Keeping the memories alive by Mary Remer, CPDT-KA

Banbury Bedrock - Keeping the Memories Alive!

For most of us, losing a dog means losing a beloved family member and a profoundly intimate connection. The grief is all-encompassing, and we wonder how we will get through to the next day without our close companion. Compounding the loss is the fact there is no ritual to help us celebrate what this relationship meant to us, and publicly mourn its absence. When our close human companions die, there are rituals shared with friends that comfort and support us. But many people feel isolated when grieving for a pet, and such grieving is often done alone and in silence. But the mourning process requires us to feel and express our feelings, and the way we keep our loved ones with us is by remembering and sharing the memories. So families can create a memorial event in which friends are invited to join together to share reminiscences about the pet. Having the whole family participate in preparing such an event can help everyone comfort each other and share smiles along with the sadness. Here are some creative things you can do to create a memorial for your pet: Make a memory poster board with pictures and descriptive words. This can be framed and displayed on the wall or on a bureau or desk, and can be the centerpiece during any memorial get-together with friends. Memory boxes are easily made by decorating a shoebox and making a slit in the top of the box. Have everyone write their thoughts, descriptive words, specific memories, etc., and put these, along with favorite photographs, in the memory box. Place the box in a central location in the house. Leaving note pads of assorted colors or cut up strips of colored paper nearby can encourage children to express their feelings (if they are struggling, ask them pick a color that reflects their feelings). Friends of all sizes can be invited to share the sentiments, stories, and pictures in the memory box. You can also use these techniques to create a memory book. Sometimes children are helped by doing something more active like going to the beach or park and flying a kite with the pet’s name in the kite streamer. Conversation is often facilitated by the distraction of this activity. The flying kite will often invite questions from kids, such as “Where do animals go when they die?” Another family activity is creating a memorial planting. First, research the plants or trees that will best represent your pet. Select the location for planting and let children help you with any soil preparations and digging and planting. As you plant the memory tree or shrub, reminisce together and talk about why and how the plant will remind you of your pet. Sometimes giving back in recognition of all the things dogs give us is a wonderful way to work through your grief and move toward healing. You can have a memorial fundraiser, with proceeds to be donated to your breed’s rescue organization, your local shelter, or medical research on the disease or genetic defect that afflicted your pet. The children can also participate and feel that they are doing something important in the process. For example, they can raise money with a lemonade stand. Whether you’ve made the decision to bury or cremate your pet, a ceremony with rituals will be meaningful to your family in many ways, and for many years to come. If you’ve had your pet cremated, some or all of the ashes can be spread on your pet’s favorite walking path, lake, park, or any other location associated with happy times together. Think, too, about how to help the four-legged family members left behind, many of whom grieve for a lost companion and may become depressed and lethargic. Make an extra effort to go places together and walk or jog, play games, learn new tricks, go for extra car rides, stopping for a frozen yogurt along the way. In time, thinking about the pet who has gone will be a source of joy, rather than sadness. By then you may have decided to add a new family member—which may be the best way of all to honor the one who has gone.

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