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On Love and Loss: Narrative, Remembrance, and the Afterlife of a Companion Animal

On Love and Loss: Narrative, Remembrance, and the Afterlife of a Companion Animal

The enduring bonds that humans form with their companion animals are among the most intimate relationships we will experience. Despite the obvious disparity in our lifespans however, we live in a constant state of denial about the mortality of our pets. Thus, in the face of their inevitable loss, we are left with a singular grief, one which is often unspoken and frequently unacknowledged by those around us. Over the course of our (comparably) very long human lives, the grief we amass in response to our accumulated experiences of companion animal death become interwoven into larger narratives of mourning. The forms and expression of such narratives is the focal point of this discussion, which will consider some of the methods people employ in their search for meaning and solace in the wake of a pet’s death. It will also examine the role of death in how people relate to and experience relationships with domestic animals. Looking at forms of tactile remembering (taxidermy and preservation) as well as spiritual explorations of the afterlife (mediumship), it draws on research and interviews with both members of the end-of-life and after-death care industries, as well as with Spiritualist mediums and bereaved pet owners.

Primarily, it asks the questions: How does narrative shape our interpretation of companion animal death? What constitutes “death” when it comes to a pet?

About the speaker

Racheal Harris is a PhD candidate at Deakin University. Her research is focused on Spiritualism, death rituals, and afterlife beliefs relating to companion animals. She is a qualified end-of-life doula, apprentice taxidermist, and medium. Racheal’s research, like her work, seeks to change traditional grief narratives as they pertain to companion animals, by helping people negotiate the death of their pets in a way that is inclusive and spiritually diverse.


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