After the Loss of a Pet
Helping Children through the Bereavement Process
By Kelly Catalano
Several years ago, our dog, Chloe, was diagnosed with a terminal illness leaving her with only a few weeks left to live. You can imagine the shock and other emotions filtering through my mind as the words were leaving the Veterinarians mouth. What I thought was going to be a swallowed Lego or some other type of toy appeared as two massive tumors on the x-ray screen sealing the fate of our beloved dog’s life. As the Dr. continued to speak, I was in total disconnect mode... I was watching her lips move but no longer could hear her words as my eyes connected with my poor dog cowering behind my legs.
My heart was breaking into a million pieces. What was I going to tell my children and husband? How long did we have? What were we supposed to do with this information and how was everyone going process it? The unknowns were overwhelming. My young family was unfamiliar with the grieving process of anyone dying, much less our much-loved family pet.
It all seemed so surreal. Like it was all happening in some slow-motion scene from the Matrix. Instead of dodging bullets, I was in full on word dodging mode. All I wanted to do was scoop my baby up and flee from that horrid office of bad smells, bad news, bad outcomes, and from the words I didn’t want to hear. Perhaps I could outrun the end results or at least drive home really fast to ugly cry in private.
And ugly cry is exactly what happened, not once but multiple times over the next few weeks and well past the death of our dog. We had individual ugly cries, group ugly cries. It was well….ugly.
Informing our children Chloe only had a few weeks to live was tough. Their whole world was going to change. Our whole world was going to change from revolving around, thinking about and playing with our dog to one of loss, grief, sadness, anger, indecision, guilt, what if’s, and a million unanswered questions. Should we let nature take its course? Should we euthanize her? Is she suffering? Are we making the right decision? Will she be in pain? Should we have someone come to our house when the time comes? Will our children be more traumatized if Chloe dies at home or somewhere else? The list goes on and on.
For children, handling the death of a pet can be an overwhelming experience as children process emotions and feelings differently than adults. It’s up to us as parents to help them through this challenging time in a supportive loving way.
Tell them the truth
Allow them to express how they feel in a safe non-judgmental manner
Understand there is no set way to grieve and honor their process
Validate their feelings and let them know it’s ok to feel what they feel
Understand the right amount of time to grieve is however much time it takes for them to process the experience
My children also wanted some reassurance they did not cause or were to blame for what was happening to our pet as well as if Chloe was going to go to heaven. I do believe pets go to heaven when they transition as they have a soul and life force just as humans. knowing this brought much comfort, helped our children cope with the loss, and move forward faster as well as doing the following:
Have a pet memorial service to celebrate your pet’s life
Get your children involved….Make a pet memorial of images, stories, what they loved most about their pet, saving the pets favorite toy etc…
Change up the children’s routine some… if you normally walk the dog at the same time every day, do something different during that time. Read a book, color, play a game to fill the time gap
Talk about donating pet beds, dog food, etc to help other pets in need when the time feels appropriate
Remind them their pet loves them unconditionally and wants them to be happy
Finally, understand pet grief is often misunderstood, dynamic and can be a challenge to process. Pet Grief is not linear, it’s a jumbled mess of feelings, emotions, memories, thoughts, and sometimes children need professional help to process all the emotional muck.
While there are many pet loss support groups available, one of my favorite methods of helping children and adults process pet loss emotional chaos is through EFT tapping. The Emotional Freedom technique is just what it says. Emotional freedom from a traumatic memory. EFT tapping is safe, effective, and works 95% faster than conventional grief recovery methods. EFT releases the emotions tied to the memory by tapping on specific meridian points on the body. Tapping is completely safe to use and works for all age groups.
EFT was our saving grace and it can help your family too. To find out more about EFT and how to use it for pet loss healing and recovery go to www.petgriefrelief.com
Sending you all much love and healing light.
Certified Pet Loss Specialist
Holistic Energy Medicine Practitioner