Posted 3 months ago
(Photo: stock image from Getty)
By Leila Marshall
We all dread to think about the day our four-legged bundle of joy will pass away, or the thought of where would be the nicest place to bury them in the garden. It is not even comprehensible for most people – especially families with children.
But grief counsellor Lianna Champ believes that doggy funerals are a way for families to bond, and for children to share their feelings and happy memories about their beloved furry friend.
Lianna said: “Our pets are part of the family, and we have these unbreakable and unspoken bonds between ourselves and our pets. I think it’s important to treat them like anyone we would lose – and dealing with the loss should be a family experience, especially if we have young children.”
It's normal for adults to want to protect their children from being upset and we might even hide things from them. But by teaching our kids that it’s okay to be sad, and to express their feelings about their Darling Dog, we can help them remember them for the right reasons.
We’re not used to talking emotionally, and we’re constantly saying, “I’m fine” – we’re all guilty of it. When really, we should say, “I really struggled this morning. I miss Archie bounding in to my bedroom this morning.”
Lianna, 55, is an author and grief counsellor and has worked on the topic of grief for 40 years. Her book 'How to Grieve Like a Champ' has a section on dealing with pet grief.
She said: “I’ve lost many of my cats and my dogs. I’ve had pets ever since I was a little girl. I’ve brought up my two sons and we’ve suffered those losses together. We have little funerals for them.
“The dogs have been cremated and their ashes have been buried in the garden. We’ve made garden areas where we planted flowers and have little memorial stones. The children accept that we will outlive our pets and we experience the sadness, but, that joy that they bring to us, it’s always worth it with the love that dogs bring.
“One of the things I have never said to them is: ‘Don’t worry, we’re going to go and get a new dog next week’ because you’ll teach them then that it’s good to replace what you’ve lost, and that goes for all relationships. It isn’t about that. It’s about mourning the loss of the pet and in time when you feel ready to introduce a new pet, that’s when you do it.
“You can never replace the loss. I’ve had a complete one-of-a-kind relationship with each dog I’ve had over the years and I miss them for different things.”
Lianna is a funeral expert, civil funeral minister, counsellor, author, and speaker on the subject of grief (image: Lianna Champ)
Lianna buried her cats in boxes in the garden. She explained how her children helped to choose an area in the garden and made a cross in the soil with planted primroses and they added photographs and letters with the cats.
When you lose a pet, you can get all sorts of special containers for their ashes, and you can have pawprints done and made into special jewellery.
The kids could visit the grave whenever they needed to. She said: “My kids keep them as a part of their lives as they move forward. It’s a lovely thing for the children to do, to tend the area where their pets have been buried and to decorate it.”
Lianna said: “The key to healing is to be consciously directing our thoughts towards the memories and happiness on the things that we shared between our family and pets. It’s nice to create rituals and ways that we can keep that emotional connection. Because even though they’ve died, the love for our dog doesn’t die. That continues. We find ways to move forward with it.
“I still have pets and they all hit me differently. I had one cat in particular who was THE cat and I could sit and cry about him now, years later after he’s died. But on the whole, I love the feelings I get when I think about him. If we can accept that pets do die, that they have a shorter life span, and if kids can accept a pet as an additional thing of beauty for that period of time, we are able to have happy memories.
“It’s sad when people lose a pet and then don’t allow themselves the pleasure of another pet some time in the future, because they’re frightened of losing them, but that love that they bring is so much worth the loss. It’s just amazing, I could burst when I talk about my cats and dogs. They’re closing themselves off to so much love, but not just that, they may be giving a dog a beautiful life who needs rescue and has been cruelly treated.”
If you do have other pets at the time when you’ve lost one, it’s important to give them extra care and love, because they’ll also be missing their furry friend.
Lianna said: “If we start to take steps, we can get to a point of healing. Grief for me is the biggest subject in the world, there’s so many aspects of it. It’s an incredibly personal experience.
“I’ve learned over the years through my own personal loss but also working with thousands of grievers from all different walks of life. I’ve worked with people who are dying, people who are bereaved, people who’ve lost their pets, struggled through divorce, or have lost their job, all these things cause grief.”
You can buy Lianna’s book ‘How to Grieve like a Champ’ here: https://www.waterstones.com/book/how-to-grieve-like-a-champ/lianna-champ/9781910453551.
Lianna also wrote a section on her funeral website on what inspired her to write her book: