2/6/2024 | By Erika Sinner

The death of a beloved pet leaves a gaping hole in our heart, and dealing with the loss can be challenging. Entrepreneur and author Erika Sinner presents ways to honor your pet while you heal, based on her own experience.

Grieving carries a unique weight, deeply felt. It’s a constant companion that becomes even more apparent during holidays, traditions, or in your own home when a memory of your furry family member walking by you or sitting in their favorite spot hits you.

We’re all comfortable sharing cute photos and stories about our pets, but do we feel equally comfortable expressing the depth of our grief when we lose them?

The summer of 2023 marked a turning point in my life – when I lost my dog, Kingston. The pain hit hard, and alongside that, I felt ashamed that it hurt so much. I worried others wouldn’t understand. In today’s society, we’re not entirely comfortable with grief or sharing our emotions.

There’s an unspoken pressure to quickly return to normalcy. When a human family member passes, we have established rituals to honor their memory – obituaries, ceremonies, funerals, sending flowers, and donating to charities, all recognized ways to pay tribute to a person’s life. However, the scenario changes when it involves our beloved pets, leaving many of us to navigate this journey alone. This whole experience completely shifted how I deal with grief.

We were fortunate to have a social media following for our pups account with 40k followers, leaving hundreds of comments and messages from all over the world. So, at any time, day or night, when I was in pain, I had support. I recognize this is not the norm, and I also know without them, I would not have been okay. We need community. This is why I felt a responsibility to speak out.

5 ways to honor your pet

An empty collar on top of a small cedar box. Image by Ckellyphoto. Article on how to honor your pet after they die

Here are 5 ways to honor your furry family members that I hope provide you comfort.

1. Create an alter

We created an alter for Kingston. We have his ashes, photos of him, figurines given to us as gifts, his paw print framed. Just like with people where you have a grave site to go to, it provides us a place to stop by and say hello to our boy.

2. Donate to a local shelter

Honor your pet’s memory by donating to a local shelter in their name. Often, shelters send a heartfelt letter of thanks, knowing your pet’s passing helped another furry friend.

3. Plant a memorial tree

Gifted trees in honor of your pet can be planted locally or in your own yard. We were gifted trees being planted in honor of Kingston’s name from my coworkers. It felt amazing to know his legacy would live on. We were also gifted a tree to plant. There was a delayed in planting due to our lack of domestication, but it led to a comical, sweat-inducing endeavor in the Midwest heat. We may have cursed our friends, stumbled, sweated, adjusted strategies, and we for the first time laughed. The tree stands as a beautiful reminder of how we honor Kingston, planted in his favorite spot. We hope our dogwood grows tall, envisioning a future bench in its shade.

Related: When to get a pet after one dies

4. Hang a wind chime

We have one in our backyard and every time we sit back there and we hear it, we smile thinking of Kingston. Each chime brings a smile as you reminisce about your furry friend.

5. Create a photo memory box

Find a beautiful box of photos, I chose Polaroid-styled photos, capturing cherished moments of your furry family member. Now I open the box and pull out a photo when I want to laugh or just to remember these special moments. Instagram and social media is nice to go back and look at pictures, but stepping away from a screen and holding an actual memory in your hand and talking about it has been such a gift. The box can be found at a Home Goods or an At Home store. I’m thinking even Amazon. The photos can be done on by ordering their “Mini Photo Prints Set, Cardstock” option.

Honoring Kingston’s memory brings me comfort. There’s a quote by K.J. Ramsy that says, “Sadness is really the soul’s way of saying this mattered.” Embracing that pain is acknowledging the immense love we shared. It’s a testament to the depth of our connection. I hold onto this idea that when you love, you trade souls. A part of him resides within me, and I want to cherish that.

My hope in sharing this journey is to normalize discussions about pet loss. It’s about recognizing our emotions, embracing the emptiness we feel, and discovering ways to honor the love that goes beyond their physical presence.

As we move through life we can treasure those sweet moments that remind us of the deep love we had for our furry family members. It’s in these precious memories that their spirits live on within us.

Erika Sinner, CEO of Directorie, is a leader and a catalyst for change in the realm of empathy at work. Erika, also known as the “Chief Empathy Officer,” is on a mission to champion empathy not only within her company but globally. Her background, rooted in humble beginnings and marked by hard work, instilled in her the grit and tenacity that propelled her to entrepreneurial success. Despite a significant ankle injury that temporarily halted her fast-paced career, Erika emerged with clarity and a business plan. She founded Directorie, a company dedicated to supporting small-to-medium size life science organizations in delivering essential medications to patients who need them most.

Erika’s transformation from a pharma professional to CEO allowed her to marry feminine leadership with strong business acumen, fostering a workplace marked by empathy, understanding, and high standards. She creates an environment where authenticity and vulnerability are celebrated, an approach known as “the Erika effect” among her team. Erika’s unique moment that mattered occurred in the summer of 2023 when she faced the loss of her beloved Shar Pei, Kingston, and her other dog Edmond’s cancer diagnosis just weeks later. This profound grief inspired her to lead more vulnerable and advocate for pet bereavement leave in organizations. Her book, “Pets Are Family,” set to release in early 2024, serves as a first step in raising awareness about the necessity of such leave. Erika’s mission extends beyond policy updates; it’s about bringing more empathy into the workplace, recognizing the shared human experiences that unite us all.

“Pets Are Family: It’s As Simple As That”

Erika Sinner