Disclosure :: This post is sponsored by Metairie Small Animal Hospital.
Helping Kids Cope With Pet Loss
Being a pet parent is absolutely amazing and oh – so rewarding. Unfortunately, making the commitment to become a pet parent also means making the commitment to say goodbye one day. It’s hard enough to have to cope with it on your own, but the thought of helping your child cope with the loss of a pet can be terrifying. I learned a few things by going through this situation myself. If the day comes that you find yourself in that position, I hope these words of advice will make the journey a little more bearable.
One of the most difficult parts of my job is helping people cope with saying goodbye to their beloved, furry, family members. I’ve helped many say goodbye to their fur babies over the years, but when it came to losing one of my own pets, all of those experiences didn’t make it any easier. As an adult, dealing with losing a pet was one of the most challenging emotional obstacles I’d faced. It wasn’t until I became a mother that I realized helping my son through this same experience would be even more challenging. How do I tell him? What do I say? Should I let him see me sad about our loss? Do I ease the pain by bringing home another pet? All of these thoughts, plus countless others, raced through my mind as I pulled away from saying my last goodbyes to my sweet Sophie girl.
The next day the dreaded time came for me to tell my then three year old son that Sophie wouldn’t be coming home. Again, all of those thoughts raced through my mind as he asked me how Sophie was doing today. I simply said Sophie wouldn’t be coming home and she was no longer uncomfortable. Although the conversation was emotional and hard to get through, he took it well. Of course he was sad that he wouldn’t get to hug and play with Sophie everyday as he normally would, but the knowledge that she was no longer hurting seemed to make her loss much easier on him. His mindset on her passage seemed to comfort me more than I was supposed to be comforting him. I’ll never forget his words, “So Sophie is flying high in the sky with the angels? And she can see us all of the time? She can play and eat Cheeto’s (her guilty pleasure) whenever she wants to, Mom?” As I uttered a simple “yes” I saw a relief come over him. At that moment I realized that he would be okay.
He seemed to take it a lot better than I thought because he made it so simple. Sophie was happy and that was really all that mattered. Of course he would miss her, but the knowledge that she was no longer in discomfort was enough for him to find peace in her passing. Every time my husband and I had the chance, we reassured him it was okay to talk about her at anytime, that we missed her very much and she would always be a part of our family. As the days, weeks and months went on my son never hesitated to mention how he loved Sophie and tell us random stories about her and their happy times together.
A valuable lesson I learned was to never over-complicate the loss of your pet. Start with a simple explanation. If your child wants more information, they will ask. Allow them to create the path of questioning. This will help to prevent over-explanation which can confuse your child.
Keep these points in mind when speaking to your child about the difficult topic of pet loss:
- Let your child know it’s okay to talk about a pet who is gone and listen to them.
- Allow your child to voice their happy memories. This reinforces the unconditional love that pets share with us.
- Saying goodbye is hard. Remind your child that saying goodbye is something that adults have a hard time with, too.
- Although your child cannot see their pet with their eyes, they can see them at anytime in their memories.
- Be honest about your own grief.
- Remind your child that the pain they are feeling will heal.
- Give your child an outlet to express their feelings. Perhaps creating a memorial, photo collage or drawing.
- Allow them to hold on to keepsakes such as their pet’s favorite toy, blanket or collar.
- Gather as a family to share happy memories! This can result in laughter and/or tears. It will show your child that everyone is feeling the same loss and it’s okay to show emotion.
Should you ever have a pet emergency or need veterinary care, call 504-835-4266.
***In loving memory of Sophie***
Lauren Murray, Veterinary Oncology Nurse and Euthanasia Technician :: Lauren began working in veterinary medicine at Metairie Small Animal Hospital in 2008. She’s been an oncology nurse for 6 years, a euthanasia technician for 8 years, and is currently a member of the Veterinary Cancer Society. She lives in Destrehan with her husband, Chad, her son, Maverick, and her three dogs, Toby, Hank, and Lettie.