UU Animal Chaplain Elizabeth DeCoux is available by telephone to discuss the recent, long-ago, or anticipated loss of a companion animal. She also will attend euthanasia and is available for blessing animals. Her topic this month is what to expect at a memorial for an animal.
Although celebrations of our animals’ lives are not rare, many bereaved people do not know what to expect at such a service. It may be helpful to know the main characteristics of the ceremony: that it will be unique to you and your animal, and it will be created and carried out according to your wishes, with the support of the chaplain. If you do not have the energy or time to help plan the celebration of life, the chaplain can do all the planning, and carry out a general service that will be appropriate for most any circumstances. On the other hand, the chaplain can talk with you so you can plan some or even all aspects of the celebration. You can bring pictures or favorite toys or a bed to the planning meeting, and you can determine what part these items should play in the service: simply being present, or being referred to specifically in the service. The chaplain can also bring readings and poems for you to look through as you are planning, to determine whether you wish for any of them to be used in the service. Or, you may have a favorite reading that you want included. You can choose to have music played, whether on a device or at your piano or other instrument. If you want the service to honor the words and traditions of a particular faith, that request will be honored. You can eulogize your animal, have the chaplain or someone else give the eulogy, or not include that element. Your role in the service can be as active as you wish.
There is no set length for a celebration of life. It might last 10 or 15 minutes, or it might go on for an hour or even more. You may want to invite family and friends to attend, or may choose to include only immediately family. You may choose to have a time of food and fellowship after the service, or you may not.
Sometimes the bereaved places a beautiful cloth on a coffee table or the kitchen table. There will be candles on the table, and each person attending the service will light a candle for the animal while relating their favorite memory of the animal, or words of blessing they want to accompany the animal as she departs. If wax drips onto the cloth, as it usually does, then after the service the bereaved can keep that cloth, with the wax on it, as a tangible reminder of all the blessings and memories described during the service. Some people cherish these special memorial cloths for a lifetime.
The chaplain can say a prayer during the service or not.
If your animal has been cremated, you might choose to have the animal’s cremains at the celebration of life. Scattering those cremains in a meaningful location can be part of the service.
These are only some of the ways in which the animal chaplain can help you make the celebration of life for your animal special and comforting.