There is a beautiful little book called ‘The Tenth Good Thing about Barney’ by Judith Viorst. Barney is a child’s beloved cat and has died. The family plan a funeral for Barney and the mother asks the little boy to think of ten good things about Barney. The boy gets to nine and cannot think of another. When the funeral is over and the hole has been filled in, the boy thinks of the tenth good thing. Barney will now be able to help the plants grow. It is a poignant story of coming to terms with death.
We are not supposed to grieve pets in the same way we grieve people. I have had people say, ‘Why am I feeling like this? I didn’t cry as much when my mother died.’ Of course we are sad when a loved dog or cat or horse dies but do we call it grief? Do we feel the same symptoms- anger, pain, sadness, guilt … And yes we do.
Pets are an important of our lives. For some they are a close companion, a mate where at times there is no human friend around. Pets become a part of the family. They teach us about being human. And the grief we feel when they die is perfectly normal and indeed healthy.
The death of a pet can also remind us of other grief that may not have been fully dealt with. A friend whose little dog was bitten by a snake wept and wept before realising that she was also crying for her brother who had died the year before.
Rituals can be important when a pet dies. Have a ‘funeral’ if that is possible. Light a candle. Don’t be in a hurry to put the pet’s belongings away. Keep a photo in a prominent place. Don’t be afraid to cry. Talk to people who knew your treasured friend. Remember the funny things that happened. Our dog, Hardy would ‘sing’ happy birthday for each birthday in the family. We still have someone howling in a Hardy-like way for each birthday. Make a scrapbook. Some people say they will never be able to have another pet. For others a new pet is a good way of remembering the old pet. A lady whose cat died had a simple service and lit a candle. Some months later she was given a kitten and lit a new candle next to the old candle to welcome her new friend.
We welcome pets into our lives. We love the part they play in our lives and feel grief when they die. We give thanks for the privilege of having been a part of their life.