8 Practical and Healing Ways to Remember Your Pet After They Pass
Even though it’s the last thing you want to think about.
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Saying goodbye to your best pal is never a good time. It feels impossible to give that final hug to the dog or cat (you know, your actual child) you always said would live forever. In fact, it’s the last thing you ever want to think about — you avoid The Art of Racing in the Rain (2019) and Marley & Me (2008). Hell, you need a content warning even if there’s a perfectly healthy old dog or cat in a movie or TV show.
When it comes down to it, the moment your pet leaves your life is one you’re never going to be ready for. Not many people know that moment better than Dr. Angela Randazzo, who owns a Columbia, Missouri veterinary practice that’s solely dedicated to providing a calm, peaceful end-of-life experience for pets in their own homes.
Dr. Randazzo has made it her goal to provide comfort for pets and their parents in their last moments. “There are some really well-adjusted people out there who are like, ‘Well, I have the memories I’ll take with me; I don’t really need anything else,’” she says. But for those of us who haven’t achieved ultimate mastery over our emotions on this earthly plane, we tend to look for something we can hold onto.
“Death is so final,” Randazzo says. “And you have this creature in your life that gives so much to you on an emotional level, that the finality of their passing and being gone from your daily routines — it’s just human nature to want to hang onto that as much as you possibly can.”
After years of daily play sessions, feeding schedules, stinky baths, and loving kisses, creating a memorial for your pet can be a cathartic reminder of their presence in your life even after they’re gone. That’s why it’s important to choose the right way to remember them — and the “right way” is simply whatever feels right for you. If the right idea hasn’t come to you yet, here are a few prompts that might help.
Personalized Art Pieces
Pet-themed pieces run the gambit in the art world. Whether you opt for a classic framed paw print or an elaborate oil painting, placing a piece of art in your home that reflects your pet’s true personality will help you pay homage to their place in your home and your life. Try hanging your pet portrait in their favorite sunny corner of the house or in a place where you spent a lot of time together.
Dr. Randazzo provides a paw print to all the pet parents she works with and says a lot of people “like the paw print idea because they want to get a tattoo.” Tattooing your pet’s paw print on your body is a creative way to make sure they’re always with you. It doesn’t have to be a paw print either; pet memorial tattoos can be of anything. Want to surround your pet’s face with florals? Find an artist who specializes in portraits and botanicals. Watercolor tats more your style? Set up your ink with a vibrant background to bring their joy to life.
Custom Pet Urns
When you think of an urn, odds are you think of a stuffy funeral home tradition — the smell of your great-grandma’s potpourri, a creaky old leather chair, and a dusty bookshelf. You get the picture. But these days, you can purchase inspiringly handmade urns created by actual artists (and in your price range). You’ll likely find one that fits your pet’s personality—whether it’s a custom cat urn made to look like your sweet angel baby, or a simple memorial box.
If you’re not quite ready for an under-the-skin permanent reminder of your little guy (or gal), a special piece of jewelry might be for you. The possibilities are endless when it comes to pet-themed jewelry these days — from custom nose-print necklaces to cremation stone jewelry or a special piece that holds a photo of your buddy. The best part about these pieces? You don’t have to wait until your pet is gone to get them. You can show off your devotion while they’re still around, too. And if they look at you like, Why is my face around your neck?, then, well, they’ll know just how much you love them.
Whether your pup stopped to smell the roses on trips to the park or your cat loved to lounge in your window flower box (or maybe nibbled all the leaves off your indoor plants), a memorial garden might be more appropriate. Try putting in some native wildflowers around a memorial statue or planting a tree in memory of your pet. That way you’ll have a place to go whenever you want to think of them — as if that’s not already all of the time.
You probably remember these guys from third grade art class — they may seem simple, but try hanging a suncatcher or placing a prism in the sunbeam your pet loved to lay in most. At first glance, it’s a small piece of art to adorn your window. But next time the sun comes in, you’ll see little rainbows dancing in their old lounging spot. Sappy? Yeah. But sappy is more than OK when you’re grieving your best friend.
Celebration of Life
Memorial services don’t have to be sad, stale affairs. Try throwing a celebration of life in your pet’s memory. Invite their pals from doggy daycare, your neighbors who fed them while you were on vacation, and your friends and family and provide a place you can all share memories of your companion. You’ll create some new moments to cherish with your loved ones while you celebrate the joy your pet brought to your life. You may even finally laugh about all the times they tried to eat that, er, extremely unsanitary thing out of the bathroom trash.
Don’t underestimate the power of writing. Whether you post a heartfelt social media status, write a letter to your vet’s office, or even craft a beautiful obituary for the local paper, don’t hold back on expressing how much your pet meant to you. We can all agree by now that pets are part of the family, and they deserve to be remembered that way, too.
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Mollie Jackman is a writer, editor, and graduate of Lindenwood University’s MFA in writing. She’s also a pet parent to a goofy big-eared dog and two brown tabby cats, plus a rotating cast of foster animals. When she’s not reading, writing, or picking up strays, she can be found binge-watching arguably terrible reality TV shows and cooking competitions or rolling around the local skating rink in Columbia, Missouri.