"How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard"
- Winnie The Pooh
For many children, their first experience with death and grief arrives with the death of a beloved pet. Our connection to our pets are often as deep as to any human family member and when the time comes to say goodbye, it is heart wrenching.
We cannot and should not shield them from the pain surrounding the death of a pet, as this is an excellent opportunity to teach them how to hold the depth of feeling associated with grief. This experience can be used to help them understand the landscape of grief, the ebb and flow of sadness, allowing them to prepare for inevitable grieving experiences that happen throughout life.
Below you will find many ways to support your children (as well as yourselves) to experience and process this grief fully.
How to help your children grieve the loss of a beloved pet:
Normalize your child’s grief (as well as your own). Repeat as often as necessary that anything they are feeling is appropriate and that everyone expresses there feelings in their own way. There is no one “right” way to feel sad or grieve. And there is no way to tell how long that intense sadness will last. It is different for everyone.
Remember. Ask your child what they are going to miss the most about their pet. It helps for them to talk about all their memories even if talking about them makes them feel sad or cry.
Memory Book. This can be solo projects or a big family project. Get an plain paper notebook and find some pictures of your pet. Fill the notebook with pictures and memories. At first this will be used to help your child grieve. But eventually it will turn into a beautiful keepsake filled with wonderful memories.
Goodbye Letter. Help your child write their pet a goodbye letter thanking them for all the things they gave you while they were alive. This can include: cuddles, outside play time; feelings of safety; and a good laugh at their antics…. just to name a few.
Create An Alter for your pet with pictures, their collar, and some of their favorite things. It’s a great place to sit to be present with the intense feelings and encourage it all to come out.
Finally, I highly recommend the book Dog Heaven or Cat Heaven by Cynthia Rylant.
These books are beautiful tributes to our loving companions.
The most important thing is for children to realize that grief is a normal part of life and learning how to express that grief is a life lesson that will serve them well.