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God Squad: When you think friends don't share your grief

I lost my sister almost a month ago. People came to the visitation and the funeral, but many people I would have expected at least to send a card did not, not even an e-mail. And those who did come have now disappeared. No one asks how I'm doing. No one calls. Even when I see one of these people, it seems like they feel the funeral provided closure for them and it should be for me, too. No mention is made of my sister.

I feel lost and hurt that my friends seem to have forgotten me. Am I being selfish or expecting too much? - D., via e-mail

I don't know your friends, but I do know your problem. The problem is that many people treat death like they treat a virus: They just want to stay far away because it frightens them. Also, most people just don't know what to say to a grieving person, and don't want to appear foolish or mute. Beyond, "I'm sorry for your loss," they're lost. It's rare to find a friend who can pierce your veil of tears with sustaining words of comfort or maintain a sustaining presence at your side.

The hurt you feel based on your friends' response is as normal and natural as your grief. I've seen many grieving people who are what I'd call insatiably needy, and they can actually drive away friends with their grief-anger and grief-neediness.

I'd urge you to cut your friends some slack. Try to convince yourself that they're doing everything they can to comfort you now. If their efforts seem insufficient, try to believe that this is all more about you than about them. Blaming them will just embitter you and almost certainly drive them further away. Remember that your grief work is about your healing, not their help. Take responsibility for moving ahead on your own. Get up and get out, and serve people in your community. You may find solace in support groups for grieving people, where everyone in the group knows what you know and has been wounded in th same way.

Don't keep a mental scorecard of how people have disappointed you. Keeping score in life is a bad spiritual move. Keeping score when you're grieving is a really bad idea. Your friends have done and are doing what they can, given their own spiritual limitations. Accept what they do give you the way a beggar would accept a meal. Be humbly grateful and move on back to life and joy.

May God comfort you in your loss.

What do Judaism and Christianity say about animals? Do dogs, cats, elephants and apes have souls? What about small creatures, like spiders and ladybugs? If only humans have souls, when did our souls first exist - when man was evolving and was still part ape? I love my dog, Kayleigh, dearly and cannot believe there won't be some kind of an afterlife for her. What do you think?

- A., via e-mail

There's a scale of holiness taught by the Bible in Genesis, and it ought to help all pet lovers have hope that they won't be separated forever from the animals they've loved so unconditionally.

Everything God has created is holy to some degree. That's the key to answering your question.

On the lowest level of holiness are things the Bible describes as created by God. The Earth and all the plants and trees on it are holy on this level. Their innate holiness as creations of God means we must respect and care for the Earth and all that grows on it. However, their low-level holiness means we can eat them for food.

The next higher level of holiness encompasses animals, which are both created and blessed by God. The blessing is that they should "be fruitful and multiply." This level includes pets. It's not clear from the Bible whether this second-level holiness means we can eat animals for food. Some believe God wants us to eat food on the lowest level of holiness possible, which means a vegetarian diet.

Others believe that animal holiness is not high enough to protect them from becoming supper.

The third level of holiness described in Genesis 1 is the level of human beings. We are created by God (like plants) and blessed by God to be fruitful and multiply (like animals,) but we're also made in the image of God, which sets us apart from all other living things.

Therefore, murdering people is forbidden.

The Bible doesn't explain the three levels of holiness are related to life after death. The concept of life after death was really developed after the Bible.

This means, to me, that we're allowed to hope that the souls of our pets will be with us in heaven, along with the souls of all our ancestors.

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