In the past, when a pet had passed away, the family would normally hold some sort of garden memorial burial ceremony for the sake of teaching children about what happens after something or someone passes away. With the exception of some parrots, animals are not meant to be with us throughout our lives. These types of pet memorials are ritualistically similar to that of human funerals. They teach children that death is a part of life.
In some low-lying areas, communities place their dead in crypts above ground, just as the ancient Egyptians did. In other areas, for centuries, the deceased have been buried in graves. The most economical way to dispose of a body was to bury it in the ground. Coffins were created of plain wood in a rectangular type shape. At one end, the coffin was just a bit wider to accommodate the person’s shoulders. Bodies were laid in coffins, lowered into a hole of similar size and covered up with dirt. Usually away from the main population, there was a designated area for coffins. These were called graveyards. Funerals for the dead were held in the graveyards.
Family pet funerals are similar. For a small pet, a shoe box may serve as a make-shift coffin. For larger animals, a comparable size hole was dug in the backyard, and the body, often in a large plastic bag or covered with a tarpaulin, was lowered down into the hole. Dirt would be back-filled into the hole, covering the deceased pet. A pet gravemarker usually consisted of a cross made of twigs, a flower or wreath, and a personal pet item.
In times past, many people were buried with no gravemarker. Unmarked graves could be unearthed years later. In present day, gravestones or headstones (named from the placement of the stone over the “head” of the body) are used to mark the burial site. They are engraved with names and the dates that span the life of the family member.
Eventually, pet lovers decided their pets deserved to be honored with more than sticks and flowers. People are not the only ones deserving of headstones. Pets deserved them as well. Today, there are hundreds of different pet memorials and urns for pets. Both are available with engraved sentiments, poems, names and dates. Many can be used for burial, but some are meant to be displayed. Some of the pet memorial urns are so beautiful, one might think them treasured antique pieces of art.
Times have changed over the centuries. What we are teaching our children about death through the loss of pets needs to be brought into modern times. Exquisite marble pet memorials and pet urns should now be part of these lessons. Perhaps the new tokens of honor will bring families comfort and beauty into pet grieving ceremonies.