So, Sunday was National Pet Memorial Day. I’m sure many of you reading this have special dogs who are no longer with us. The idea of a memorial might sound daunting, but doesn’t have to be formal or take a lot of work or time. It just takes awareness. The special relationship you had with your dog can shape what a memorial ends up looking like or being. Your talents or predispositions can shape a memorial, too. Today, I’ll give you some ideas about how to think outside of the box. You may even come up with some really cool ideas of your own.
We live in a world that wants to rush things, and that includes the grieving process. Creating a memorial to your dog, even if simple, can honor her memory and her life. And a memorial can help us with our healing.
In my case, this topic comes at an opportune time. Our old dog, Corona, probably does not have a lot of days left. We’re doing pet hospice at home, and we’ve reached the tipping point where the good times seem balanced with the not-good. She is still eating and drinking, and enjoying very slow walks, but she is down more and up less. I am thinking now about how I will memorialize Corona and keep her memory alive.
According to Karen Warren-Severson, a mental health counselor, life coach, and author who is particularly interested in grief support, the loss of a pet and the subsequent grief is not always appreciated in our society. We live in a “hurry-up society which only allows us three bereavement days for human loss,” she says. “We can feel the impatience of others and this can complicate our grief process.” I think it takes a strong person to honor our own grieving process, no matter the time or the shape it takes. Consciously honoring your dog with a memorial can help with the healing process and help us move through grief.
Warren-Severson also points out that grief over life can accumulate, and we may not realize it. We begin experiencing loss as children and throughout our lifespan the losses accumulate. Some we never address, and some we address inadequately to the extent that when a new loss occurs, old grief is activated and we grieve for more than the new loss. This can be confusing because we may not understand that this is occurring, and our deep grief seems inexplicably strong to us, and unsettling. Perhaps taking the time to create a memorial can help us process grief.
Here are some ways you might memorialize your dog:
1. Write her a love letter
If words move you, write your dog a love letter. I did this for my sweet Kali, a tender and fierce little three-legged cat who I was honored to have in my life for 15 years.
2. Tell the story of her life, out loud
This is quite powerful as well, and you can do it alone or in front of others. There is some real power in speaking your words, honor, and love for a pet out loud. I did this, with no planning, for a wonderful pet of mine who I was grieving. I spoke the story of his life out loud, and told him how much I loved him and appreciated him. I was alone, and have no idea how long I talked for. But it was healing, and it was something I needed to do.
3. Dance or move like your dog
Did your dog move in a certain way that was unique to him? Did he have certain mannerisms? If you’re the kind of person that loves to move, embody these yourself, even if it only takes a moment. You’ll be amazed at how strongly the memory of your dog may come back.
4. Plant a tree in honor of your dog
Plant a tree, a flower, or something beautiful that reminds you of your dog. If your dog liked a particular place in a garden, plant something that reminds of you of that nice memory.
5. Take time to look at photos
I love to do this, and I continue to remember and memorialize my pets this way. Sometimes I will pull out my fat photo album, and page through slowly, letting the happy memories come back to me and thanking these animals for their time with me.
6. Create a ceremony, as simple or complicated as you wish
If you like ritual, you can design something as simple as lighting a candle in memory of your dog, or reading a poem, or some sort of actions that comprises a ceremony that honors your dog. It can be simple or complex, changing or unchanging, and repeated or one time.
7. Simply stop and remember your dog
This is one of the best ways to honor the memory of your dog. Simply take time to remember. If there’s an object that helps you do this, use the object. It doesn’t matter if the association doesn’t make any sense — it does to you. Every time I see the saying “it’s all good” or “life is good,” for some reason it reminds me of a special orange tom in my past. That’s enough for me.
These ideas may or may not create closure, but I don’t think that’s always the aim of this. We all move through the grieving process differently. Some get to closure a lot faster than others, and closure looks different for many of us. I think a memorial is about honoring your pet, wherever you are in the grieving process.
Here’s how I may memorialize Corona, my dog. She is not gone yet, and we are loving every moment. But there are some things that are so unique to her that they lend themselves well to serving as memorials.
- I will walk, lots. Corona and I loved to walk. I cannot take her on long walks now. She still wants to walk. I have been walking alone, and while I feel a bit naked without Corona at my side. I am always thinking of her when I walk.
- I will remember her fierce determination, if I ever need a little dose of it myself. Corona came from a rough, abusive beginning. She is one of the most determined dogs I’ve ever seen.
- I will remember her soft ears. I’ve spent a lot of time rubbing her ears lately, because they feel so good.
- I will write about her, because that’s what I do, and it helps me.
I think there are probably hundreds of ways to memorialize your dog that I’ve not even touched upon. So tell us, how have you, or how might you, memorialize your dog? Tell us your experiences in the comments.
Learn more about dogs with Dogster:
- 9 Tips for Keeping Your Dog Cool This Summer
- Let’s Talk: Does Your Dog Love to Roll in Stinky Things?
- Be Polite to Your Dog — It Benefits Both of You
About Catherine Holm: Told that she is funny but doesn’t know it, accused of being an unintentional con artist by her husband, quiet, with frequent unannounced bursts into dancing liveliness, Cat Holm loves writing about, working for, and living with cats. She is the author of The Great Purr (cat fantasy novel out June 1), the cat-themed memoir Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time, the creator of Ann Catanzaro cat fantasy story gift books, and the author of two short story collections. She loves to dance, be outside whenever possible, read, play with cats, make music, do and teach yoga, and write. Cat lives in the woods, which she loves as much as really dark chocolate, and gets regular inspiration shots along with her double espresso shots from the city.