There was a very good article about the growing trend toward pet memorial services in the Arizona Republic today. I know there are people out there that think that holding a pet funeral is crazy, but I think it is important to appreciate significant relationships in our lives—especially ones in which we are so unconditionally loved.
In my life, I have experienced deaths of both important people and important pets. The first was the sudden death of my father from a heart attack when I was only 9. In the consuming sadness that followed my Siamese cat, Miryah, became my solace. Later that same year-ironically on what would have been my dad’s 53rd birthday-the Chief of Police hit my beloved Miryah with his police vehicle and left her dead in the gutter. In my experience, the difference between these two sudden deaths was just a matter of degrees. There was more chaos for a longer period of time after I lost my dad, but the deep sorrow and stages of grief-the denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance-were very much the same. The real difference was in how other people saw these losses. The more people discounted Miryah as “just a cat,” the more my grief and pain were exacerbated by feelings of isolation and loneliness.
As a parent of my own family now, I want to handle our grief differently and this is the central reason why I wrote my book about Max. I wanted to give healthy expression to my family’s loss by celebrating the real significance he had in our lives. Of course, not everyone wants to write a book to channel grief, but here are some tips if you or someone you know has suffered the recent passing of a pet:
TEN TIPS FOR DEALING WITH PET LOSS
- Plan ahead. When you first bring home that ball of fur, it’s hard to imagine that there will come a day when you have to say goodbye. The reality is pets just don’t live as long as humans, so if you decide ahead of time how you want to handle end of life issues, such as euthanasia, dealing with remains and how to memorialize your pet, it is easier than when you are in the midst of grief and you are being pressed for decisions. It is also important to have advance directives in your will that will ensure your pets are provided for in the event of your untimely death.
- Tell yourself you’re not crazy. The loss of a relationship that has been a constant and significant part of your life may feel devastating – whether animal or human. After all, this relationship has been a source of comfort and companionship, unconditional love and acceptance, fun and joy. Your intense grief over this loss is normal and natural.
- Don’t let others tell you you’re crazy. People who do not understand the human/animal bond may say things like, “It’s just a dog (or cat).” The most important thing is to recognize that the loss of a beloved pet is a serious event that society does not always respect. You and your family have a right to your feelings which may include denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
- Seek out support to deal with your loss. You are not alone. Thousands of other pet owners have been in the same position. Veterinarians, pet service professionals or other pet owners can provide the resources and outlets you need to express your feelings.
- Celebrate your pet’s life. Some people find it helpful to write about their pet, put together a scrapbook or to hold a funeral service to mark the passing of their pet. You can put together your own ceremony or consult a professional pet funeral service. This doesn’t make you a wacko; it gives you healthy expression for your grief.
- Help your children cope. Every person deals with grief in a different way and at a different pace. You know how much information your children are ready to handle about death and loss of a pet, but don’t underestimate their ability to understand. If you are honest about your own sorrow, it gives children the permission to express their own sadness.
- Help your other pets with the transition. Pets are very observant and no doubt they will notice the absence of a companion to whom they have grown attached. Give the surviving pets lots of extra attention and love to help them through this period. The love of these survivors will also help you heal.
- Give yourself time before getting a new pet. There will be no other pet like the one you’ve lost. A new pet should be obtained because you are ready to move forward and build a new relationship, not because you are mourning your loss and trying to fill the gap in your life.
- Help other people who are faced with the same loss. Join a pet loss support group to help others, help a rescue group with a gift to memorialize your pet or join a forum online to share your experiences.
- Read a book that helps you laugh, reflect and remember the great things about your pet. Sometimes reading about how other pets have touched people’s lives can validate your feelings.
Remember it is not crazy to grieve the loss of your pet. It’s only crazy not to.