10 ways to remember your beloved pet

    “I will never forget the joy and comfort that my companion allowed me to feel, and [to] fully understand life and death is a pathway that we all must experience” (Lavorgna & Hutton, 2018, p4).

    Traditionally it was thought that we had to disconnect from loved ones in order to move on and recover from grief, but we know now, that establishing enduring connections with those we’ve lost, including our pets, can actually be a healthy way of coping.

    There are many ways to do this. As illustrated in the quote above, some companion animals teach us life lessons. They may teach us unconditional love, how to live in the present, or how to remember to not take life too seriously.

    Many people I’ve talked with in my work say that they honour their pets by living how they lived. This could be as simple as savouring the small things in life like a nap on the couch in the sun or stopping to smell the roses once in a while.

    If you’ve lost a beloved companion, it can help to develop enduring connections and find ways to remember and keep them close. If you’re not sure how to do this, here is a list of 10 ways you can honour the life of your beloved companion and keep their memory alive.

    1. Share the news.

    Speak to understanding friends, family and other pet owners about your loss. Sharing your thoughts and feelings about the loss, the significance of your bond and the memories you have of them can all be ways to help you cope. If you find your feelings are overwhelming or prolonged then it can also help to speak to a counsellor, psychologist or other health professional about your loss. Pets and People provides a list of pet loss therapists who practice in Australia as well as access to additional resources and articles on pet loss and bereavement.

    2. Create a photo album or collage.

    Whether you choose to create an album or collage with friends, family or on your own, the process of collecting images can be bittersweet but a wonderful way to cherish your companion. You can also write stories below the images or talk about the memories that the images evoke as you show them to your friends and family.

    3. Engage an artist to draw or paint a portrait.

    Memorialise your companion by engaging an artist to draw or paint a portrait of your beloved pet.

    4. Dedicate a space in the house or yard.

    Dedicating a space in your yard or house to your companion can be a way to remember them. This may be a favourite place they used to sleep or a mantle piece where you can place a photo, their ashes, candle or collar.

    5. Plant a tree.

    A tree or plant can be a living memorial in honour of your loved one.

    6. Write a letter or poem. 

    Writing a letter or poem can be a helpful way of making sense of the loss and can help find meaning. If the death of your companion was sudden and unexpected, then you may wish to write down what you would have said to them if you had the chance as a way to say goodbye, helping you find closure and acceptance.

    7. Hold a burial service or celebration of life.

    Although funerals are not traditionally held for pets in Australia these can be helpful ways of saying goodbye and honouring your loved one. These services can help promote acceptance of the loss and can also help you to get support from friends and family during such a very difficult time. If you’re not sure how to do this, Sweet Goodbye offers ceremony kits which include guidebooks, wraps and handcrafted ceremonial adornments as well as other keepsakes and memorial items.

    8. Scatter ashes in a meaningful area.

    If you choose cremation you may wish to scatter your pet’s ashes in a favourite place you and your pet liked to visit. Think of places you have fond memories of or where your companion most enjoyed being.

    9. Keepsakes and jewelry.

    Buy a special piece of jewelry or memento to remember your companion. Eden Hills, for example, offers a range of beautiful pieces which can hold a small amount of ashes or fur so you can carry your beloved companion with you.

    10. Donate to a charity.

    Donating to a charity or shelter in memory of your beloved pet can be a meaningful way to say goodbye and create a lasting legacy. RSPCA Victoria, for example, allows Gift in Memory donations. Contact the Events and Community Fundraising Team for more information.

    Enduring connections.

    Grief is a normal and painful response to the loss of a loved one. It is the price we pay for love. There are no right or wrong ways to grieve this loss. You do not, however, need to let your loved one go completely. Relationships can continue but in a different way; in your thoughts, your stories, and in the way you live. This can open you up to new possibilities and relationships.

    If you’d like to speak a counsellor about your loss please contact Dr. Vanessa Rohlf at virohlf@gmail.com

    For support during a crisis please call Lifeline 13 11 14, Mensline 1300 78 99 78 or Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636 (Australian residents only)

    References

    Lavorgna, B. F. & Hutton, V. E. (2018). Grief severity: A comparison between human and companion animal death, Death Studies, doi:10.1080/07481187.2018.1491485

    Worden, W. (2010). Grief counseling and grief therapy: A handbook for the mental health practitioner (4th ed.). New York, USA: Springer Publishing Company.

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