“The one best place to bury a good dog is in the heart of his master, “said Ben Hur Lampman. Pets are a well-loved member of the family. For children, they are companions growing up. For couples that have chosen to go child-free, pets are their fur babies.
The death of a pet is usually the first encounter of a child with grief. The demise of the beloved animal initiates the child to the absolute law of nature – that death is an end. Learning to cope with the loss of a pet and to heal from the heartaches will shape how the child faces defeats and sorrows in the future.
Children Below Nine Years Old
A child under two years old can sense the demise of a pet from the sorrows and stress of other people around him or her. A child under five years old will be missing a playmate but is under the impression that it will return someday somehow.
The realization of the loss is reflected in the pain of the other family members. A child under nine years old knows that death is permanent, but still believes that magic can somehow reverse death. It is also at this age that the child realizes the cause-and-effect paradigm and that the child’s neglect may have caused the death of the animal, which brings out the feeling of guilt.
As soon as possible, talk to the child in a quiet, familiar place. Cite the different reasons why pets (and people) die, like accidents, injuries, sickness, disease, and old age. Articulate the scenario of a terminally ill or an old pet suffering, and eventually dying. Enumerate the emotions that the child is expected to feel. Be honest and choose direct words like suffering, dying, and death. Avoid sugar coating with words like “went to sleep” or “went away”. Make them understand dying means their pet’s body has stopped working and that is final.
Answer the questions that the child has about the impending or the sudden death of the pet. Don’t ignore it. It indicates that the child is mentally processing dying and death. Answering the child’s questions is a chance to offer comfort. It is also a way to affirm that the grief and sorrow that they are experiencing is normal in the given situation. Responding to their questions can alleviate the guilt they feel related to the death of the pet.
A child under six cannot yet comprehend that death is permanent. They have to be told repeatedly that the pet’s body can no longer be functioning and that death made that irreparable. The sorrow they feel from people around them may make them regress behaviorally like going back to thumb-sucking or bedwetting. It is important to emphasize to the child that death is not their fault.
Do not lie to the child and blame the veterinarian for the pet’s death. They will distrust doctors in general. Do not tell them that the pet went away. The child will feel inadequate to be loved by the pet and by other people.
Pre-teens and Teenagers
Pre-teen and teenagers understand the concept of dying and death. They will undergo the normal stages of grieving: denial, bargaining, anger, guilt, depression, and lastly, acceptance. But as pre-teens, they may also manifest child-like coping. They may show regression such as throwing tantrums.
Pre-teen and teenagers may become reclusive. They may struggle with schoolwork and extracurricular activities. The death of a pet may set off abandonment issues. A pet died, which means parents and other loved ones will also die. Sometimes, children will become morbidly interested in death and after death. Give a direct, honest, and gentle answer to the child’s questions.
If the animal will undergo euthanasia, then use the time left for your kid to bond with your pet. Children, as well as adults, can say their goodbyes by spoiling their pet a little more. Visit the pet’s favorite place with your child if physically possible, and take more photos of them together. Since pets can sense their human’s emotions and feelings, help them to say their goodbyes too. Let your kid talk to your pet like they used to, letting them feel their sadness but assuring them that it is okay for the pet to be sad and to let go.
Euthanasia can be explained matter-of-factly to older children. Focus on the medical emotions of sorrow and grief being experienced by pre-teens and teenagers. Parents need to convey to these older children that those emotions are normal. They also need to convince the older children that parents understand why their teenagers miss their pets so dearly. It will help the child, at any age, come to terms with their emotions if the parents are being candid with their sorrows as well. It will give them comfort if parents talk about how they also missed the pet, and what the loss would mean to them.
Encourage the child to honor the pet by creating a letter or poem, make a photo album or mini-movie. It will also be helpful to plan with the child the things you can do to memorialize the beloved animal, like getting customized pet memorial stones.
Pet memorial stones usually are made of stones, resin, and graphite where the pet’s name and birthday are engraved. It is like a tombstone with cute paw prints and a loving message from the bereaved owners. It can be placed indoors like the bookshelves, on the coffee table, or as wall decorations along with family portraits. It can also be placed outdoors where your pet used to hang out, under his favorite tree, or on your porch.
A farewell rite will also help commemorate the role of your pet in the family. Parents can assist the child in preparing a scrapbook, holding a pet funeral, a candle lighting ceremony, or a eulogy where the child and adults alike can talk about the life of their pet and the memories they have together. It is another way to provide closure to the bereaved child. The child must be active in planning the memorial, as much as the child wants to, by choosing burial or cremation, the pet’s toy to bury with it, or designing the grave marker and memorial stone.
After the memorial, children can heal from pet heartache by hearing from parents about their childhood pets and reading stories about children who have also experienced the loss of a pet.
For adult pet owners, the pain is doubled by the potential loneliness from the loss. Pets give us unconditional love. They do not judge us. Pets are all-accepting of our insecurities and imperfections. Pets make their owners parents with all the responsibilities and pampering thrown in.
Pet owners are held accountable for another living creature – the pet. It gives the pet parent a sense of importance and the feeling of being needed, wanted, and loved, and a sense of purpose. Pets are our trusted companions. We celebrate with them; they cry with us. In extreme cases, we turn solely to our pets for love and support. With the loss of the pet, we lose connections and routines. No more play dates, dog parks, morning/evening walks.
In mourning your loss, be kind and patient to yourself. The pain is real, so give yourself time to process emotionally. Rushing through the mourning only makes it worse. Talk to someone. Exchange pet stories with your child or loved ones who are also grieving.
Talk to other pet owners who have recently experienced or currently experiencing pet heartaches. Make a journal of your pet experiences to reminisce the good times you had with your beloved. Have a farewell ceremony. Dispose of your pet possessions slowly if you are not getting another pet.
Initially move things out of plain sight. When you feel ready, donate the pet’s stuff. Redesign your pet’s tag as a keychain. Also honor your pet by planting the garden that he loves to dig in, or place a birdhouse under the tree that he usually hangs out. Place a memorial stone in both places as you wish. Plant a tree in his name. And enjoy the garden, the birds, and the trees as your beloved pet would like you to do.
Rainbow Bridge Pet Memorials can help you show your love for your pet with a pet memorial stone that you’ve designed. Place your orders today on our website, and remember your beloved pet forever.