Losing your dog is hard as he’s one of the closest members of your family so having a memorial service is an important part of the grieving process: here’s how to do it.
“For many, a memorial service or celebration of a pet’s life can be an important, meaningful part of the grieving process,” says Maryglenn Warnock, a certified pet bereavement counselor and ordained pet funeral officiant/pet chaplain who currently serves on the advisory board of Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary, on the board of the Nashville Humane Association, and Pet Community Center.
Maryglenn experienced this firsthand when planning a celebration of life for her beloved Old English Sheepdog, Garcia. “Celebrating Garcia’s life with people who knew him and loved him meant the absolute world to me — and it is an honor and a privilege to be able to help others who are in that same position. Maryglenn offers the following tips for planning a memorial:
Pick a spot. Whether an outdoor space, a home or other location, honoring the memory of a beloved companion in a place that holds special significance can add a meaningful dimension to a service.
Create a guest list. Take some time to think of the many lives your pet touched — neighbors, friends, dog walkers, veterinarians and staff, co-workers, groomers, pet sitters, etc. There are plenty of well-intentioned people who don’t understand the significance of losing a pet (and there are also non-well-intentioned people who are quick to judge). When making the guest list, I recommend not inviting the people who fall into either category. Their presence at such an event can be hurtful. This event is a way to promote healing, and people who are not sympathetic to your mourning have no place there.
Give children a role. Letting children take part in a ceremony can be tremendously healing, as it allows them space to acknowledge their loss, and also allows them to learn how to grieve in a positive, healthy way.
Speak. Be prepared to say a few words if you are up to it. There is something incredibly moving about hearing an owner talk about memories of his or her beloved pet. I typically encourage owners to at least spend a portion of a service sharing their personal reflections.
Include an officiant. Just as there are officiants for human services, there are also people, such as myself, who serve as pet officiants. I think there is no greater honor than having a pet owner trust me with this important role. Delivering a meaningful, personalized eulogy for every pet is a role I absolutely cherish.
Do what resonates. Remember that it is OK to celebrate, or cry — or both. The word “funeral” strikes fear in the heart of many, as it conjures up images of discomfort, sadness, sorrow, etc. But a pet funeral, or a human funeral for that matter, doesn’t need to be somber. The event can be celebratory, joyful, touching, inspiring — whatever resonates with the owner.
Know that there are no rules. For human funerals, there is a trend toward celebrating a life in a unique way. Similarly, a memorial service for a pet can be structured in such a way that feels right to the owner. There is no rule that says the event has to take place immediately after a pet’s death. Additionally, there are no rules for the service itself. It can be somber or lighthearted. It can be religious or not religious. It can take place day or night, in a place that feels right to the owner.