Recently, a friend of mine was distraught that her neighbor’s pet rat had died of a stroke.
“He was a good rat, the only rat I ever liked, and now he’s gone,” she said, sullenly. “But there’s going to be a funeral, and I’m definitely going,” my friend proclaimed with a newfound spark of perkiness.
“A rat funeral?” I thought, with more than a hint of incredulity, as I tried not to smile. “How ridiculous.” Immediately, I envisioned a full church service, complete with blessings, prayers, a miniature coffin, and a lifeless rodent clad in a tailor-made suit. It seemed awfully frivolous to mourn a pet rat’s passing with a funeral, or for that matter, anything more elaborate than laying the deceased to rest in one of his favorite places.
Despite my internal derision at the prospect of a rat funeral, I myself am a pet owner — a proud “cat mom” to a 14-year-old tabby I cherish as lovingly as any other member of my family. In the past few months, the kitten I cuddled as a little girl has become struck with the frailties of old age. A recent visit to the veterinarian revealed that my beloved cat has an enlarged heart, a harsh truth that has become more apparent day by day as she shudders and wheezes, her gentle mews fading into creaking rasps of stolen air.
Not a minute after hearing the news of my friend’s friend’s rat’s passing, I was struck with thoughts of my own aging pet, and suddenly, the idea of a funeral for a well-loved pet no longer seemed so frivolous. When the time comes, wouldn’t I want my cat to be laid to rest with the same love and care devoted to any other deceased family member? Wouldn’t I hope to memorialize her in some significant way? And why shouldn’t I want the same for an equally beloved pet rat?
Suddenly, it no longer mattered that I dislike rats or that the rat’s owner was practically a stranger. Regardless, someone had lost the pet who had quickly captured her heart, the rat with whom she had spent two years kindling fond memories. He was irreplaceable, but he was gone, lost to the incurable malady that had snuffed out his last vestiges of life. And, if even if she wanted to honor his memory with a funeral, with prayers, speeches, and perhaps even a tailor-made suit and a miniature coffin, she deserved to do so without her grieving process being smirked at during what could be one of the most difficult times of her life.
I sighed contently as my friend mentioned that the funeral ceremony would consist of a brief series of prayers, an opportunity to share what the pet rat had meant to the attendees, and a burial in the rat’s favorite place. It wasn’t the church ceremony that had nearly made me giggle a minute before, but even if it was to include a tailor-made suit or a miniature coffin, I hoped it would bring the rat’s owner a sense of solace in the midst of her grief as she mourned her pet’s loss in her own way. The ceremony sounded simple. It sounded beautiful. And, most importantly, the funeral sounded like a perfectly unique way to honor a beloved rat.