Ways to Help a Child Grieve the Loss of a Pet

29
Jan
2020


Oh, friends…it’s been a rough few days. Let me share…

We were getting ready for small group night (more on that soon!) when our ten-year-old came downstairs in a panicked, anxious state. His hamster “Bean” wasn’t moving and didn’t look good. Obviously not the best time with 20 people arriving at our house, but sure enough, Bean had died in the last hour.

I was shocked. This sweet hamster had only been in our family for about seven weeks. How on earth could this be? That was my thought, but nevertheless, we had to carry on. Lots of hugs from me and thank goodness my husband could take the tiniest member of the family to the garage till after small group.

I have never been so grateful to have a house full of young friends for our son, because they were so helpful in creating a distraction for a few hours. After everyone left later that evening, the real work began.

Emotions

Our family has lost a few pets over the years and it’s never easy. But this was the first loss for our son, Super J, so it was a big deal. If we’re lucky, everyone in the family gets a chance to say goodbye. The amount of emotions that can come to the surface with the death of a pet utterly astounds me. For example…

  • Guilt. Did I cause this? Could I have done more?
  • Sadness and loss. Was this a best friend? Just a pet? If I’m being real, maybe it was a blessing that they’re not with us?
  • Grief. Why does it hurt so much? Does it bring back memories from other loss, maybe a parent?

Include Your Child in All Stages

Sitting with our son as he was in tears later that night, he had lost his best friend; something I didn’t even realize but can completely understand. These furry, lovable friends work their way into our hearts. Their absence can create a giant sucking hole. I wanted to analyze why “Bean” had died, but I knew that wasn’t going to help right now. It was time to be a mom and love on my boy who was hurting intensely.

Teaching Moments

Even though this process stinks, God can create some awesome teaching moments for us to try and be prepared for.

Will we see our pets in heaven? I’m certainly not a bible scholar, but God created animals and talks about them being in his future kingdom. For me personally, I prefer to be honest and say I am not entirely sure.

Can we pray for our pets? Absolutely. We can pray to our Heavenly Father about anything, at any time. We can also pray for our broken heart, for that sadness we feel.

Will I ever stop feeling like this? Yes you will, honey. You are going to have ups and downs in life. I think covering grief by just blatantly saying you will “get over it” is not conducive to the experience. You need to just sit with them in the process, and they will naturally discover that with time, your heart heals.

What’s going to happen to my pet’s body? Always dread that question. In my opinion, just be honest. It’s just a body. Depending on your child’s age and questions, you may need to explain more.

Will that happen to you Mommy? Always the hardest question. Everyone is going to die, but again, another chance to talk God and Jesus and where are we going after our earthly bodies give out.

Ceremony

I believe it’s important to memorialize the major events in our life, a big exclamation point or a period, to help us move forward. If you know your pet is getting close to the end, NOW is the time to have a party for them. Remember the good times and treat that pet like a king or queen for a day. We did this for our dog Riley before he was rehomed. He didn’t die, but he was going to be gone from our lives, so we needed to grieve that as well.

Some of our pets have been cremated. Some buried. But we always have a ceremony to remember their lives and the good times we shared with them. Maybe a poem or special words are appropriate. Maybe a note or picture inside a box. Maybe a walk to spread their ashes. Whatever it is, try to have your child be as involved as they want to be as this won’t be their only loss. We’re modeling behavior for them.

Some families get some type of memorial figure to place where the pet is buried or where you can remember a cremated pet. Our spot will soon have a bench that we will fondly remember “Bean” as we sit and have a wonderful view of the ocean.

Some have an ornament made or mark dedicated to their pet, so each Christmas they can be reminded of that special pet. Whatever you decide, I do believe it’s important to choose something.

Be Open With Feelings

Providing space for our children to talk is important. I have found that out of nowhere conversations have drifted over to talk about “Bean” and how much he is missed. I discovered this handy book and wanted to share it with you as a resource when you need it.

“I Miss My Pet: A workbook for children about pet loss” by Katie Nurmi. This workbook lets children work through the loss of a pet by teaching the child that their feelings are important and respected. They will also learn that respect for all living creatures is an important aspect of growing up.

An Acrobat Reader is needed to view and print this book. Your browser probably already is set up to accommodate this PDF file, but if not, you can download it by clicking here.

Will we get another hamster?

I suspect so. Maybe a different rodent this time. For now though, we’ll allow some time to feel and some time to heal. No reason to be in a rush. Sometimes that is the problem, we are in too much of a hurry to allow our grief to go full circle. Not this time. No, not this time.

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