Grief without belief: finding comfort without the Rainbow Bridge

What do you do when you’re experiencing grief without belief to give you comfort?

When a pet dies, some carers find solace in the idea of the Rainbow Bridge – a beautiful, lush place between heaven and earth where animals are healthy and whole again, where they play all day and never know discomfort, and where they wait to be reunited with the humans who loved them.

Other pet carers turn to their faith and/or spiritual beliefs of an afterlife to help them process their pet’s passing.

But what if you’re an atheist (i.e. you don’t believe in a god or afterlife) or agnostic (i.e. you don’t believe it’s possible to know for sure that a god exists)? What if the Rainbow Bridge doesn’t bring you comfort because you don’t believe we go anywhere when we die? 

Please be reassured that many pet carers feel this way.

How can we make sense of grief without belief to comfort us?

How do you deal with someone you love dying (animal kin or human) if you believe there is nothing beyond death? This can be a truly uncomfortable question to wrestle with.

There is something incredibly vulnerable about trying to align your logical, pragmatic views of what happens when a living organism dies with the emotional need to believe in a “greater purpose”.

Many of us end up finding comfort in the very science that tells us there is probably no life after death.

Maybe this will help you if you’re grappling with grief without belief.

Think about what we do know.


Your pet’s DNA was an astounding collection of genetic material from previous generations. Even if they didn’t have any young of their own, somewhere in the world other members of their species share some of that same DNA. This means that some of their quirks and traits continue to live on. 

If your pet was a parent, they have directly contributed their unique collection of DNA to future generations.

The Butterfly Effect

But even if we put thoughts of DNA to one side, the world is different because your pet lived.

This is the perfect example of the “butterfly effect” – the idea that something as seemingly small and inconsequential as the flap of a butterfly’s wing can lead to big, complex changes elsewhere in the world.

Because your pet existed, they shaped your days. Every time you hung out with them or even thought about them, it sent you along a different course of events than would have happened if you hadn’t thought about them. 

Maybe you are kinder, more empathetic and caring because of your pet. In turn, this means you show these qualities to other people, making someone else happy because of the kindness your pet inspired. Who knows where this might lead the people whose lives you have touched?

It’s amazing what a ripple effect a pet can cause. The world is changed because of them and that will ripple until the end of existence. 

The cyclic nature of life on Earth

None of us want to think about what happens to a loved one’s physical remains after death. However, it can be comforting to think about an animal returning to the earth and making it possible for new life to grow or come into being.

In this way, death isn’t an ending at all but simply a change in form and energy.

Speaking of energy… 

In physics and chemistry, the law of conservation of energy (the first law of thermodynamics) states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed; rather, it can only be transformed or transferred from one form to another.

This means that the energy that was your beloved pet still exists in the universe. That energy cannot die.

There’s a stunning interview with writer and performer Aaron Freeman in which he says we should all want a physicist to speak at our funerals. Although he’s talking about human death, his words apply to our animal companions too.

Freeman says that a physicist will remind us of the first law of thermodynamics and that every particle, vibration and unit of energy that was our loved one remains in the world. Scientists have measured this and it’s a provable fact.

A physicist will tell us too that every photon that ever touched your pet is now racing around the world on a different course because of that contact. Your pet literally changed the fabric of existence!

Energy gives off heat and so, the energy from your pet can be felt in the warmth of the air around you.

Finally, Freeman concludes that when someone dies, “According to the law of conservation of energy, not a bit of you has gone; you’re just less orderly”.

There was a time before any of us existed

For some people, it’s comforting to remember that there was a time before any of us existed. We have no memory of the billions of years that came before our birth.

If you believe your pet’s consciousness ended with their death, then you can take comfort from knowing that they’re not alone waiting for you, they’re not reflecting back on their life or regretting the circumstances of their death. They aren’t lonely or suffering.

You carry everything they were or will ever be in your memories. They aren’t beyond your reach now. In fact, they’re firmly inside you to carry for the rest of your life.

Multiverses, parallel worlds and infinite possibilities

It might be a sci-fi favourite but there are a growing number of scientific theories that support the idea that we live in a multiverse, i.e. that there are parallel universes running alongside our own in which we might be living an infinite number of possible lives.

This means that your lost pet could be alive and thriving with you by their side in multiple other universes. While this might not bring you comfort (why can’t they still exist in this universe?), you might find solace in thinking of them being close by, just hidden by the veil of space and time.

A miracle of science

With or without belief in a god or an afterlife, grief is deeply personal and inevitably challenges what we know to be true. For some people, it reconfirms their beliefs. For others, it sets them on a new path.

As we always say, there is no right or wrong – only what feels right for you.

It’s understandable if you find sentiments like, “They’re in a better place now” or “They’re waiting for you at the Rainbow Bridge” upsetting. After all, is there really a better place than where they were loved and happy?

People say these things to offer comfort and because we’re all searching for a way to find some meaning out of loss.

Perhaps all we can do is remember that no one lives forever. If we did, would we ever stop to appreciate just how precious life is?

Because the truth is that the time you had with your pet was nothing short of a miracle. The odds of you both existing at the same point in time in an infinite universe are infinitesimal. How lucky you both were! Maybe this can give you comfort. Through the butterfly effect of the universe, everything conspired to bring you and your pet together and the future was changed because of it!

Very best wishes from Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support

4 thoughts on “Grief without belief: finding comfort without the Rainbow Bridge

  1. Toby ReNardo

    So sorry for your loss. I am in a similar position and finding it hard to deal with. I am trying to get myself to remember all the fun and happy times but I am still in the what if stage. This one has hit me harder than any since this one leaves me totally alone. No one to greet me at the door, I hear all the creaks in the house. I feel so totally alone so I read this and am typing my feelings as a way to hopefully help me cope.

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  2. RS

    For me i neither believe in the rainbow bridge I don’t believe in an after life and im not an atheist .What I do believe in is the bible and the truth found in it for everyday life and it helps me cope with everything including loss .No where have I found that animals live on somewhere or they are in heaven God’s word accurately states that in order to be saved you need to learn about what God requires animals can not learn about God or reason or pray to God to be in heaven they go by instinct and repetition. But humans can .The bible also does not state that all good humans die and go to heaven either. Now I know people have there own beliefs so I respect there choice and It would not be at all right to tell someone how to grieve or tell them what to believe and what not to believe.God gave all of us freedom to choose .I’m just saying that FOR ME let me say it again FOR ME this is what helped me cope. My animal died and she was one of the best things that happened to me and God helped me endure through praying to him and He also says that when a human dies they do not exist they can’t think or talk or move they are asleep so same with an animal those accurate facts is what helps me to cope THIS IS MY WAY OF COPING knowing the truth About God ,the animals and life and why there is so much suffering and the truth about death especially .

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  3. EJ

    “Because the truth is that the time you had with your pet was nothing short of a miracle. The odds of you both existing at the same point in time in an infinite universe are infinitesimal. How lucky you both were!”

    This is beautifully said, and I may have shed some tears reading it.

    I lost what feels like a piece of my soul, my spirit, three days ago. I do not believe in a bridge, a heaven, a special place where my Boxer girl Lucy is waiting for me. She is dead. She was born, lived 11 years with my wife and I, and then she died.

    Photos and videos bring sadness and joy, laughter and tears. I wish I could feel her body warmth against mine again, but realize logically that will never happen again.

    But thinking of our lives together, at this point in time of the universe, and how unlikely that was to happen… that feels like a miracle. I am grateful to have shared my life with Lucy and will be until I die as well.

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