By Vickie DeHamer: I say goodbye to pets every day at work, but nothing prepared…
By Vickie DeHamer:
After the loss of a pet, owners must make some tough decisions: Burial or cremation? Wooden box or urn? Save ashes or scatter them?
Once home, there are bowls, beds, and toys to toss or donate, and they remind us that something special has been lost and is not coming back. There may be other household pets looking for their friend, not understanding where they have gone. It’s a lot to handle, and after the immediate decisions are made, there’s a hole left that is hard to know how to fill.
Owners may find themselves feeling alone in this grief and confusion, not knowing how to express to friends and family their devastation and – most important for processing grief – how to find a meaningful way to remember their pet.
Before facing these feelings head-on, it’s a good idea to think about your special relationship to your pet, consider how you process grief and what might help in making you feel close to them once they are gone. Because while loss is universal, recovering from loss is extremely personal.
Here are five ideas for memorializing your pet in a way that may resonate with you:
Are you someone who journals or draws to process your feelings? You may consider making your own memorial. Painting a picture, pasting together a photo collage, or even just creating a memorial shelf with special items – having a physical manifestation of your feelings, made by your own hands and heart, can be incredibly healing. Make it a family project to help children understand that even if a pet is gone, their essence can be celebrated in creative ways, and memory held close.
There are countless things to order online that bring your pet’s memory to life in unique and stylish ways. A professional painting done from a photo; ashes put into a necklace pendant; your pet’s face embroidered on a pillow – the choices are endless. Having something physical made in your pet’s image can give you something to hold onto – literally and figuratively – while you mourn and move forward.
A beautiful way to remember your pet is to use a biodegradable urn and plant your pet’s ashes along with a new tree or flowering bush. What can be better than watching a tree grow, or flowers bloom, while you remember your pet, who has been rejoined nature in a new form? This is another great family activity for celebrating life, death, and renewal.
Was your relationship with your pet all about activities? Did you run together, go to the beach every weekend, or take long walks through the neighborhood each evening after dinner? You may feel closest to them by continuing to do these things in celebration of their memory. Exercise and connection with the outdoors can be a great salve for grief and loss and making a point of continuing to enjoy the things you loved doing with your pet, even though they are gone, reaffirms the joy you shared together.
If you want to honor your pet’s memory by donating to your local humane society – time or money – you can do so in your pet’s name. Especially for owners of rescue pets, this can be a special way to pay it forward, allow yourself some time with animals without committing to getting a new pet before you are ready, and further the likelihood of another lucky person having the opportunity to experience life with a wonderful rescue pet. You may also donate in your pet’s name to other places, like veterinary funds, foster funds – there are many animal organizations in need of your help.
Losing a pet is painful. But walking through that pain with their memories intact – within a painting, a tree, a daily run – is not only a gift to your pet, but one to yourself.
Vickie Jean DeHamer is the Client Care Hospital Service Manager at PESCM. She helps pet parents by day and writes by night.
Our End of Life Arrangements page has additional information about aftercare.