The best way to help our children cope with sadness and grief is to let them know we are there for them.
We all face grief at some point. Losing something or someone we love is painful. To say the least, it’s life-changing.
Losing my dad to cancer in 2020 was the hardest thing I've ever experienced, I’m still grieving but I know that life must go on. Death is an inevitable part of life and all of us will have to deal with it one day and we can only wish it’s not anytime soon.
Recently, our family dog, Hank, went to cross the rainbow bridge. For almost 12 long years, he’s been with us watching us close as we go through the many stages of our lives. He’s seen my kids grow, watched over them, and played with them. Hank loved the kids as if they were part of his pack and was like a big brother, watching over his little siblings.
Pets are so much more than just animals we keep at home—they are family. They are just the right companions that the heavens sent to us to teach us what unconditional love and loyalty look like. Hank was such a good and loving dog and we were blessed to have him in our family.
As we bid goodbye to Hank, I can sense how the children are so saddened about it as each corner of the house reminds us of how Hank used to be. Especially Lace, who gets sentimental at the mention of Hank.
Pet loss is something that every pet owner will have to deal with at some point in life. When it comes to grief regardless of where it’s coming from, there is no right handbook on how one can get through it. We all go through different stages of grief and coping can be different for each one of us, including our children.
Letting go of Hank was hard but we knew it was the right time and had discussed openly with the kids that we would never let him suffer or lose his dignity. We did our best to prepare them and had lots of open conversations with the lead up to his final goodbye. I wanted my kids to remember only the happy and good times they had with Hank and not dwell on the loss. The week leading up I started to make a slideshow filled with gorgeous home video's of Hank with them from babies until now. We also made a paw print ornament of Hank using air clay for our Christmas Tree as a remembrance of him. I also kept his collar and dog tags which I plan to put around a nice plant outside where the kids can go and sit and feel close to him if they're having a rough day. I talked to them about how Hank lived a good life and that he was so loved but it's time for him to be pain free and at peace.
The last night we had him, we took him for one last walk at the park and some ice cream. The kids really enjoyed this last little outing seeing him lick away at a McDonalds ice cream cone. The next day we let the kids have the day off school and just my husband and I took him to the vet. In the morning Lace made a little book of a photo of each of us with Hank and we wrote a personal message to him and glued our photo over the top. We said he could take it to heaven to remember us. We dropped the kids at my in-laws as I felt it was best for them to say their goodbyes and remember Hank smiling and not all the added emotions of being at the vet. I planned a fun and busy day for us to spend as a family and keep our spirits up as best we could.
When the kids are ready, we plan to sprinkle his ashes in the ocean near the dog beach Hank loved. That way he can be free. Each time we take our new dog Hobbs down we can talk about Hank in a positive way to say "I bet he's watching over us all smiling".
To help cope with pet loss in children, we must remind them of all the good times and to try not dwell on the loss. It's important to move on, not hold on. To be thankful for the special times we did share with our pets.
In sad times like these, I find comfort in reading books and I share them with my kids. Memory Tree by Britta Teckentrup is a beautiful picture book and story that helps children celebrate the memories of their departed loved ones. Another good book to read with kids is The Invisible Leash by Patrice Karst which is a very touching story about a child’s journey to love and acceptance of his departed pet.
It’s a terrifying thought to have to face. If you have a child, you know that having to see your child deal with the loss of a loved one makes the whole coping process even more difficult, and it does happen. We feel their pain and sadness although the hardest part for us is sometimes navigating our own feelings of grief around our children. As a parent, no matter how pained you are for your loss, you will need to help them through the difficult times. You need to make them understand the situation, that even death is part of what makes life “Life”.
As much as we want to shield them from the feeling of unhappiness, they need to understand what’s happening. Teach them it’s okay to express grief, cry, and feel sad. Those feelings are normal and valid. However, we need to make them understand that everything that happens is a part of life. We need to just be there for them and guide them on their journey to healing.
That’s how coping starts in them.