When your family loses a pet, everyone goes through a grieving process. Learn how to help every member of your family deal with the loss, and find out how you can honor your pet’s memory in creative, healing ways.
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Losing a pet affects every member of the family. Kids who have grown up with a family pet may be especially vulnerable to loss. We talked to Melisa Wells, author of Remembering Ruby: For Families Living Beyond the Loss of a Pet, to learn more about healing from pet loss as a family.
Discuss your pet’s passing
Be gentle and honest when talking to your kids about a pet’s death. “I don’t think a kid should be told that the pet ‘went to sleep and never woke up,’ because that’s not true, could be very scary and could cause sleep problems,” says Wells. Likewise, don’t lie and say that a pet is lost or missing. Share what you need to share to make it gently clear that your pet has passed or will pass soon. If your pet is very ill, it’s alright to shelter your kids from details or having to witness a pet in discomfort.
“My therapist recommended showing photos to my little one and talking to her about loss,” says mom Morgan Shanahan.
Encourage your children to express their feelings
During and after the loss of a pet, encourage your kids to share feelings. “Kids should be encouraged to write or draw something about their dog: happy memories, why they’re so sad, or anything that helps them get the feelings out there,” says Wells. Share your own grief but try not to use your kids as a support system. If your children don’t want to talk or they seem ready to move on, let them deal in their own ways.
“The best thing I did was keep the lines of communication open with my kids,” says mom Monica Beyer. “I didn’t want them to think they couldn’t talk about her. The girls expressed their feelings through art, which they did on their own.”
Memorialize your pet
Come up with personal ways to honor your pet’s memory. “I actually planted flowers in our dog’s water dish and put it in our garden,” says Wells, who also scheduled a photo shoot when she learned that her dog had a terminal diagnosis. A special place in your garden, an urn with your pet’s ashes or a framed photo can give your whole family a sense of peace and closure.
“When we lost our first Pug, Napoleon, we made a point to have a funeral,” says mom Kelli James. “It gave us all closure.
Move on when you’re ready
Don’t feel guilty about adopting a new family pet. However, make sure every member of your family is ready to move on, and that you’re not looking into a new pet solely to replace the pet that has passed. Kids may take grief out on a new pet or may get the idea that loved ones are easily replaceable. “Although I don’t see any issues in purchasing or adopting a new pet after the loss of a loved pet,” says Wells, “I think that you really need to think about it at length before doing so, and weigh the possible consequences of jumping in too soon.”