2022 was a year of loss for our family. We lost two of our oldest, most cherished pets only months apart. One was expected, and one was certainly not. Our 18-year-old cat, Fat Boy, had reached the end of his life – a long life filled with unconditional love, cuddles, and captivating memories. We were able to not only say our goodbyes but also say all the things we needed for proper closure in his final days. His death definitely left a hole in our hearts, and it was the first death of a pet that our 6-year-old daughter had experienced. There were lots of tears, and the heartache didn’t come immediately. The tears came in waves, most often when the habits of daily life were broken.
The second pet, Douglas, unexpectedly passed away. She was a 14-year-old cat, and she was full of life. She greeted us with kitty kisses every morning, routinely begged for her dinner every evening, and lovingly groomed us and snuggled every single night. She was the alpha of the home, and all 5 pounds of her dominated both our large dogs daily. Until that dreadful New Year’s Eve Saturday morning when we woke up and Douglas was wheezing for air. My husband had already gone to work, and my daughter and I rushed Douglas to the vet. But it was too late. Within minutes of arriving, Douglas had passed away from a large, inoperable cancer mass in her throat. We had no idea, and there were no signs. My daughter got to watch me break and my heart shatter while my mind was still trying to grasp what was happening. She cried right alongside me, and it was the most awful experience to watch my daughter’s heartbreak in a way that I couldn’t fix.
What do you do when this sadness enters your home? When the house is too quiet and your kids’ hearts are feeling sorrow that is new and painful? When you want to avoid going home because it is just another reminder of your loss?
Here are a few helpful tips for navigating these sad seasons:
- Talk to your kids. Be honest about your feelings of loss, because that will open the door for your kids to be honest about their feelings, and to see that it is ok to be sad. Talk to them about the stages of grief and the different feelings they may have as time goes by, from extreme sadness, to anger, to feeling guilty with the “well if I only did this, or I should have done that”, to acceptance and healing. It’s ok to be sad. And it’s ok if everyone doesn’t grieve the same.
- Let your children be involved with how you say your goodbyes. I can’t take credit for this one, this advice was given to me by a friend when we lost our first cat, and it was certainly solid counsel. If you’re going to bury your pet, have a funeral and let your kids help plan it, writing what they want to say and helping coordinate the ceremony. Let them talk about their memories, draw pictures, create gravesite markers, and even participate in the burial. Even if it’s silliness, this will allow them to grieve in their own meaningful way.
- Make new memories in your home. After we lost both of our cats, our daily routines were disrupted, and our house seemed filled with sadness. Every time we looked at the spots where the kitties sat, or heard the silence that seemed to be much louder than the familiar meows, the feelings in our home shifted. I remember one day, soon after our second cat passed away, driving all around town on a Saturday with my 6-year-old because I avoided wanting to be at home. I decided that we needed to make new happy memories in the home. I asked my 6-year-old to give ideas for a happy memory that we could make. “We can throw a wedding for Wiggy and Bella!”, she said, speaking of our two dogs. So, we did, and we went all out. We had costumes and a full ceremony for our dogs and had our neighbor come over to film the new happy occasion. We even put peanut butter on the dogs’ mouths when it was time for them to “kiss” each other. My 6-year-old helped plan the whole thing, and we have laughed about the wedding for weeks now.
In the end, it’s our job to help guide our children through these losses, and they will learn to either hide their feelings or express them in a healthy way. The more you engage your kids in the healing process, the stronger your whole family will be, and better days will be ahead.
About the Author
Kimberly is a wife, mom, friend, community leader, and full-time business executive. She’s a Baton Rouge native, third-generation LSU grad, and a self-proclaimed champion of both mastering chaotic schedules and creating coocoo jingles (mostly about burps, butts, and farts) to laugh kids out of tantrums. She enjoys playing card games with her husband and jamming to throwback songs from the 90s, hosting neighborhood game nights, and spending time with her family and friends. Coffee is her crutch and comedy is her prescribed medicine for life’s insanity.