Kids and Ceremony
The death of our pets is fast becoming recognised as a significant loss and that the grief and bereavement that follows is a deep and complex process. There is no ‘one size fits all’ response to death and loss. There are many choices depending upon how your pet has died and your own circumstances.
Many people choose to hold a ceremony- from a simple and personal ceremony between intimate family members and friends, to bigger more celebratory occasions that involve a wider circle of friends and, in the case of dogs especially, their friends from the neighbourhood and park.
A ceremony, however simple, is a time to combine words, music and actions that give everyone gathered some space to share their own experiences of your pet, to acknowledge their death and to celebrate their life.
It may seem for some, a bit of a fuss, but for others, it is a way to express just how much your pet was a central part of your lives and to create a time where the bonds of family and friends are strengthened. Have the ceremony in a place that you are comfortable in- at home, in the park where you spent time, a special place you can return to and are able to shed a tear in.
Alternatively, you can make cards and drop them in letterboxes or send an email out informing friends and family of your pets death, inviting them to a ceremony or asking them to contribute stories, any pictures they have.You can compile these into a book of your pet- this is a great exercise to do with children and it remains as a treasured memento.
Elements you may want to include in a Ceremony
If you wanted to follow a more formal course, you may begin with a welcome or Introduction, thanking people for coming and stating directly that we are here acknowledge a death and to honour and celebrate the life of our much loved family pet – name them.
You can tell some of the story of how they died. This is very useful for everyone gathered as it lays down the narrative with which all members of the family will carry with them as they begin to grieve and make sense of their pets’ absence in your lives. Honouring and celebrating is important, equally too is giving space and words to the fact that is a death that has brought everyone together in this instance.
Tell the story of your pets’ life, from beginning right through to its completion. This offers you an opportunity to put into words just what your pet has given you in their life and always opens out the mood from sadness to remembering the great and funny times.
Invite people to speak - to offer up their stories or experiences of your pet.
Children can read poems or tell their stories. Close the ceremony with music, or by putting into words what your pet gave to your lives, thanking them for this and what you wish for them now. Your own beliefs about what happens after death in terms of an afterlife, heaven, reincarnation or spiritual practice of any sort, will determine just what you say throughout your ceremony.
Create a safe and appropriate place in which you can really be witnessed and your feelings expressed about just how much your pet means to you, how solid the bond, how unconditional the love, and how longstanding the relationship.
Scattering of ashes
If you have chosen to have your pet cremated and the ashes returned to you, you may wish to scatter them as part of the ceremony or once some time has passed. You may wish to scatter their ashes in one or a number of places that are of significance to you and your family.
For some people placing a stone in the garden or backyard with their pets name or paw print in it is a great memorial and becomes a place that is always associated with them. Recognising anniversaries, as the days, weeks, month and years pass how we carry the loss of our pets also change. Holidays- if your pet accompanied you on holidays, take a photo of them to the places you used to holiday as a family when they were alive.
Grief is cyclical and can re emerge in intensity as anniversaries and significant occasions approach. Mark these times with simple everyday ceremonies that give some language and recognition to what you and possibly other family members are feeling.
If your pet was your primary and significant other, marking anniversaries and other occasions, however private and public you wish, will be of enormous benefit for you and as a tribute to the relationship you shared with your pet.
Author Victoria Spence
Helping children with the death of their pet
What to say to children
Children and grief