Losing a pet is a heart-wrenching experience. Pets become part of the family, and their loss is a tremendous tremor felt by all. So how do you cope, say goodbye and help the kids understand it?
One of my closest friends is about to lose her dog of nine years to cancer. Another friend had to put hers down a few months ago. The hardest part of this? Saying goodbye as a family to the beloved pet. How do you say goodbye -- and how do you talk to the kids about it?
Don't rush it
When a pet dies, naturally there is grieving. It needs to happen, and you need to let it happen. Give yourself and your children time to process and grieve. "Grieving on any level, at any age, shouldn't be rushed but parents can help their children express their feelings of sadness and fear by encouraging them to express themselves creatively (like drawing pictures, writing a letter or poetry) or just communicating," says Melisa Wells, author of Chicken in the Car and the Car Won't Go: Nearly 200 Ways to Enjoy Chicagoland With Tweens and Teens.
Listening can be a great help to kids too, she says. "Sometimes what kids need most is to talk about what's upsetting them, and parents do their kids a great service by listening, sharing a little bit of their own sadness, emphasizing the importance of remembering the love that pet brought to the family, and reinforcing that life does go on," says Wells.
Honor the feelings
Feelings are an intensely personal thing … so let your kids experience theirs -- and be respectful of them too. "I find that kids' feelings need to be heard and honored with regard to the death of a family pet. Parents need to be open enough, and have their own grief in check, so that they are available for their children to air out their feelings," says Dr. John Duffy of www.drjohnduffy.com.
A good way to move through the grieving process is to remember the good times and not dwell on the bad. "Some people find it helpful to write about their pet, put together a scrapbook or to hold a funeral service to mark the passing of their pet," says Robin Reynolds.
And, for many, a memorial service -- or even a funeral -- helps bring that closure. "Hold a family memorial with a picture of your pet. Talk about your pet's good qualities. Celebrate the life of your furry family member, even in death," says Millie Cordaro, Ph.D., LPC, Senior Lecturer for the Department of Psychology at the Texas State University, San Marcos.
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