Prepare or don't - pet loss milestones have a way of wreaking emotional havoc on our lives. Survive anniversary grief reaction by understanding it and with rituals that will aid in your healing.
We all travel through the murkiness of pet grief in different ways, but I firmly believe that regardless of our mourning styles, we all can benefit from being intentional about our journeys in order to thrive. I wouldn't wish pet loss on anyone, and yet I feel it has been one of the most powerful growth opportunities I've experienced. I choose to see the loss of Spartacus and Tia as a doorway to self-development because I want to make my life beautiful in part because of my pain. Using mindful rituals to mark the stages of grief that I pass through has been extremely valuable for putting my brain and heart into a growth mindset.
So, with that in mind, regardless of which pet loss milestone you’re facing down, I offer the following practices I’ve used to manage the emotional upheaval of my cat loss milestones:
- Plan a memorial service. Laying your pet to rest will be a significant experience for you - whether you bury him or her in the backyard or choose cremation. Marking th occassion with a memorial service that speaks to your personal beliefs can turn a difficult, scary experience into one that gives you peace and comfort. Planning a funeral for your pet ahead of time may make the process easier. I've put together some ways to do plan a Christian pet memorial service, but will be adding to the library in the future for other faith traditions.
- Use an app and calendars to mark milestones. One of the most important rituals I used daily after the losses of Tia and Spartacus was to mark post-death milestones thoughtfully. You could also plan meaningful celebrations of life around other significant days in the year or seasons in your process through rituals based on your faith or local traditions. But you need to know when! I recommend spending some time setting calendar reminders and a count-up timer for yourself prior to upcoming milestones. For instance, I use my digital calendars to mark things such as my cats’ birthdays as well as the number of months since their deaths (including the one-year anniversary). This way I never regret forgetting and I can prepare myself emotionally when they do come up so that they don't blindside me. I make sure to give myself a reminder so that I can see it come and plan something meaningful if I’m in the right headspace for it.
- Ask for help. If experiencing this milestone has reminded you of how far you have yet to go in your griefwork, don’t be afraid to reach out to others to ask for support. Be specific about what you need. In particular, if you want someone to spend time with you during a coming milestone, as if they’re willing to block out some time on their calendar to hang out.
- Give yourself permission to not observe an anniversary or milestone. If you’re in a very challenging phase of your grief journey, do not feel pressure to go out of your way to observe a milestone. Whether you choose to opt out of your family’s Thanksgiving celebrations or you decide not to make a big deal over the anniversary of your pet’s birthday, it’s ok. Give yourself permission to grieve on your own as you feel able. If it helps, you could plan a distraction such as a visit with friends or a trip out of town.
- Celebrate how far you’ve come. If you’re fresh in your grief, feel free to ignore this suggestion. If you have put some time between yourself and the loss, it’s important to use milestones as a way of celebrating the griefwork you’ve done up to this point. Forget about how you’re supposed to grieve and instead make note of what you’ve learned about yourself and life. Honour that progress.
Of course, the grief anniversary markers may not be the things with which you struggle most. For some, grief milestones that are anticipated are easier to prepare for and deal with. That's definitely me. But perhaps anticipating makes them more difficult for you. Regardless of your grieving style, check out the posts below for some more in-depth ideas on how to use rituals to go through your pet loss journey with growth in mind.
To get you started, here's a free printable I've found incredibly useful. I used this as a way of organizing my thoughts and recollections of both of my cats in a way that I can access later. I didn't want to forget any precious moment, and so writing them down has ensured my memories are solidified. I used this at the 1-year anniversary of Tia's death (Spart's is still coming up) as a way of marking the day with some of the happiest memories of my sweet girl. You could also use this for your memorial service, or any time you need a sweet recollection to boost your spirits.
Image: Rhand McCoy
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Facing pet grief milestones with purpose and mindfulness can be useful in going through the healing process. This count-up timer has been useful to us as we've grieved the loss of our Tia. May it help you, too.
You may have searched extensively to find a funeral service for your pet that honours your Christian faith - with no luck. Try our do-it-yourself guide to creating your own funeral service that will allow you to give your pet the send-off that fits with your personal beliefs.