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8 loving ways to honor a pet's memory: Write an obit, grow a garden, dedicate a day

Clockwise from top left: Edele Brennan, Beth Fadely, Linda Smith, Jason Bauerschmidt

How have you honored the memory of a beloved pet?

We asked NPR's audience members to share the creative and loving ways they've coped with the grief of losing an animal companion — and their advice for people going through this situation for the first time.

It's a follow-up to a Life Kit episode and story we published in July about how to process the heartbreak of losing a pet. Life Kit reporter Keisha "TK" Dutes talked to Alexander Hardy, a writer who recently lost his family dog, Papi, about how to celebrate a pet's life (he suggests perhaps getting a tattoo or building a shrine) and how to process your feelings (keep the love going by donating your pet's toys to another animal owner).

Our audience had great ideas to add, from writing an obituary on Instagram to growing a memorial garden. Here's a selection of audience members' submissions to Life Kit's inbox. These responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Write an obituary

Patrick Saunders and his dog, Otis, who died this year.
/ Patrick Saunders
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Patrick Saunders
Patrick Saunders and his dog, Otis, who died this year.

I lost my dog of 15 years, Otis, in February, and it was brutal, as expected. I'd lost a couple of family dogs as a boy and that was hard, but Otis was the first dog I had on my own as an adult.

To cope with his loss, I wrote what basically amounted to an obituary and posted it on social media with a bunch of photos. Going through all his photos was hard but it helped me grieve, and so did writing out my thoughts about him and his life. It forced me to reflect on all the great things about him and appreciate that I was lucky enough to have that time with him.

The support and love I got from people online was overwhelming. There's so much wrong with social media and so much hate there these days, but in this case it served as such a powerful vehicle for good. —Patrick Saunders

Create a day in their honor

Birdie the dog sits on her owner Sheryl Bauerschmidt's lap.
/ Jason Bauerschmidt
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Jason Bauerschmidt
Birdie the dog sits on her owner Sheryl Bauerschmidt's lap.

On the anniversary of the day we lose a dog, we name the day in their honor. For example, July 26 is Birdie Day. I take the day off work. I go to my local 24-hour vet clinic and pay for someone's bill and donate supplies, food or treats. And I look for opportunities to do good.

One Birdie Day, I was at the library. As I was in line, the librarian was checking out people's books, answering phones and multitasking like a pro. When it was my turn, I told her how good she was at her job. As I left, she looked me right in the eyes and said, "Thank you for making me feel good about myself." It was all because I was taking the day to remember Birdie and do good. —Sheryl Bauerschmidt

Grow a memorial garden ...

Mena Bingham grew this memorial garden to honor her cat Sara.
/ Edele Brennan
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Edele Brennan
Mena Bingham grew this memorial garden to honor her cat Sara.

Our last loss was Sara [in 2021]. She had been with us since she was 8 weeks old, and she was everything to us. She greeted us at the door when we came home, slept like a teddy bear in my daughter's bed, told us when the other cats were hungry and kept me company the long, late nights I worked getting my degree.

My daughter and I constructed a memorial garden with a little patch of wildflowers in our backyard. This year, several sunflowers have survived the raiding squirrels and grown tall, searching out the sun and stretching up toward it. In those flowers, I remember Sara, and — sometimes — it doesn't hurt quite as much. —Mena Bingham

... and work on it as a way to cope

Left: Beth Fadely's miniature schnauzer, Bella. Right: A statue of a dog graces the Bella Blaine Rudy Memorial Flower Garden, which Fadely planted to commemorate her pet.
/ Beth Fadely
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Beth Fadely
Left: Beth Fadely's miniature schnauzer, Bella. Right: A statue of a dog graces the Bella Blaine Rudy Memorial Flower Garden, which Fadely planted to commemorate her pet.

My miniature schnauzer, Bella, was my constant solace as I navigated the aftermath of a divorce, a harrowing job experience and the departure of my children to college. She and I hiked, traveled and spent many contented hours cuddling on the couch.

A firm believer in hard work to cope, I created the Bella Blaine Rudy Memorial Flower Garden. Maintaining it, adding plants so I have three seasons of color and at times digging the garden up and redoing it, it has comforted me. —Beth Fadely

Keep their water bowl around

Left: Marie Hernandez's cat, Fina. Right: Hernandez displays a glass cat figurine and a water dish in the kitchen bay window where Fina loved to hang out.
/ Marie Hernandez
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Marie Hernandez
Left: Marie Hernandez's cat, Fina. Right: Hernandez displays a glass cat figurine and a water dish in the kitchen bay window where Fina loved to hang out.

