It was a beautiful summer afternoon, and I was looking forward to spending some time with Bill Remkus and his family at their incredible cemetery and pet loss center in Willowbrook, Illinois.
I’d just pulled up, and as I got out of the car, I noticed a woman carefully tending some gravesites. I could see that the markers all looked alike and she was placing matching flower arrangements on each of the gravesites. I left my things in my vehicle and made my way over to her.
She was being incredibly attentive to the gravesites, from plucking the miniscule stray grass blades along the marker, base to even dusting the markers themselves. Everything that she did at each of the seven gravesites was with a tender hand, with such care and reverence. It was touching, even from a distance, as I made my way to her.
As I reached her, she was on her fifth marker. I stood quietly so as not to interrupt her train of thought and clearly some trips down memory lane. I could tell that this was a ritual for her and she took great pride in this task.
She finally looked up at me, not startled or taken back. It was if she knew that I understood what she was going through and she felt safe to have me be a part of this moment with her.
I spoke first. I told her it was an honor for me to see the care and love that she gave to these pets yet today, in death and all of these years later. I asked if she would share with me the story of all of these precious creatures and the role that they played in her life.
We went back to the first marker and she began to tell me each pet’s story, each a chapter in her life that was so precious and so loving. We started with Bennie, next Jakey and through each marker until we got to one of the last markers for Molly. Molly was a beautiful black and tan long-haired dachshund who died on November 2, 2007. She recalled Molly’s sweet yet tenacious doxy personality, as if everything was so real and so today. The story of that darling face and her antics made me laugh. It also helped that the pet mommy of all of these precious fur-kids was a card herself! I could just tell that her home and the life she shared with all of these amazing creatures was full of spirit, fun and lots of laughs.
As she wrapped up the stories of Molly, and had put the fresh yellow flowers on her gravesite, she told me that this was her weekly ritual. She loved coming to the cemetery and making sure that all of “her kid’s” final resting places were always beautiful. She didn’t have human children. These were her kids.
I stood quietly and listened to her. When she wrapped up, I noticed that there was one more marker, with a name “Maggie” and the same last name as the other markers. However, there was nothing else on the marker; no birthdate and no death date were etched. But it was clear that this Maggie was a part of the family.
“Tell me about Maggie,” I said. “Sure! Even better, do you want to meet her? She’s in my car!” So off we went to the car to meet another beautiful little black and tan long-haired doxy! Oh my goodness she was gorgeous! And, of course I made over her, claiming her to be the prettiest little thing I’d ever seen!
Maggie’s pet mommy told me that it was important to her that Maggie be with her other siblings when she died, therefore, she’d pre-planned a few years ago to make sure they would all be together. She was very matter-of-fact with the planning ahead process. In fact, it was more about the peace of mind in knowing that Maggie would be right where she needed to be when the time came.
Maggie and her family’s story is not totally unusual, however, I can assure you that there are many more families that would love the same opportunity to make these important decisions ahead of time. Possibly they don’t know this type of service exists or they have never easily found the information.
Furthermore, for most families, the financial aspect is much smaller and more minor in this process than the planning aspect. While the human death care services have become more regulated and transparent over the years, this is not the case with pet loss services.
But, so many families want that same transparency for their pet’s final arrangements as they do for their human loved ones. Therefore, the preplanning process is the perfect way to assist families with these questions and to make sure that the final arrangements are peaceful and exactly what they would want to do for their beloved pet. And, given so many people humanize the various aspects of care for their pet, they also desire to humanize the end-of-life arrangements and care as well.
Speaking of humanizing, for years we have walked families through a Guide to Planning Ahead to most full capture the details of their ritual and final arrangement wishes. Pet families want that opportunity as well. Our Guide to Planning Ahead is designed especially for pet families who want to make sure every detail is covered for them and their special pet as well. Families will have the opportunity to answer questions such as:
• What will I want for my pet’s body’s final arrangements? Cremation? Burial?
• If I’m burying, will I use a pet cemetery? Bury at my home, if permissible? Bury, at a friend/family’s home?
o Will I want a casket?
o What will the marker say?
• Where will want to say our final good-bye?
• Are there any special toys, treats, memorabilia that I will want to send with my pet for their cremation or burial?
• What type of service will I want for my friends and family and others who loved my pet?
• What types of memorialization products will I want to honor my pet?
• For my permanent urn, what will I want? Will I want it personalized?
Pet families have a responsibility in life to the pets they love, and caring pet parents do all they can in this care. Therefore, when it comes to this final act of love, they want to know that they truly did all they could, for their pet’s entire life, to make sure they were fully and completely taken care of. FBA
Coleen Ellis is the Founder of Two Hearts Pet Loss Center. If you’d like more information regarding identifying and leveraging both individual and team talents and strengths, please contact Coleen@TwoHeartsPetLossCenter.com. or you may call 317.966.0096. You may also visit her website at www.TwoHeartsPetLossCenter.com.