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Good-Bye Old Friend
Our family recently said good-bye to a beloved family member. Heidie was a tiny wire-haired dachshund who lived with us for 14.5 of her 16 years. She came to us so timid and scared but with lots of effort, she blossomed into a loving companion. When thinking of her loss, I realized that for a lot of children, myself included, their first experience of loss is that of a pet.
In that instance, what do you say, what do you do? Death can be an uncomfortable topic for many of us to discuss with our children, however, dealing with loss openly and honestly can be very reassuring to a child. The following website from Vitas Healthcare has excellent information regarding the cognitive levels of children as related to their concept of loss and age appropriate responses from the adults in their life, https://www.vitas.com/resources/grief-and-bereavement/child-development-stages
While losing a pet can be heartbreaking, there are constructive ways to work through the grief while memorializing your pet. From the tiniest goldfish to the largest dog, these activities will help your child through the grieving process by celebrating the joy and unconditional love your beloved pet brought into your life.
1. Hold a Celebration of Life ceremony, sharing stories and special memories of your pet.
2. Draw a picture of your pet and display it in your home.
3. Tell or write a story about your beloved pet.
4. Plant a tree or flower in memory of your pet.
5. Donate supplies to an animal shelter in your pet’s name.
6. Create a memory box with your pet’s photo, collar or toy.
7. Read a book about pet loss. The following link lists several books for children. I especially like this page because it also gives appropriate ages for each book. A personal favorite is For Every Dog an Angel by Christine Davis. https://www.pragmaticmom.com/2012/02/top-10-best-coping-with-loss-of-pets-childrens-picture-books-and-giveaway/
Dealing with the loss of a pet is an emotional time for children and adults alike. Grieving is a process and it may take days, weeks or months to move through the stages. You are, after all, grieving the loss of a family member. Give your child permission to grieve and talk openly and honestly about death, encourage them to share their feelings of loss, giving plenty of hugs along the way. Children look to adults for guidance and support so don’t be afraid to shed some tears with your family, it’s healthy and builds a stronger family bond, showing the kids that you share in their sorrow. Celebrate the life of your pet, focus on the pet’s unconditional love instead of the pain of loss, answer your children’s questions honestly and compassionately.
Corey Gut, DVM says to always remember, “The deeper your loss is now, the greater your joy was with your pet.”
Our home seems a bit emptier these days, a feeling we will eventually become used to. But Heidie lives forever in our hearts and there is comfort in knowing that. I have always felt that my pets take a piece of my heart when they leave but always, always fill that empty space with their unconditional love.
If you are experiencing an illness or death of a pet or would just like to connect with other animal loving folks, please join us in FaceBook Animal Blessings Group. You will see prayer requests for animals, funny animal videos, photos of group member’s pets and can participate in Monday evening’s Candle Ceremony for pets. Looking forward to meeting you there!
Jeanna Billings is an Animal Communicator serving an international clientele, a Reiki Master and a Certified Crystal Healer. She volunteered for many years with humane societies and animal rescues, serving as a Board Director, Adoption Counselor and Humane Educator. She currently teaches animal communication classes and provides private consultations. She lives in Indiana with her husband, three dachshunds, two cats and a very chatty parakeet. You can find her online at www.ShamansSpirit.net .