Source: Sarah Hoggan, DVM
“I don’t know what to do next” is a common statement I hear after someone loses their pet. Obviously, they are grieving, but the question is asked because the path to navigate the pain is invisible
When a human being dies; there are a number of normal social expectations and customs that help someone figure out how to tell the world about their loss and how to celebrate the life that is gone. Obituaries not only serve this purpose, but also allow anyone who has known the person to come up and offer condolences or even attend the memorial service. Facilitating this connection forms a shared grief support system that allows the family to safely express their feelings and seek comfort from others. Sharing grief is a basic healing ritual for social cultures.
Unfortunately, grieving the loss of a pet is different. Grief over the loss of a pet is classified as disenfranchised grief, which means that there is no social pattern, or generally accepted “normal” behavior, that someone might follow. Not only is there a lack of guidance in sharing your grief, but there is also a level of social awkwardness associated with even talking about the loss, as if grief over the loss of a pet is somehow abnormal or embarrassing.
This lack of social patterns for grieving the loss of a pet is rooted in the roles animals traditionally played in our lives. Historically, animals were treated like tools: horses pulled a plow, cats killed mice, and dogs helped us forage for food. Only in the last 50 years has the human-animal bond been recognized and animals accepted as companions and family members. Unfortunately though pets are widely accepted as members of the family, not all aspects of society have kept pace, so the way to publicly mourn a lost pet has yet to be fully defined.
Want to honor the life you and your pet shared
Although there are no social patterns of mourning to follow, it should be understood that wanting to have some type of memorial to celebrate the life of your pet is normal and completely reasonable. A memorial in any form is a tangible way to acknowledge the loss and allows you to begin grieving.
Unconditional love and acceptance are the foundation of the human-animal bond. Every tail flick from your dog, purr exchange from your cat, excited whistle from your bird, neigh from your horse or anxious attention of your reptile showed you that you are loved and appreciated. She felt good every time she had that exchange. Of course, you want to honor the life you and your pet shared; that is a very valid need.
To address this need, you can decide how you want to commemorate your pet: in a public expression or something more private. It’s all about what feels right to you, so the only rules associated with it are the ones you set.
Examples of public pet memorials are things that can be found on the Internet or seen in a public place. Examples of public memorials are a social media post, an engraved stone or brick on a memorial driveway, or a donation to a shelter or charity in your pet’s name.
Sarah Hoggan DVM
Examples of more private memorials are things that can only be seen by people who are invited to see them, like a plant in your garden, a special framed photo, or even a box containing your necklace, a leather locket, and your favorite. toy.
If you want to do some kind of service in your home, in a park or in a pet cemetery where family and/or friends attend, tell stories and share memories, that’s fine.
If you feel it’s more appropriate to celebrate your pet’s life in private by planting a tree over their remains on your property, that’s fine. The most important thing about how you commemorate your pet is that it has meaning and value to you. Whatever form it takes, the purpose of the memorial is to honor the life of your pet and the bond you shared; your love was real, and your pain is valid.