By: Elaine Bearden
Recently, we lost our pet yorkie, Zoey. Zoey was a huge part of our family for 14 years and her absence has left a huge hole in our hearts. My husband and I called her our second child and treated her as such, especially after our daughter left for college. She helped fill our empty nest with her kisses and cuddles and her never ending curiosity and love.
Breaking the news to my daughter, who is now married and lives out of state, was difficult for me because I had to accept the reality of my fur baby being gone. Having buried our fair share of hamsters, goldfish and other pets while she was growing up, I hadn’t fully expected my daughter to take it so hard.
Though she knew it was coming since Zoey was 16 and had been having health issues, it was still a shock for her to know that our little dog who she had spent so many years with would not be there to greet her when she came to visit us anymore.
Kids have different views of life with a pet. They’ve spent formative years having that pet within their daily lives and their grief no matter the age is understandable and valid.
Tips to Help Your Child Through the Death of a Pet
Share your Grief. Let your child see the hurt you might be feeling over the loss of the pet. If you aren’t grieving the loss, respect their feelings, without making them feel ashamed, guilty, or minimizing the loss that they feel.
Reassure them. A pet’s death can raise a lot of questions and fears, especially in younger children. They may ask you about where the pet goes when it dies, whether they will die, whether you will die, and whether they were responsible for the pet’s death. Think about the answers to these questions before talking to them. I remember when my daughter was young and had accidentally killed one of her pet hamsters and we had to explain to her what happened. It was hard for her to hear but she was more careful with her future pets.
Give them closure. If it’s possible, give your child time to say goodbye to their pet before the pet dies. Or have a memorial or funeral service after so they can say goodbye in their own way.
Remember the good times. Talk about the good memories each of you has with the pet. It will help your child replace thoughts of the tragedy with thoughts of happiness. My daughter’s husband texted me the other day and let me know that she had come across a toy that she had already bought to give Zoey for Christmas and it had caused her to break down, so I texted her a story about Zoey’s first day with us that my daughter had forgotten. It was just the thing she needed to pull her from her sadness into laughter.
Don’t feel the need to replace the pet right away. It’s okay to wait. Don’t let the empty place your pet left make you feel like you have to fill that void. Depending on the age of your children, they might beg you to get a new pet immediately. Only you can gauge whether you and they are truly ready for a new pet. If you or another of your children aren’t ready, talk to the child who is wanting a new pet right away about the need to let hearts heal and honoring the pet’s memory.