Tag Archives: Pamela Liou

Funeral Rituals: The Death of a Dog

“Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge. When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together.” ‑ Anonymous

This was the quote etched into the condolences card my family received after our dog passed away last November. We lost more than a pet — we lost a member of our family.

I had arrived home on Tuesday morning for Thanksgiving break, one of my favorite times of the year because it was a rare occasion of gathering with relatives and friends to eat turkey, stuffing, and cornbread but also traditional Chinese and Taiwanese dishes. However, that same evening, my dog suddenly collapsed and passed away.

In the moment of her death, my mother and father were devastated. They cried, wailed and clung onto her body, trying to shake her awake. Beside them, my younger brother sat stiffly with an emotionless face. I immediately stood up and searched the house for gloves, sheets, trash bags and cleaning supplies. My parents tearfully urged my brother and I to say our goodbyes, and my mom insisted on cutting a lock of her hair and keeping it.

In the following days, we cancelled all Thanksgiving plans, and we managed logistics for cremation plans in order to take care of the body. My mother refused to throw out her bed, toys, and items, and she would speak to a photo of my dog as if she were still there. My father, a few days after her death, set out some apple slices (her favorite) and some water, saying that spirits of family always return to visit a few days after their passing.

When I initially researched dog burials, I was surprised by 1. The fact that they existed, and 2. The amount of pet cemeteries there were in close proximity. My family ended up asking our veterinarian to help take care of the body, we as needed a place to keep her over Thanksgiving. He asked us if we wanted an autopsy, but my parents said no, as they did not want to harm her physical body and hurt or disturb her spirit. The vet set us up with a nice pet funeral home that helped cremate our dog. My mother chose an urn, which included an impression of her paw print out of a few different options.

We loved our dog like another family member, so we went through a grieving process as if we lost a human family member. Through this experience, I realized that there are many parallels in psychological and emotional impact, feeling of loss, and rituals for humans and pets.

The Three Faces

Since taking a course on The Philosophy of Religion with Dr. Wendy Farley, I have developed an interest in studying death and suffering. Naturally, I began to pay more attention to how death appeared in every day life and how we (as mortal beings) interact with the idea and consequences of death. The first topic related book I picked up thereafter was The Sacred Art of Dying: How World Religions Understand Death, and I would often read the book behind the coffee shop counter on a slow afternoon. Though it has been two years since I have read the book, I clearly remember author Kenneth Kramer, in his introduction, depicting death in three faces: physical death, psychological death, and spiritual death.

He describes physical death in a way that matches the medical and biological death we have studied in class. There is irreversible l­oss of brain waves, damage to the central nervous system, and cessation of cardiac and respiratory function (Kramer 1988 p.11). Psychological death is “the life of quasi-consciousness, living, as if having already died,” and spiritual death is “the transformation of old patterns, habits, roles, identities and the birth of a new person” (Kramer 1988 p.11). The latter two faces of death left me much to ponder. While I was comfortable and familiar with physical death, Kramer’s framing of psychological and spiritual death was jolting and new to me. The book focused on spiritual death and explained religious aspects of death such as attitudes and rituals. (Super recommend the book for anyone interested!)

Reading about spiritual death inspired me travel abroad to study suffering and Buddhism more closely—but that’s a story for another time. Presently, I contemplate the face of psychological death and its meaning. is I wonder if some cases of severe depression can qualify as psychological death. Kramer describes psychological death as a “reversible termination of one’s personal aliveness,” “a kind of emotional death” and “a lessening of aliveness” (Kramer 1988 p.18-19). Say we assume depression is indeed a form of psychological death. Narratives regarding depression and mental health often share stories of numbness, apathy, a lack of will, loss of interest and pleasure in activities, hopelessness and more. These symptoms and experiences of illness fit into the characteristics of psychological death Kramer describes. Suicide ideation could be seen as the desire to experience physical death if perhaps a person already felt psychologically dead. The notion that psychological death is reversible might also speak to the treatable aspect of depression through medications, counseling, psychoanalysis, meditation, and other forms of therapy. I do not know if psychological death is something widely accepted or discussed, but I do think it is an interesting way to frame mental illness.



Kramer, K. 1988, The Sacred Art of Dying: How World Religions Understand Death. New York: Paulist Press.