How to Help Your Child Deal With The Loss of a Pet
Dealing with the loss of a pet is hard. Hard on everyone. It is especially hard when the pet was your child's.
Our family lives on a mini-farm just outside of town in a subdivision without a homeowners' association. We were quite happy to have found this subdivision because the houses were built with large treed lots. Since moving here, we have added chickens and rabbits to our household. Our children know where their food comes from and are no stranger to loss of life. Many animals have been lost to unfortunate incidents (dogs, hawks, raccoons, old age, illness, etc.); however, we are all aware of prey vs predator, the circle of life, and the like.
Our first pet to be lost was a cat named Belle. We rescued her from a rescue at the age of seven years. Unfortunately, we lost her within that year to cancer so the children were not too attached. The loss of our first dog came as quite a shock to our children. She was ten years old and her name was Katie. It happened on Thanksgiving day. We waited until evening to let the girls know the news so their day of festivities was not spoiled. Katie's burial was tearful. Two of the children were young so we had the need to explain the idea of death. "It means we will not see her anymore. She is not alive and living like you and I. She will not hurt when we bury her. Her body will turn into dirt which is why we must bury her." You can imagine the questions, their little minds were filled with them.
When the death of our 16 year old puppy, Ruby, came, we were all prepared. She was old, in ill health, and we had all said our goodbyes. Her burial was tearful but many kind words were spoken about the love and life she gave to all of us. A few questions were asked but mostly about the process of decomposition and the mechanics of death. Otherwise, we were happy she was no longer in pain. She had a long and very adventuresome life!
After the passing of Ruby, my oldest began to ask for a pet of her own. She had always wanted a cat so she begged and begged....and BEGGED for one. She was due to receive a phone for Christmas that year but was willing to wait until her birthday so she could have a cat. Talk about dedicated! She still claims it was the best "gift year" of her life: a cat and a phone.
Nala, her kitty, came with many challenges to the family because her bathroom habits were less than stellar. She had quite a few quirks, drooled when she was happy, ran under my car as I drove up the driveway, loved plastic bags, and my daughter loved every part of her. I promised my daughter on multiple occasions that if I ever ran over the cat with the car, it was completely by accident! It was amazing the cat did not die within her first year!
My daughter loved this cat with a vengeance and we kept the cat despite many who would have given her away due to bad habits. My daughter planned to go to college with Nala, move out with her, and take care of Nala into her old age. Tragically, she passed away suddenly and without warning at the age of three years. It was traumatic for everyone. We had absolutely no idea there was anything amiss. We had seen the kitty just the night before walking around and acting perfectly normal.
The grief which rocked my daughter was more than I had dealt with any other animal we had before. She sobbed and prayed so much the first week. To be honest, she still gets choked up today; however, we walked with her through her grief as gracefully as we could. It pained me deeply as a Momma to watch my daughter hurt but be helpless. I was able to physically do nothing for her; however, I gave her to the one who could: God. He was there with her in the dark hours of the night as she cried, He is there when she thinks of Nala today. She is now able to thank God for the time she had with her kitty. This is a big step from the beginning since speaking about Nala would bring about an abundance of sobs. Here are a few ways we handled our daughter's grief and reconciliation with what happened.
1. We acknowledged her feelings.
Children need to know you understand they are in pain. They need you to be gentle and kind even when you may not be experiencing the same emotions.
2. We Prayed.
Your children were created by the Almighty Father. He, alone, can give them true peace. It is our job to know where our limitations are and pray deeply for His peace to envelope our children when our embraces do not give the comfort we hope.
3. We talked.
Erasing the pet from conversations will not take away the child's pain. You must allow the child to talk. Bring up the good memories or the silly ones that make you laugh. We laughed many times on how much Nala escaped death after running under the car.
4. We listened.
Even when it was inconvenient, we would listen to our daughter as she vented her feelings about the cat. Talking allows a child to express emotions and relieve themselves of pent up stress, worry, and anxiety. Talking opens the opportunity for your child to ask hard questions- Why and How?
5. We distracted
Sometimes dwelling on an issue for too long can also cause undue grief. We allowed our daughter to talk, we initiated talk, but we also grabbed opportunities to have fun activities. We allowed her time alone to think, pray and listen to music; however, we did not allow her to wallow in her grief for too long. Examples of things we did include: taking hikes, having friends over, going to a coffee shop, watching a movie.
6. Lastly, if possible, allow your child to have another pet
This will in no way replace their old pet. We communicated this profusely to our daughter; however, a new kitty gave her something else she could dote and take care of.
Very importantly, I also kept in mind that we needed to watch for signs of depression. We also watched to see if our daughter needed to receive more help than we could give her. We have been very outspoken with our children about the subject of professional help. There is no shame in saying, "I need help" in our family. Although I never hope to need a professional for my children, they know we will not refuse if we come to an extreme circumstance where they know they need it.
It was a really difficult time for her (and our family) to walk through; however, our new kitty, Washington, is doing really well with our daughter. He will never be Nala. We had to explain this at the forefront of her ownership of him. He has proved to not have the same characteristics nor personality as Nala; however, my daughter has been learning him, his quirky behavior, and is slowly seeing the funny things that make him unique.
I pray that as you walk through your Cobblestone Life, you are able to help your children deal with pet loss.