Using human mourning rites and customs as inspiration for honouring your pet 

Throughout history, every culture has created mourning rites and customs to provide structure, support, and solace while navigating the journey of grief. But in many ways, these rites and customs are missing from pet bereavement (our blog about unrehearsed grief covers this in more detail). 

You may find that you’re looking for some meaningful way to mark your pet’s passing or memorialise their life. If so, you’re not alone. 

People are increasingly recognising how important mourning rites can be for bereaved pet carers, both immediately after the loss of a pet and in helping to create continuing bonds with an animal companion who has died.

Drawing inspiration from cultural traditions 

There is no right way to mourn your beloved pet, only what feels right for you.  

If you have strong traditions relating to bereavement in your family, then you may draw from them as you grieve. Similarly, if you have a strong sense of religious faith or belief, this may be where you turn for comfort. 

Alternatively, you may find it helpful to find out more about the diverse cultural traditions relating to mourning and bereavement around the world to draw inspiration and find comfort on your grief journey. 

Mourning rites and customs 

Mourning rites and customs often involve ceremonies, gatherings, and symbolic gestures designed to help people express their grief and find support. 

In Hinduism, for example, the ritual of Antyesti involves cremating the deceased and scattering their ashes in a sacred body of water, symbolising the soul’s final separation from the body. Family members come together to perform these rites and offer prayers for the departed soul’s peace. This occasion also enables them to provide one another with support. 

If you decide to have your pet cremated, you may want to scatter their ashes somewhere that is meaningful to you in the company of your loved ones. 

It can be helpful to have a plan for what you want to do with your pet’s remains, from a burial in your back garden to creating a special place for their ashes in your home. The important thing is to do what provides you with the most comfort. 

Expressing grief 

Mourning rituals offer an outlet to express grief openly and authentically. With our human loved ones, funerals, wakes, or memorial services provide an opportunity to share memories, emotions, and stories about loved ones, validating our grief in a supportive environment. 

Creating a similar ceremony for your pet may help you to talk about your loss. 

Rituals don’t have to be sombre. In Mexico, the Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a vibrant celebration where families gather to remember deceased loved ones. Altars adorned with photos, candles, and the departed’s favourite foods are created to welcome their spirits back to the earthly realm, providing an opportunity for joyful remembrance amidst grief. 

In Ghana, the Akan people celebrate death with a ceremony called Adowa, which includes drumming, singing, and dancing to honour the person who has died. 

Perhaps you could hold a similar celebration of your pet’s life and the relationship you shared. It could even be an annual event where you and your loved ones come together. 

Social support and connection 

As we’ve already touched on above, mourning rituals bring us together to provide comfort, empathy, and solidarity during a time of loss. Whether we’re the bereaved person or the person giving solace, it’s a reminder that we’re not alone. 

In Irish culture, for example, the wake tradition involves keeping vigil over the deceased’s body before burial, allowing friends and family to pay their respects and offer condolences to the grieving family.  

The wake itself is usually a mixture of mourning and celebration, reminiscing, sadness, music, laughter, and reconnection. This communal gathering fosters a sense of unity and support during times of loss. 

Of course, we understand that your friends and wider family may not have known your pet. Even in a household where everyone is grieving, people may have different reactions. Still, you might want to invite the people closest to you to an event dedicated to your pet. This could be a small, informal gathering at home or a meet-up somewhere special. You can explain to them that you need social support and connection. Friends and family don’t need to share your loss; they just need to be present for you.  

Symbolism and meaning 

Symbolic gestures play a significant role in mourning customs. From wearing clothing of a specific colour to lighting candles or displaying certain flowers, there are many ways to represent your grief journey. 

When there isn’t a funeral or memorial service to attend, symbolic gestures can be especially important to the grieving process. Acts like planting a tree, listening to a specific song, writing a letter, or lighting a candle can all help you feel connected to your pet. 

In Japan, the Buddhist ritual of Obon honours the spirits of ancestors through various customs, including lighting lanterns to guide their souls back home. Families visit ancestral graves, clean and decorate them, and offer food and prayers to remember their departed loved ones, symbolising the continuity of familial bonds beyond death. 

You might want to use these symbols to mourn your pet. You could light a candle to light the way for them or decorate their grave or memorial. Alternatively, you could use the tradition of offering food as inspiration but donate some food to a rescue centre in your pet’s name instead. 

Adapting mourning rites for pet loss grief 

The more research we’ve done into grief, mourning, and bereavement since launching The Ralph Site, the more we’ve seen that loss is a universal experience despite its deeply personal nature.  

While the rites and rituals of death vary from one culture to another, there is the shared experience of wanting to honour the dead, connect with their memory, and find support from the living. 

We think that bereaved pet carers have the same needs. After all, you have boundless love for your animal companion, and grief is part of that love. 

As there are no societal rituals for pet loss, we’re free to create our own. 

Our advice is to do something that is meaningful to you and your family. Creating a pet memorial garden, for example, can be a therapeutic way to remember a beloved pet. Planting flowers, shrubs, or trees in their memory and dedicating a space for reflection and remembrance can provide a peaceful sanctuary.  

Alternatively, you might want to create a memory book of photos or a memory box, take a trip somewhere special to scatter their ashes, light a candle on special occasions, or donate food to a rescue centre in honour of your pet. You get to decide. 


In times of pet loss grief, mourning rites and customs offer a healing path. If you feel you need to mark your pet’s passing, then it can help to draw inspiration from diverse cultural traditions and adapt them. 

Sometimes, the most powerful thing we can do is talk about a cherished pet and celebrate the life they had before they died. Rituals can provide a map to help us do this so we can find comfort in the enduring bonds of love and companionship. 

Shailen and The Ralph Site team 
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support 

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