On Loving and Losing Our Pets

- through Francois Leclercq

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When people die, we have rituals and traditions to guide us through the process. Most of them are meant to help those who have been left behind. Family and friends gather and sit with the survivors. Neighbors bring food. There are guidelines to follow regarding burial or cremation, who will officiate it and when it should take place. There are informal, even formal, rules about what color to wear. In the West, it is very traditional to wear black. You can live in the West and wear white for mourning, as would be traditional in Cambodian culture. Your family could follow Thai traditions and wear black, and if there is a widow, she will wear purple. Or you could all wear tropical prints because the deceased loved Hawaii. You might meet on the beach, paddle through the water, and release flowers. Maybe you'll have a jazz funeral in New Orleans. There are many different ways to mourn our loss or celebrate a life, or both. I don't think these rituals magically erase grief, but they do help. They bring us together and provide a sense of community. But what about when a pet dies? I think we are still figuring this out.

When I was a kid and our pup died, I had no idea what happened to him afterwards. She disappeared and I missed her. Now, when one of the cats dies, the veterinarian provides cremation services. It seems to me that the first time I brought a cat for cremation, they took the body and gave me their condolences. The last time or two I was asked if I wanted to keep the ashes. Considering the fact that you can hold a burial and ceremony or even release the ashes, this makes sense. You may decide to keep the ashes. And if you don't bury them, keep them in an urn, or release them, you can turn those ashes into pottery or even jewelry. You can have your pet taxidermized, opt for cloning or have a portrait painted. There are services that will make a stuffed animal that looks as close to your pet as possible. There are other ways to celebrate your pet's life and mourn their loss. I hope you will make a decision that will support you in your Buddhist practice. Something that helps you move towards freedom from suffering.

Recently, I discovered a story that makes me happy. And I hope it will be the same for you. Kevin Curry has learned that his dog, Mellow, has lymphoma. Mellow was dying. Many neighbors knew Mellow because he and Kevin walked together twice a day, every day, rain or shine. Kevin decided Mellow needed a goodbye. One last walk around the neighborhood. Kevin prepared a special letter and dropped it in mailboxes along their regular route.

"I will be walking around the neighborhood on Saturday, June 3 from 19-20 p.m. and would like to say goodbye to you face to face if you are available," Curry wrote in the letter on Mellow's behalf. “Come pat me on the head or rub my stomach and I'll be forever grateful (I love people after all). »

Kevin left on the day and time of the final walk, expecting a small turnout from supportive neighbors. There was a crowd: children were waving; some people brought their dogs. Mellow had the best experience possible. He was a rescue dog who lived his best life and was loved by many.

We can hope that after Mellow's death, friends and neighbors have continued to watch over Kevin and remind him that, like his dog, he is loved. This is what we can do for our friends, colleagues and family members after the loss of a precious pet.

I knew my neighbor's elderly cat, Jack, was dead when I found some extra trash and food on my porch. The attached note said it was an inheritance from Jack for my cat. Even though my neighbor didn't want to talk too much about it, it was okay for me to occasionally bring up the legacy. And over time, we were able to invent stories about the legacy. Like the fact that there might be a key to a safe in the litter, and that in that safe was treasure. But then we realized the treasure was probably cans of tuna!

After your pet's death and after you've decided whether or not to have a burial, cremation, or ceremony — or nothing — you'll still be dealing with your own grief. Seek to make choices about how you say goodbye that support your ability to move forward on your spiritual path. It requires self-awareness and honesty on your part. Do you want to keep a photo, statue or stuffed version of your pet? Or taxidermy, cloning or ashes? What will allow you to fully express your grief and finally accept the fact that your sweet creature is gone? Your job now is to deal with your grief in ways that help you free yourself from suffering.

“Man takes dying dog for one last walk in PA neighborhood – and neighbors show up in style,” accessed August 6, 2023, https://www.yahoo.com/news/man-takes-dying- dog-final-140738368.html.

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Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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