When my mother passed away in 1998, putting together a display for her memorial service was made a million times easier because I’d already made a seven-foot-long Lifetime Banner for her surprise 75th birthday party two years earlier and could simply add the most recent reminiscences to an additional couple of foam boards to make it current. It was a tremendous comfort to feel I was adequately honoring her life with this banner, which included funny and/or touching stories told and photos submitted for that birthday party from friends and family the world over. It was a terrific conversation started and allowed people to creatively express their feelings about my kooky mother. (By the way, her funeral service concluded with a 21-squirt-gun salute that devolved into a water fight! It was PERFECT for her!! Read more about this in Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss in the “We All Love Lucy” chapter.)

The same is true for our beloved animal companions. If you keep a scrapbook, file folder, memory box, etc. to which you periodically add photos, used-and-abused chew toys/catnip mice, and old collar or tags, bits of fur after a haircut, lost baby teeth, a chewed-up shoe, anecdotes or memories shared on note cards, etc., you’ll not only be making sacred every moment of your pet’s life while he/she is living it, but you’ll save yourself trouble and heartache setting up a memorial service or shrine in his/her honor when your furry/feathered family member does pass on.

Think of it like a child’s baby book or scrap book. You’re not adding things to that with a morbid eye on their eventual death 60–70 years later. You’re highlighting special occasions in the moment to allow for those fond memories to be more vivid any time you wish to revisit them throughout his/her life. It’s no different for your pet. Besides, it’s fun to pull your pet close to you and take out the memory book/box and show him/her, “Look, Ludwig, here’s a picture of when you jumped in your Auntie Diane’s fish pond and then rolled in her newly mulched garden! You were a West Highland “muddy” terrier that day!” (Just don’t let him/her chew or drool on the photos as you show them.)

It can also be a tremendous help to those around you who want to be able to help you when you’re at your most distraught during your grief. Just have them pull out the book/file/box. You can sit together and go through each item, with you explaining the significance of and/or telling stories about each item with your friend’s arm around you and a box of tissues close at hand. Even if you just leave it out for visitors to look through without your direct involvement, it feels good to know your pet is being remembered by another person. Or, if you’re not up to it just yet yourself, you may ask a creative friend to make a nice arrangement of the items for display for a more formal ceremony that other animal-loving friends and family members will attend at a later time (with or without an animal chaplain speaking at it). Believe me, when they’re at a loss as to how best to help you, this can prove a wonderful,tangible way for your friend(s) to show their love and support.

Having a positive thing like this to focus on, though it WILL be linked to tears, is a very healthy activity that encourages expression (as opposed to bottling up) of these emotions while at the same time giving you a sense of purpose. That “purpose,” namely honoring and celebrating your pet’s life, can give you an anchor when your emotions threaten to sweep you away.

I’d love to hear some creative ideas you’ve had in creating a memorial to your pets!

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