My kitchen has a large bay window that looks out to the backyard. My cat, Fina, loved to be there checking out the birds and lizards. I even had a second water bowl for her there. She went over the bridge around Thanksgiving of last year. I still keep a full water dish along with a glass cat figurine so there's still a cat looking out the window. —Marie Hernandez

Take in a new life

Left: Linda Smith's cat Holly died last year at age 18. Right: Smith says her new cat, Callie, has helped ease the pain of Holly's passing. "No animal ever really takes the place of another. Each has their own special place in our hearts," she says.
/ Linda Smith
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Linda Smith
Left: Linda Smith's cat Holly died last year at age 18. Right: Smith says her new cat, Callie, has helped ease the pain of Holly's passing. "No animal ever really takes the place of another. Each has their own special place in our hearts," she says.

I have had pets my entire life, and their passing really is devastating. And once they are gone, it feels like the hole in my heart will never heal. I decided long ago that the only way to address this was to take myself to the shelter, adopt another life and process that adoption in the name and memory of my recently passed angel.

The distraction and activity alone of settling a pet into an unfamiliar, albeit loving, environment is a positive one, and the new addition inevitably finds their own place in my broken heart. That is how I have learned to handle the horrible loss. —Linda Smith

Betsy Burson's dog, Dodger, with colorful chalk marks on his head. They signify a dog's sacredness in the tradition of Kukur Tihar, the Nepalese Hindu celebration of dogs.
/ Betsy Burson
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Betsy Burson
Betsy Burson's dog, Dodger, with colorful chalk marks on his head. They signify a dog's sacredness in the tradition of Kukur Tihar, the Nepalese Hindu celebration of dogs.

Celebrate your dog the Nepalese way

I took inspiration from Kukur Tihar, the Nepalese Hindu celebration of dogs. I set a date about two weeks out to euthanize my most special dopey dog, Dodger, who was infirm. In order to help myself mourn, I ground up colored chalk in three to four colors and bought meatballs and chocolate [his favorite foods]. Whenever I felt overwhelmed with grief, I put a little chalk on his forehead [done as a blessing and to signify a dog's sacredness during Kukur Tihar], offered meatball treats and showered him with love.

I invited three of my closest friends [to witness his] death and asked them to bring flowers from their garden. We gave him a half-hour of love, put flowers around his neck [a mark of respect and dignity in the Kukur Tihar tradition] and let him eat some Reese's Peanut Butter Cups before the vet arrived. We shared special stories and held him while he went to sleep.

I loved that dog so much, but ritualizing [the last few weeks of his life and his death] was perfect. Now, when I am faced with a loss, even minor, I prepare myself by finding some way to acknowledge the sorrow of whatever change is pending and mourn in real-time. It's been very helpful for me. —Betsy Burson

Make a home movie and frame your photos

Jamie Cherry's miniature schnauzers Calvin, Hugo and Maxwell.
/ Jamie Cherry
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Jamie Cherry
Jamie Cherry's miniature schnauzers Calvin, Hugo and Maxwell.

[We've had to say] goodbye to four dogs. My husband, Jim, put together a short video compilation made up of mostly photographs and some video. I watched it over and over in the months after we lost them and now at least once a year. Watching our home movie brings us such joy. It helps us remember how much happiness those four dogs gave us.

Today we had lunch [with our dogs] on a restaurant patio, and before we sat down, the woman at the next table said, "Can I say hello? We just euthanized our dog this morning," and she burst into tears. Our hearts ached because we knew what she was dealing with. We highly encouraged her to frame photos of her companion and told her we hoped she gets from those photos what we've gotten from ours: memories of unconditional love. —Jamie Cherry


The audio portion of this episode was reported by Keisha "TK" Dutes, produced by Sylvie Douglis and edited by Meghan Keane. The digital story was edited by Clare Marie Schneider.

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Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Malaka Gharib is the deputy editor and digital strategist on NPR's global health and development team. She covers topics such as the refugee crisis, gender equality and women's health. Her work as part of NPR's reporting teams has been recognized with two Gracie Awards: in 2019 for How To Raise A Human, a series on global parenting, and in 2015 for #15Girls, a series that profiled teen girls around the world.