It is a bittersweet journey down memory lane as I scroll through the pictures on my phone and see our sweet family pet.
You, our dear fur baby, were with me before I met my husband, before we had a house, or kids. You were with me when I lived on my own, offering me comfort and companionship and unconditional love. You were with me as my husband and I joined lives together and his feisty, ornery dog would be your newfound playmate. You were beside me as I laid in bed, pregnant with twins, and months later at my feet during those midnight feedings. You laid with our kids when they would be sick on the couch, their cheeks rosy with fevers. You caught tears when we experienced loss and heartache. You were there for our happiest moments and darkest days.
As the kids got older and my husband and I reached milestone birthdays, we were reminded that our fur baby was reaching a “super senior cat” status. The last year our cat’s health was declining, his numbers were off indicating something else was wrong. He lost so much weight, he lost the ability to always use his litter box, and at times he would not eat or drink. We spent the year trying injections, medicines, different food and various litter box options. Our family pet began to struggle with walking and we knew it was time to face a difficult decision.
This time was different than when we had to say goodbye to our first family pet. This time the kids were more aware and each of them had their own special bond with our cat. Our youngest had a very close relationship with our cat and often our cat would tuck him in at night. He is five and he perceives death differently than his seven-year-old brothers. I found that my youngest struggled with the finality of death whereas my older boys had more questions about the process of death.
I researched ways to help our kids process their own feelings of death and grief. Here are some ways I found that helped:
Prepare if you can and be honest: I began to talk about our cat’s health and let our children know our cat may go to Heaven soon. I encouraged the kids to spend time cuddling and talking with him.
Let them see you grieve too: I had to reflect with my own background for this one. I was conditioned to be strong for everyone and guess what? I learned it is okay for your kid to see you cry and go through your own process of pain. I also reminded them that it is okay to be sad and cry. Giving your kids a good model of grief will help them throughout their lives.
Be open to their journey: I had this idea that the kids would be a crying mess right after our cat died and we would all experience the pain together. Wrong. I found that there were so many random moments that my kids would remember our cat and ask hard questions. The questions would come in the car, when we were going to bed, or when they saw another cat. My youngest doesn’t understand that death is permanent and wanted to take our cat for a walk “just for a couple minutes” the day after he passed away. We had some very honest and simple discussions.
Remembering: We included our kids with ideas on how to remember our sweet cat. The kids came up with different ways to honor our cat. They wanted to say prayers. One kid wanted to keep our cat’s bed as a memory. We looked through old pictures. We all agreed we wanted a “quiet night” where we sprawled out sleeping bags in the family room, ate popcorn and watched America’s Funniest Videos. My husband and I bought house plants that give us joy and positive energy. I read about some other ideas that could include a memorial box, a special picture book of memories, or drawing pictures and writing letters.
Books: I always find that books help me navigate hard times and open up space for reflection and discussion. Here are some children’s books that address the topic of death.
The Rainbow Bridge: A Visit to Pet Paradise by: Adrian Raeside
The Forever Dog by: Bill Cochran
The Invisible Leash by: Patrice Karst
The Goodbye Book by: Todd Parr
Remember that we all want what is best for our kids and the last emotion we want is to see our kids sad and hurt. However, this is a journey that we must open our own hearts to and allow a safe space for our children to grieve in their own way. Take time for your own feelings too!