How to tell a Child about the Death of a Pet

The death of a Pet

(originally posted October 28th 20016)

The clock said 8:01. I insisted Emmaline hurry as we rushed through the front door. Out went the cat as I turned the key into the lock. I told myself there wasn’t enough time to catch the fur ball and still manage to arrive at school on time.  A decision I regretted almost instantly.

We sang songs as we rode the short distance to the school just a few blocks away.  A typical Friday morning in our daily lives.

As I turned the corner back to the house, my day took a turn I didn’t expect.

My phone rang, it was my next door neighbor.  I cheerfully answer the phone with a silly: ‘Yelllloooo, what can I do for you today!?’

Hiya honey…. Uhm…  I think your cat was hit by a car?’

She remains silent on the line as I turn the down the street and I see her standing in the the road over a white pile of fluff that was once Simon. My grief was instantaneous. I touched his side, feeling his soft fur for the last time. The life was already gone from his body; he was no longer my daughter’s sweet cat.

Simon the Christmas kitten.

Last Christmas this little fluff ball entered our lives. He was an abandoned kitten who’d been rescued by a friend’s non-profit organization (K-911). He was so laid back he would let the four year old stuff him in her back-pack and tote him around the house. One of her daily joys was locking the dog and cat together in the crate and reading to them. He was just a cat but he was a happy part of daily life. He had a loud, infectious purr and his fur was softer than cotton. We laughed at him when he begged for food or when Pete the dog usurped him for some love.

Death is a part of life.

The day Simon died, Emmaline was a few months shy of her sixth birthday.  I wanted to find the right way to break the news to her at age and I was certain I didn’t want to lie to her about it.

I did some online research and talked to friends to help me find the solution right for my situation. I don’t make it a point to lie to my daughter in an attempt to protect her from life. However each situation is different and some are more delicate than others. It can be difficult providing a balance between innocence and growth.  I wanted her to find her own closure for the situation and for that to happen, she needed to know the truth.

“Don’t feel as though you have to give them a lot of information,” says McNamee. “Tell them what happened, then see what comes from them, such as their feelings and ideas about how to handle the death.” *2

Involve your children in the grieving process

I waited 24 hours before telling my daughter about the death of the cat. Gaining control of my own emotions was required before calmly sitting down and telling her the unfortunate news.

‘ I have some sad news’ I began, ‘Simon was hit by a car and killed yesterday.”

She interrupted, ‘I want to see him and where it happened.’

I already thought about how I would proceed if she asked to see him. I deemed that too grotesque and something I still couldn’t get out of my head.  So instead, I took her to the spot where the blood splatter was fading on the road.

She took my hand and squeezed as I told her, ‘He didn’t see the car. He died immediately because the car was just too big and powerful for his little body. But we are going to celebrate his life in a little while and bury his body in the backyard. In the meantime, why don’t you draw some pictures for Simon.’

“Children need a process of saying goodbye,” says McNamee, and “you can help them do this in a variety of ways. Have them draw pictures of your pet. Share funny stories. Plant a tree in the backyard in honor of the pet. Put the pet’s ashes and pictures on the fireplace mantle. These kinds of tangible steps may be more helpful to your child than talking alone. “*2

We held a small funeral in the backyard

Later that day Emmaline, Mr. John, myself and a few neighborhood kids gathered in the backyard to say goodbye to Simon. Emmaline placed a drawing of Simon she made that afternoon along with a clipping of her hair. She picked flowers in the yard and sang a song to celebrate her little cat and the short happy life he lived.  We told a few stories about silly things the cat had done in his short life and Emmaline said ‘Good-bye little cat. You were a good friend.’

***

References:

When A Pet Dies

What to say when a Pet Dies *2

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