There are many ways in which death can have a huge impact upon our lives. Often, we consider grief to be an integral aspect of coping with purely human bereavement. However, grieving during the loss of our feline family members is no less a vital part of this difficult but inevitable aspect of life.
While as adults we may be familiar with the intense emotions that can be felt at the passing of a loved one, children are often (thankfully) unused to the process. It can certainly be scary to them, and they may be unsure how they should react or cope. This can be particularly important when it comes to pets, as a recent study found that children consider their pets to be the equivalent of siblings. Therefore we must take care to guide and support them through this painful and sometimes confusing time.
Every death — whether human or pet — is a uniquely personal experience for everybody involved. As such, there is no catch-all approach that is best for every period of grief. However, we’ve pulled together some useful things to consider while assisting your children through the death of their furry sibling.
Honesty is Key
There is a tradition of not being entirely truthful with kids regarding the death of their pet. Usually this comes from a place of good intentions; as parents we naturally want to protect our children from things that cause them pain. However, it is much more important and, indeed, healthy to approach a death from a place of honesty.
How much detail you go into may be a judgement call, and age-appropriateness can certainly come into play. This can be a difficult conversation, but being honest can provide your child with a sense of clarity that can help them heal. Using cliched platitudes can just muddy the situation, adding confusion to the heartbreaking news.
Discussions about long term illnesses, such as heart disease in cats, can be a useful entry into preparing your children for an expected death. Talk to them about the symptoms, and how this is affecting their furry family member. It may also be helpful to take them to the veterinarian at the time of euthenasia, so that they can say goodbye and ask any lingering questions.
Children can feel powerless at the best of times — they’re trying to understand a world in which decisions are often made for them by adults. When their cat passes away, they are likely to feel even less in control; an important life has been taken away from them. Therefore, it is important to involve them in immediate aftermath.
Invite them to make important decisions regarding funeral customs. If you’re planning on burying your pet, discuss locations that could be meaningful to them. On the occasion of cremation, get them involved in designing and making a DIY cremation urn, decorated with their artwork of their feline sibling. Have them choose music that should be played during your makeshift ceremony. There doesn’t need to be a set program for this farewell, together with your children you can make this a deeply personal experience.
Rituals can be a vital part of grieving for children. By encouraging them to contribute during this time, you are providing them with useful effective avenues to express difficult emotions. These are essential tools not just for this experience, but in coping with death in the future.
Don’t Let the Memory Fade
One of the most unhelpful things we do following death is to stop talking about the deceased. Often, this is a case of awkwardness; not always knowing how to bring up the subject, or even that doing so might cause upset. Unfortunately, for children all this does is give the impression that pets who were so important when alive are no longer a fit subject for discussion.
While your child’s furry companion may be physically absent, there’s no reason to stop keeping their memory alive and well. This passing is likely to be painful to your child for many weeks, months, even years — so provide them opportunities to talk about their thoughts and feelings. Regularly start discussions, or even visit their cat’s favorite haunts, bring out old toys. They may even still have questions about the situation that a casual remembrance can make easier to broach.
Be certain to keep celebrating anniversaries, too. Keep your pet’s birthday on the calendar, and keep a personal note of the date of death. Your cat made a huge impact upon your family, every single moment they were with you — your child will appreciate your keeping their memory alive.
The death of a pet is often a difficult, painful, and confusing event — particularly for children. It’s important to remember just how integral a part of your child’s life their cat has been, and therefore how keenly they’ll experience the pain. By remaining honest, keeping children involved, and making efforts to encourage remembrance, you can help ensure that this passing — while never pleasant — will not be traumatic.
Nat Juchems is the Marketing Director at Green Meadow Memorials, Nat helps those grieving the loss of a loved find the right memorial to cherish.
Before becoming the Marketing Director at Green Meadow Memorials, Nat worked for six years in the memorials ecommerce industry as a Marketing Director and Ecommerce Director, using his skill set to manage powerful paid search and organic search campaigns as well as implement merchandising strategies and manage the software development teams that made everything work.