I recently held a memorial service for my 16 year old Shih Tzu, Henry, who died last month.
As an individual who has spent many years working in the funeral industry as a funeral director, I have found that losing any loved one can prove quite a challenge. For some, saying goodbye to a beloved animal can be more difficult than letting go of a person we have known. However, while funerals and memorial services have become a standard part of the grieving process when we lose the people we know, some find it hard to fully embrace the mourning and farewell of a lost pet.
In my experience as a funeral director and devout pet lover, I have found that many pet owners search for ways to say goodbye to their friends in a way that is meaningful, honest and celebratory. What may surprise many is that approaching a pet funeral or memorial service is not quite unlike that of planning a service for a person who has passed.
Believing that it is important to remember and let go of the pets we have built strong bonds with, here are a few common questions—and answers—I experience within the funeral industry.
What formal ways are there to say goodbye to a pet?
Having a memorial service for pets that have passed is a great way to honor their life. However, there are many ways to celebrate this life. Some may choose to keep the service intimate in a spot that was special to the pet, while others may host a gathering of friends and family who were close to the pet. I have found that while some may choose to embalm their pets to formally say goodbye, others will opt for a cremation, using the urn as a vessel to honor the animal’s life.
I don’t want to bury my pet, how common is cremation?
Cremation is actually the most traditional way of letting go of a pet and honoring his or her life. If you opt for cremation, it is important to use a certified pet crematory, as the law states you cannot mix human and animal remains. Fortunately, pet crematoriums are not hard to find and a local funeral home can often help with these arrangements.
How can I tell what my pet would want at his funeral?
An incorporation of the things that reminds us of a pet is always a great way to honor their unique personality that will live on in our memories. While some people may make requests for how they want to plan their funeral, it is not always easy to know what an animal would want at theirs. I’ve found that it is always a great idea to have the pet’s favorite toys, as well as a collection of memorable photographs, present at a service.
In addition to inviting people who shared joyous experiences with your pet, it is also worth thinking about the other animal friends he or she had. Animals are very intuitive, especially in relation to death, so it is important to make sure that they can be part of the experience. Having other household pets or animal friends at a ceremony is an exceptional way to not only honor the pet’s life, but also help other companions grieve and process the death.
What is an acceptable way of announcing a pet’s death and memorial service?
Some people have come to me feeling that it was inappropriate to announce the death of a pet or celebrate the life of an animal in a memorial service. However, it is important to recognize that there is no shame in wanting to say farewell to an animal. In fact, the human-pet bond is one that many of us share and can relate to. As such, many may choose to send out formal announcements through the mail.
In addition, social media has made it much easier for individuals to not only announce a pet’s passing, but also plan a service. Through social media, loved ones can express their feelings, share the memories they had with the pet, as well as post photos to make the memorial a true community experience.
How can I help my child process the death of our family pet?
Saying goodbye to a pet can be difficult for any person, but when it comes to children who may not be that familiar with the concept of death—it is a challenging subject to approach. I believe it is up to the discretion of each parent to decide how they will let their child know of a pet’s passing. However, I have found that it is extremely helpful to have children involved in the process of remembering and saying goodbye to the animal. Having your child write a letter, draw pictures or speak at a service can really help them comprehend the loss in a healthy manner.
What can I do for a loved one that has just lost a pet?
Addressing death that a loved one is experiencing is an incredibly sensitive subject, as each individual may grieve in their own way. It is important to recognize that the loss of a pet can be just as devastating as any other death, so friends and family should offer as much support as they can.
While you may not know what to do for the individual, simply letting him or her know that you are there and willing to help can be of great comfort. Other acts of simple kindness, such as preparing a meal, can help the individual allow themselves the time and space they need to process the death. Additionally, it is kind to make a donation to an animal-related charity in honor of the lost pet.
Reaching Out For Help
If you have lost a pet and are unsure of how to handle the memorial, it is not only important to reach out to loved ones, but to recognize that there are many professionals who can help with the process. Reaching out to a local funeral home, veterinary hospital or animal shelter can help guide you in the right direction to make arrangements for your pet’s memorial.