When a Pet Dies – Helping Children Cope at Home & Beyond

“Mourning the loss of a best friend” involves a wave of emotions according to Susan Dowd Stone, MSW, LCSW. Everything from sadness and frustration to guilt and confusion overwhelms our hearts and minds. There is no timetable – the more significant the relationship, the longer it seems to take. The same is true when a pet dies. Whether it is a natural passing or euthanasia, there are stages to grief involved. There is no getting around it or avoiding it, there are stages one must pass through to receive healing. Over the years, I have received numerous requests to write another little book; one entitled, When Your Pet Dies: Helping Children Cope at Home and Beyond. 

Pet Loss Help.org provides a list of common questions, as well as what to expect and how to cope. It took years for me to get over the loss of our cat. Pokii -Hawaiian for youngest in the family – had a fascination for the crinkle sound of plastic bags.  Every time I heard that sound, I thought it was him playing with a bag. I’d come home from being out for the day and expect him to be there, waiting. My husband and I both had dreams about him too.  All, are among normal reactions, according to pet loss experts.

Over Christmas my dear friend Sheila lost her dog, Chevy.  They were best friends, tied at the hip  It shook her to the core. The waves of grief caught her off-guard. The abruptness of his death and intensity of her grief were like a double-whammy.  She had to push herself – hard – to handle simple daily tasks. Losses during the holiday season are often more difficult.

Her loss, and then another, had me revisiting the loss of our cat Pokii. He had moved around the nation with us for years, base to base.  When he developed an infection and organ damage, the veterinarian said the trauma of surgery and suffering thereafter would make matters worse. We chose to bring him home to die peacefully. We second guessed our decision for some time … our heads said one thing, our hearts another. In the end we knew it was best. Yet, it was tougher than we could have imagined.

We moved past the grief by focusing on the facts. Thankful he didn’t suffer for long. Thankful he is buried in the backyard of the house we settled in, after decades of military moves. Thankful the kids were grown when he passed – though his death impacted the kid inside all of us. Thankful for another “practice session” in grief and loss; you see, there will always be another time of coping with our own loss or helping someone else cope with theirs.

We felt the waves of grief again this week in revisiting our loss. Our son Derek lost his best friend Widget. There in the comfort of his wife Holly, he was rendered helpless when his cat became paralyzed by a blood clot. Suddenly and unexpectedly, he was gravely ill.  In the blink of an eye, life was over.  The conversations, messages, and posts that followed brought tears to our eyes. We were helpless to heal our son’s heart. Still, we are passing forward the thankful list that helped us heal.

Thankful our son and his wife were present; Widget wasn’t alone. Thankful they are settled in a house of their dreams, with a yard worthy of a resting place for Widget. That is quite significant for dual-military brats; growing up, home was a fixture of the heart rather than a place. Thankful for perspective. “It was entirely unexpected … I want to tell everyone to hug their pets and loved ones today and every day,” our son said in reflection.

To those who asked for that little book, When Your Pet Dies: Helping Children Cope at Home and Beyond has come to pass though never formally written.  The kid in me is impacted, again and again, in the loss of these dear animal companions.  Some choose to create photo or video albums, some do a graveside memorial, some donate to animal causes, and still others go on to adopt another furry best friend.

Susan Dowd Stone reassures, “Thankfully, there is no end to the capacity of the human heart which expands again within the glory of renewal.” (PetLossHelp.org) Helping children cope at home and beyond begins with our acknowledgement that grief is normal, healing takes time, and oftentimes to LISTEN and be SILENT is the greatest healing gift (same letters … powerful words).

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