, that that day is very far in the future. If you like goosebumps and would like some more of them 🙂 you might be interested in “About Pam” here on my website. It’s the third item from the top on the menu (on the left of every page).

  6. Thank you for sharing, Pam. How devastating, I can’t even imagine what your family went through. I am sure that while you likely don’t have much conscious memory of the loss of your sister, that you have certainly carried on the energetic memory of that time. I am glad that Nikos and Shambala taught you to grieve.

    1. They also taught me a whole heck of a lot about living 🙂

      One day I will have to write the story of how my sister came to me for healing–almost 50 years after her death. It’s quite a story, as you can imagine.

  7. Another beautiful post, Pam. I have enjoyed reading all the comments as well….like the others, I, too, have had experience with losing beloved pets…some, we had for just a short time and others we had for a very long time…each one with their story of how they came to us and each leaving their permanent prints on my heart forever. Personally, I believe they choose us and while the pain of losing them is great, I keep my heart open for the next one to enter that needs to know love….

    1. Thank you, Nancy.

      I think that the animals have a waiting list for the Shuma household, and they’re constantly trying to figure out ways to move their names up on the list 🙂

  8. Thank you, and the other readers for sharing these stories. Pam, I must have forgotten, if I knew previously, about the loss of your Sister. I know all of us would be grateful to read the story of how she came to you later, when you feel the time is right/are able to tell it. One of the great gifts you are sharing with the rest of us is your insights which have been gained through some very painful lessons and times.

    1. Thank you, Jeanie.

      It is amazing that pain seems to be the great Teacher. If we allow it to, it can soften our hearts to the pain of others.

      I’m sure I never mentioned my sister before, at least in part because I tend to write about animals. But the story of her coming for healing involves horses. I tell it at my Level II Reiki classes, but I will most certainly share it here soon.

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