Pet Loss: Understanding and Educating
His name was Bill. He was a nice man; a man who was just living his life doing the best he could in his job as a police officer and in his role as a father and grandfather. It was just him and his two dogs, living out their simple life.
I met him as he came into the funeral home for Duke’s visitation, a Red Bloodhound and German Shepherd mix who had lived a good, long, and well loved life of 14 1/2 years. I could see on Duke’s face that although he was a solid, stocky 115 pounds, he was a gentle giant. Just like his daddy.
I greeted his Daddy as he entered into our funeral home. Duke was lying in state for a final good-bye and before we proceeded forward for Bill to witness Duke being placed into our cremation machine. He had brought his coffee, a book and a pad of paper as he would be spending the entire cremation cycle-time in our visitation room waiting so that he could take Duke back home. Back where he belonged.
Bill was a stoic man and one who came in prepared with what he wanted and needed during this process. Numerous times he mentioned the “research he’d done on Google” to understand the cremation process, to know what his memorialization options were and to see what others had done for their beloved pets. While he knew the answers as to what he’d learned on Google, he still found viewing the entire process of the cremation, the time to cremate his 115 pound boy, and the processing aspect quite fascinating. To him, he felt he was doing his last responsibility of taking care of his dog; after all, it’s the due diligence that he did when Duke was alive for every other aspect of his health and quality of life care that it only made sense to do this part, too, in death.
As Bill took his time saying his final good-byes to his boy, he shared stories. Stories of Duke riding with him in his work as an undercover cop, starting when Duke was 2 months old until he was almost 8 months old. Every day, in the truck together, doing their work. It was quite the bonding time until Bill’s boss saw Duke peek his head up in the truck one day. That was the last day he went to work! From there on, he stayed his post at home and waited on Bill to return from his day’s work. The random sharing of stories was priceless.
The time came that the stories were done and he was ready. Ready to see the physical body of Duke one more time as he was gently and lovingly placed by my colleagues in the cremation machine and the final act of love began. Bill settled in the visitation room for the few hour wait, reading, writing and sipping coffee.
When Bill came into the funeral home, call it protection from the emotion of the day or parts of the research that had been done by Bill on Google, he advised us all that he wanted something simple to take Duke home in. He was a simple guy so nothing elaborate or flashy. That certainly wasn’t him and Duke and wouldn’t fit in his very masculine style. He immediately gravitated to the cedar box with a lock as he also thought about the rambunctious grandkids that frequented his home. Again, call it the emotion of the day but I knew that simple conversation was all he could handle at this moment so Bill retreated to the visitation room again to gather his thoughts.
As a part of the experiential aspect of his time in the funeral home, we all periodically checked on Bill, including my dog, Harry, who just knew that someone needed a furry thing to pet. Harry went in and out of the room as he saw fit and let Bill hug on him and pet him for comfort.
In one of my last check-ins with Bill, he made mention that he didn’t realize all of the options like what we had for memorialization were available, even though he thought he’d looked in detail on the internet. I took that opportunity to guide him and educate him on everything, making sure to personalize the education with what I’d heard him say was important and what would fit his style.
• I knew that he was a police officer.
• I knew that there were many places that were special to him and Duke and he wanted to pay tribute to Duke at all of those places.
• I knew that he had grandkids that visited so the urn had to be secure.
• I knew that Ranger was at home, his surviving dog that, too, was friends with Duke.
As a responsible pet loss professional, it’s an honor and my obligation to make sure that every family is given the educational knowledge so that when they choose the right memorialization piece for them and their pet, it’s made with good information. As I’ve told countless families, it’s my honor and responsibility to educate you because a bad day for me would be if you ever came back and said that they wished they would’ve done (X) for their pet but I didn’t tell them about (X). My role is to educate; the family’s role is to make their decision from there.
So as we looked at the various memorialization pieces, Bill began to find those things that he didn’t even know existed. The beautiful heart-shaped keepsake urns that he would like to purchase, in fact 6 of them that will each hold a bit of Duke’s ashes and be buried in those favorite spots, the cylinder-shaped cremation keepsake urn that resembles a bullet, masculine and indicative of their life together with him as a cop, a piece that will hold a bit of Duke’s ashes and a bit of his beautiful fur. And, then of course the urn that would lock, providing that solid protection from those very active grandkids. We also decided on the largest of the cedar boxes as that would one day also hold Ranger’s ashes.
Not only was it an honor to walk with Bill during this time, it was my responsibility to him to help to find those right pieces for his beloved Duke. It was my obligation to guide him and to help him in an area that “he didn’t know what he didn’t know,” even though he felt that he was fully educated from Mr. Google!
And, the parting comments from Bill confirmed that everything on that day had been the perfect ending for his big guy.
• “You guys made this so much easier”
• “Thanks for being so gentle with him even though I told you it didn’t matter, that I’m a cop and understand these processes”
• “And for guiding me with just the right ways to honor him”
• “He deserved all of this.”
Yes. It was all perfect. FBA