“Is Austin Dead, Momma?”
“Yes, sweetie, Austin died. He’s gone and we won’t be able to see him again.” I tried to be simple but honest for my girls. At their age, they didn’t understand the permanence of death. So that question came, frequently at first. I let them see me be sad about it. It was almost as if they studied me, picking apart my grief to try to understand.
As adults, we model behavior for our children. This includes how we handle grief and loss. It’s important for them to witness a normal grieving process.
So how do we help our children when they have lost a pet?
- Use gentle honesty to keep them informed during the process. “Austin’s body was failing and we did not want him to suffer. The vet gave him a special medication used only for animals that helped him to die.”
- Let them see you grieve. If your grief is intense or reaching a level of panic, set aside some time for yourself to deal with your feelings. It can be scary for children to witness a loss of control.
- Reassure them that nothing they said or did caused your pet to die.
- Let them know it’s OK to feel sad. Realize that their sadness may come in waves and may not be obviously apparent to you. Watch for changes in sleep, appetite and play. Regressive behaviors are common.
- Involve them in memorializing your pet. Young children may want to draw pictures. We created a picture slide show set to music for our girls to watch. Older kids may be able to help pick out pictures. Plan a small service. Plant a memorial garden together.
“Did Austin die, mom?”
Yes. Yes he did….but we’ll always love him.