Last September our family cat died suddenly and tragically. He was only five years old.
While we’ve experienced a family pet’s passing before, none had been so swift and unexpected. The “normal” ways we helped each other cope — assuring ourselves he had lived a long life, knowing we had relieved him from a disease or old age that was diminishing his quality of life, etc. — didn’t apply.
The suddenness added a new twist in how to help our children, ages 11 and 14, come to terms with the death of a pet. Here are some ways we processed the experience, that also may help you if you find yourself in the same situation.
1. Let Your Child Know it Wasn't Anyone’s Fault
Our cat died in an accident that many of us, myself especially, agonized could have been prevented. It’s important for children to know that accidents happen and that no one is at fault.
2. Be Ready to Discuss Death
Our cat’s sudden death really hit home the fact that anyone can die at any time. We spent time explaining that while this is true, dwelling on it is not the way to live life.
3. Assure Your Child That You Are Not Going to Die Anytime Soon
For weeks after our cat died, anytime our daughter went anywhere, every goodbye was grand and extravagant because she was afraid it might be the last time she would see me. I had to assure her that I was healthy and would still be here when she got home.
4. Respect That Everyone Grieves Differently
My daughter and I wanted to talk about our cat a lot, but my husband and son were not ready. Grief has different stages and everyone moves through them at their own pace.
5. Don’t Be Afraid to Share and Show Your Feelings
It can be difficult for a child to see their mom or dad cry. But it can especially help little ones know that even parents get sad.
6. Let Your Child’s Teacher Know
Knowing about your pet’s death can help the teacher understand if your child is suddenly acting differently in class.
7. Begin to Share Memories When You're All Ready
Whether through sharing funny stories, creating a memory box of mementos, or displaying a favorite photo, these acts can help begin the healing process.