The Cat Just Died - Now What?

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"Oh no, how do we tell him? He'll be devastated.
We'll tell him that Miss Kitty's gone up to heaven to keep Grandma company, then we'll take him to the pet store on Saturday and get him a new kitten; he'll have forgotten all about it before you know it.
" Sound familiar? Probably happened to you when you were a kid too, huh? Perhaps you have been in this very situation with your children and didn't know what to do.
Well, take heart and know that you're not alone.
There are very few parents, let alone people, who effectively know how to deal with loss, especially the loss of a pet and the grief resulting from it.
OK then, how do we deal with this situation in the best possible way? First of all and most importantly, listen to your child and hear what they have to say.
They are most likely going to be very sad, or quiet, or angry, or may not even talk about it at all.
Please remember this very well: whatever they say or do is normal and natural.
The problem for most of us comes from having to deal with their reaction to the loss and how we react to them and try to handle it all.
What does that really mean? Here's an example: Little Johnnie won't stop crying about that darned cat.
OK.
Johnnie's sad.
He needs to cry and he NEEDS to know that it's not only OK to cry, but that it's SAFE to cry.
By telling him not to cry, you're telling him: "Don't feel bad" - why shouldn't he? His cat just died and his whole world has changed beyond belief for him.
You may be angry because he won't stop crying because it's annoying, but mostly you can't say or do anything to make your little one feel better.
You feel frustrated and powerless to help someone you love.
On a whole, society just doesn't have the tools to cope with grief.
Here's a suggestion of a strategy and why: "Honey, Miss Kitty died last night.
She's probably gone up to sit on Grandma's lap and keep her company.
" Give some time for the initial words to sink in and be prepared for whatever reaction.
Most children can handle the word "died" much better than we give them credit for.
By all means, you can put forward any religious belief you wish, but take the mystery out of it for the child and tell them the truth.
Kids appreciate the truth.
They need to know they can trust you, especially in times of crisis.
When they've had a couple of minutes to let that sink in and react: "Would you like to talk about it?" It lets them know that it's safe and OK to say how they feel.
This might be very uncomfortable for you (most of us don't feel comfortable talking about or expressing our feelings, let alone dealing with anyone else's), but remember, you are there for them at this moment.
Let them talk and or react and then let them know that it's OK to feel sad or confused or whatever it is that they may be feeling.
They just want and need to be heard! Suggesting that they go to their room to cry or figure it all out tells them to "grieve alone".
That just isolates them and adds to the confusion, and most importantly, reinforces that it's not OK or safe to talk about any of this.
Replacing one pet with another straight after a loss is a sure recipe for disaster: If we get another kitty too soon afterwards, it sets us up for a belief that it's OK to "replace the loss".
No one in the family gets to really grieve for kitty (even if they don't realize that they need to - and we all grieve for every loss).
Something else to consider: Each member of the family is going to have a different reaction to the loss of a pet.
It's never a good idea to compare losses of any sort.
One family member can be totally devastated and another can have "It's just a cat" attitude.
Every relationship and therefore reaction to the loss of that relationship is individual and unique.
Everyone has the right to react to the loss in their own way.
One more very important thing to remember: How you react to all of this is going to teach your child how to deal with loss and grief for the rest of their lives.
Approach it all with love, honesty and understanding and you'll be on the right track.
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