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Pets Are Family, Too!

Marla Noel - Tuesday, February 24, 2015
Fairhaven Memorial Park President Marla Noel“It came to me that every time I lose a dog, they take a piece of my heart with them; and every new dog that comes into my life gifts me with a piece of their heart. If I live long enough, all of the components of my heart will be dog and I will become as generous and loving as they are.”

- Anonymous

This saying rings true for any pet – they not only claim a piece of our hearts but become a part of our families. This makes losing a pet as difficult as losing a human loved one.

I was reminded of this just last week when one of our Fairhaven families lost their eight-year-old dog, Buck. He died unexpectedly, throwing the family into an emotional tailspin. At first they discussed getting a “new Buck.” However, once the shock wore off, they realized just how painful their loss truly was. When they opened the freezer to get ice, Buck always came running to snag a piece – but no happy canine came running now. When they returned home from a full day of running errands, he greeted them at the door with a toy clenched in his teeth – but now they come home to an empty house. The reality of his loss bit them hard and they couldn’t imagine getting another dog so soon. It would literally be like replacing a member of the family.

Eventually, the pain of loss subsides and time fosters healing. It can be difficult to tell children or adults grieving over a lost pet that it is healthy to grieve and everything will be better in time, but that is the truth. And actually, losing a pet can teach a family how to grieve. Our world today promotes strength and stoicism – showing emotion is often viewed as being weak. However, it is only when you allow yourself to feel sorrow that you can truly appreciate joy. Accepting the pain that comes with loss helps to relieve it. Some families are fortunate in that they don’t experience the loss of a beloved family member until later in life, so losing a family pet can prepare the entire family for the inevitable grieving process that is a necessary part of life.

We tell our families that part of the grieving process is commemorating a loved one’s life. Buck’s family plans to display photos of him in their home, which will help them feel his presence and remember their love for him. Another family I know assembled their favorite photos in a photo book, using the currently popular digital process, and made books for several grieving family members. And while animal funeral ceremonies are not very common, oftentimes families want to remain close to their pets that have passed – some keep their pet’s ashes in an urn or wooden box in a place of honor in the home, others bury them in their backyard.

However you choose to memorialize your pet and grieve – know that you’re not alone. And don’t be afraid to acknowledge the pain you feel. It’s understandable to feel and experience pain after losing a loved one – furry or not – who will forever have a place in your heart.


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