We all grieve in different ways. None of the ways is wrong.
One of the tips I was given as a youth and struggling with something emotional was to write out my feelings. I was into writing poetry in those days, so I routinely kept a journal and writing out my grief just seemed natural. When I had a pet die unexpectedly, the words poured out on the page along with the tears from my eyes. I found it was the thing that helped me the most with my grief.
As I got older, I quit writing out my grief. Then I ran across an obituary I had written about my dog Mandy shortly after she died. There were several details in the story that I had forgotten. I remembered those details immediately as I read, and it brought back what a total treasure and goofball Mandy was. It led me to think how tenuous memory can be, and how important it is to honor those you have loved.
Writing a pet obituary is a great way to process your grief, and a great way to remember what you most loved about your life together.
Some pets, like Grumpy Cat are larger than life, and they get their own obituary in the press. Others are loved by multiple family members, and so each should perhaps contribute to the story of how the pet impacted their lives.
Our family farm dog when I was a kid, Pete the Beagle, had a very different story line with me than he did with my father. I will never forget him being with me the first time I tried driving our stick shift Ford truck. I was supposed to be driving seed corn out to my father in the back forty; it was an emergency. Pete was on the passenger seat. I ground the gears and had the truck choke out on me twice when trying to shift, which jerked the truck. Pete looked at me (straight in the eyes) then looked out the open truck passenger window, then looked back at me quickly before jumping out the window. Honestly, I couldn’t blame him.
When I started dating, I had a curfew of 11 pm. My Dad would station Pete against the front door, then fall asleep in the lounge chair in the living room. When I came home, I had to open the front door, which would hit a sleeping Pete causing him to start barking loudly. My Dad would wake up, glance up at the clock, note the time, then go back to sleep. I begged Pete to never sell me out if I was late. But no amount of treats, sweet talk or tummy rubs could save me. Ultimately, he was my father’s loyal dog.
So if you were to write your pet’s obituary, or biography, would you write it alone? Or would you ask family and friends to add a story? Perhaps post the biography then ask people to join you with their memories? Would you ask people for photos of your pet?
Grab a pen and write down what is unusual or unforgettable about your best friend. Maybe you want to do this each year, before your eyes are shaded with the shadow of grief. For me, each pet I lose teaches me to cherish the pets that are currently healthy and alive even more. It is nice to build up a bank account of happy memories for when that not so happy day comes.
By writing down what you appreciate about your pet, it will make you value them even more. Even the crazy stuff they do that you never liked becomes endearing when you think of it never happening again. My cat Spike would sleep on my head at night and drool. I had to keep a towel by my pillow so I didn’t get splashed with lukewarm drool at night. Now, I long for a cat that sleeps by my head every night. Spike was totally and completely one of a kind.
If you’re looking for a way to get started with writing, think of the old newswriting que; who, what, where, when, why and how. How did you meet your pet? Where did you find them? What is their favorite toy, food, activity or friend? What is their weirdest quirk? What would you miss if your pet left tomorrow? Where is their favorite place in the house, their favorite place to sleep? Who is the one they love the most, who is it that they play with the most? When did you know that your pet was a keeper? When did you know you would love your pet forever? What is your favorite activity with your pet? How did you know your pet was going to change your life forever?
These are going to be personal stories that are too sacred to forget. In times where things feel too chaotic, or dark, the shining light of ordinary loving times together will be beyond a comfort. They will be a guiding light towards the love that will always connect you. The love that lives beyond death.