–by Amy Peden Haynie
As my children turn into young adults, it becomes harder to remember what liturgical resources were most meaningful to us at different stages. My youngest one can now drive himself to church and attend whichever service fits his schedule best on a given weekend when I am serving and my spouse is on call. We still have dinner together most nights, and he still loves to pray, “May the Blessed One bless” or “Heavenly Pa, ta” as grace. Those are the two shortest prayers he knows, each taught to him by a different Episcopal priest. We think the second one means, “Heavenly Father, thank you” but we are not for certain. It is what we intend when we pray it at least.
One of the rites officially approved by the Episcopal Church in 2012 is the service for the loss of a beloved animal. This is the one service at home we found very meaningful as a family. The same son who can now drive himself had a mini-rex rabbit named Thumper. When Thumper died very suddenly (on a Saturday night at 10pm and I was serving the next day), we took him to the Emergency Veterinary Hospital. He probably died on the way there, but the hospital workers were very sweet and arranged for his cremation. When we picked up the ashes, Thumper’s cremains were in a little pine box with a brass fitting and a brass nameplate. We were very sad that Thumper had died. He had been a sweet companion, living in the son’s room for several years in a big pen with his litter box and lots of veggies. Thumper liked to get up on the bed and stretch out with us when we would read at night. Did you know that a rabbit might just lick your arm?
Once we got back home with the cremains, we were at a loss for what to do. I sat with our son and talked him through how to plan a service for his beloved pet. We did it very gently over a couple of days, with many tears. I really encouraged our son to think about which words would be most meaningful for him to hear and which he might want to say in tribute to his companion. Once we had it all planned, we had the service of remembrance. It was lovely and really helped with our feelings of loss and sadness.
As a priest, I really felt like this work our son did might just help him with other times in his life when he needed to plan a service, maybe my funeral. I pretty much have my own funeral planned, but I left a few blank spots for our sons to fill in with meaning when the time comes. I hope that planning Thumper’s service will serve him well later in his life in ways I cannot even imagine yet.
There are many resources on the web. Here are two I know of to help with the loss of a beloved animal companion:
A service bulletin formed from the Episcopal rite
A list of book suggestions for children and families:
Amy is an Episcopal Priest in the Diocese of Ft Worth. She and David have two teenage sons.