How You And Your Child Can Cope With The Loss Of A Pet

Have you lost a pet recently? It's important to deal with grief and this difficult time, in the right way. Doing so help you and your child emerge stronger and gain a new perspective on life.

By Jasmine Kaur

How You And Your Child Can Cope With The Loss Of A Pet
Everyone leaves, including pets
When I was a child, Johnny, our dog, became a part of our family. I quickly got used to his company. In everything I did, Johnny would be my accomplice. Even when going for walks with my grandfather, I would insist that we take Johnny along. 
Eight years later, when Johnny passed away, I felt as though I’d lost a very close companion. And, it wasn't just me, everyone in the family felt his loss. But, we supported each other through this. My parents and grandparents did all they could to help me get over Johnny's absence. They would do things like spending time with me so that I did not feel lonely, listen to my worries, and tell me stories. Although, it was a difficult time, my family's support helped me get over Johnny's death. Looking back, I think it also helped that I was still a child when Johnny died. – Rashmi Nagendran, a 23-year-old media professional from Chennai

The bond we form with our pets is special. They teach us so much about unconditional love and how to be true to ourselves. They become so much a part of our lives that we begin to treat them as a member of our family. However, while we share our lives with pets, we tend to forget that no one lives forever, including pets. And, when pets die, we are overcome with intense feelings of loss and grief.

In a study published in 2009, ‘Death of a Companion Cat or Dog and Human Bereavement: Psychosocial Variables’, published in Society and Animals, Planchon et al opine that, "death depression, general depression, and positive attitudes toward, and attachment to, companion animals were associated with greater grief following the death of cats and dogs."

While losing a pet affects everyone in the family, children tend to feel more emotionally troubled as they develop deeper attachment to a pet. However, every event in life helps us learn something about ourselves and become better humans. Here's what you and your child can learn while grieving the loss of a pet:

Grief is tiring

We open our hearts to pets as they become a part of our lives. So, it’s natural to grieve their passing. There's no no easy way out of the feelings of loss you experience after the death of your pet. You just have to be brave and deal with your emotions right. The first few days after the death of a pet are always the toughest time to cope with. For, you miss your pet the most and the grief might overwhelm you to the extent of making you feel extremely tired. What's more, the same could happen to your child as well. So, as a parent, support your child and at the same time, give each other time to recover as well. Do remember that we are stronger than we think we are.

We mourn in different ways

We have our own unique way of doing things and it's the same with mourning as well. While some feel soothed by letting their tears flow, others just want to be left alone, in peace. Also, we need our space even in mourning, maybe especially in mourning, considering how vulnerable we feel then. So, respect your child especially if he mourns in a different way; but ensure he knows you are there for him, in case he wants to reach out or needs help coping with the loss. Here are some ways to engage with your child:

  • Ask your child how he would like to remember his pet 
  • Have a comforting conversation 
  • Share funny memories or stories about the pet 
  • Watch old videos together 
  • Together, write a prayer or a poem for the pet 
  • Help your child make a scrapbook or collage of memories

Support is welcome

You and your child need each other’s support to deal with the loss of the pet — this is a shared grief, so you should be able to understand each other’s pain. But remember, it is okay if your child doesn’t want to talk about the loss. What matters is that you’re there for each other. You can talk to your child to understand the kind of support she needs from you and also explain what you too need form her. For example, your child may need you to spend a bit more time with her to read storybooks; similarly, you could tell your child that you may not be able to cook elaborate meals (because you don’t feel so energetic). Bit by bit, you can back each other up and return to your routines.

We emerge emotionally stronger

Dealing with the loss of a pet can help your child become more emotionally aware and better at dealing with difficult emotions. So, the next time your child faces a similar situation, he will be better equipped to deal with it. When you express your feelings, your child learns that it is okay to talk about what he is going through. Displaying emotions such as sadness, frustration or guilt doesn't just make you feel relieved but also, teaches your child that expressing feelings is acceptable.

Coping with the death of a pet can be difficult for the family. The only way to emerge stronger is to be there for each other. So, support your child and let her, in turn, do the same for you. This will reinforce your bond as a family. And help you get through this tough time, together.  

About the author:

Written by Jasmine Kaur on 5 March 2019.

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