Considerations of Pet Memorial
Pets are our best friends, our cherished family members, and our ‘kids.’ We love them and value their importance just as much as that of our human family. But as is the case for our human friends and family, we don’t really want to think about a pet memorial before we need to. But in fact, waiting only puts us under pressure to think, research and make decisions at a time when processing the loss can be consuming and we really aren’t at our best.
National Pet Memorial Day is on the second Sunday of each September and the whole month was declared National Pet Memorial Month more than 40 years ago by The International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories. Run Those Dogs has compiled this list of topics to consider–in advance of when you might need them.
There are many appropriate ways to say goodbye. As with the loss of human family and friends, why not remember our lost pets and show our appreciation for the love, memories and joy our pets gave us throughout their lives? In the end, you must use your best judgment about what is fitting for your family and attachment.
- Do you want to see your pet after it has passed?
- Will you have a funeral or memorial?
- Pet cemetery, cremation or natural burial?
Laws are in place in most counties regarding safe pet burial so be sure to know those that apply to your location. We found the Snohomish County laws with a simple google search. Or ask your veterinarian for their opinion and recommendations since most have a standard approach they use regularly.
Taking Symbolic Actions
Here are just a few suggestions on simple actions you can take to honor your lost pet. Follow your gut about what feels right to you rather than relying on the advice of others.
- Plant a tree, shrub or perennial flowers on top of their grave. As you watch the plant grow, it will give you a little satisfaction in helping the environment and seeing your pet grow with it.
- Make a scrapbook, look book or electronic photo album in their honor. Frame your favorite photo, or have an artist create a work of art based on a photo of your lost pet. You’ll be reminded regularly of your lost friend in a positive way.
- Make a donation to a charity. Whether its the shelter where you first met, a breed-specific rescue organization or disaster relief for pets, there are plenty of options to choose from. That donation can be one-time or annually to mark your pet’s birthday or the day of their loss.
When there are children in the home, there are additional considerations. Including them in the process will help them process their grief in a functional, healthy way and perhaps avoid lasting issues or impact. Consider speaking gingerly but frankly with children about the fact that, someday, pets will die.
When the pet has passed, have the kids draw pictures and dictate farewell statements to their pet and hang or scrapbook them with photos. Whatever you do to honor the passing, be sure to include the kids each step of the way. And go to the public library. Most children’s librarians carry a variety of picture and chapter books about losing a pet. Or search the catalog with the subject keywords pet(s) and death.
Here are a few stand-bys to look for in your local library:
- When a Pet Dies by Fred Rogers of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood
- The Berenstain Bears Lose a Friend by Stan Berenstain
- Saying Goodbye to Lulu by Corinne Demas
- Goodbye, Mousie by Robie Harris
Remember the Stages of Grief
Losing a pet might be your first experience with death. Some of us go through the stages of grief (shock, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, depression, and acceptance) more quickly (or slowly), or skip certain steps altogether. Others experience them in ways so subtle, we don’t even realize. Accept where ever you and your family falls at any given moment, and be a sympathetic ear for whatever feelings they’re having. Be honest, and don’t be afraid to show your grief in a healthy manner in safe spaces. Muster some extra patience for yourself and your family. The phrase, “Time heals all wounds,” applies. Try not to place limits on time for grieving as long as the rest of your life is going well.
If you have children, consider, Don’t Despair on Thursdays! The Children’s Greif-Management Book, by Adolf Moser during this tough time.
Resist the New Pet for a While
Predictably, many will consider a “replacement.” Although a new pet might provide a temporary distraction, The Human Society of The United States recommends first giving you and your family time to grieve and considering carefully the responsibilities of pet ownership. A new pet will never fill the hole left by the previous one, but with patience and thoughtfulness, you and your family will be able to move on in a healthy way.
Sometimes thinking things through in advance can reduce anxiety when it comes time to make decisions. Whatever method you choose to recognize the life of a lost pet, be gentle with yourself and your family. Following and honoring your instincts usually means you’ll have fewer regrets.