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Saying Goodbye to a Family Pet

photo of a deceased family petIt doesn't matter how long or short your pet has been part of your family. It can be very confusing and it hurts when a loved one is seriously ill or passes on.

There are few times in life when you feel alone like no other. This is one of them.

Pet ownership is an extremely special relationship. Your pet knows you in a way no one else can. When you are a teenager who feels like no one gets you, your pet does.

When you are a little girl or boy whose best friend just moved away, your pet is there. When no one else can play or you don't have a brother or sister, your pet loves to play with you. When the stress of being a responsible adult gets to be too much or you need a running buddy, you can count on your pet to keep you company.

What do you do when that connection is gone?

There are so many questions that arise when a family pet is diagnosed with a terminal illness or passes away. What should you say to the children? When is it a good idea to bring a new pet into the family? Do you have a funeral in the backyard or opt for cremation? How long is it acceptable to feel totally devastated?

How can you help your child through this difficult time?

Remember to not worry about what others say about how you feel. Your pet was part of your family and only you can determine when you are ready to move on...

If time allows, take lots of pictures of the kids with the pet doing all sorts of things. Later you will be able to make a special memory book for the two of you to peruse when lonely times come. Drawing pictures and telling stories help keep the memories vivid too. Make sure to be honest about your feelings. It helps children to know that the adult they trust is having some of the same thoughts and experiences that they are.

What hard questions should you be ready to answer?

There is always the mind-boggling "...did my friend go to heaven? Will I ever see them again?"

Everyone's faith is not the same so this one doesn't have a sure-fire answer. No one will know until we get there and see for ourselves but we can hope that we will see our sweet friends again. There is a magnificent poem called The Rainbow Bridge that is very comforting and may help your children feel better.

How long is too long to grieve?

petsSoon, you will almost assuredly be asked when a new pet can come home. Although it might be tempting to jump right into a new friendship with another pet, take time to heal from this great loss. Getting a new pet should be when you are ready to form a new loving relationship, not in remembrance of the one that ended.

Sometimes it isn't so easy to just move on because it was "only a pet." People who haven't gone through this experience might not be very sympathetic to your grief. The emotional trauma that loving a pet involves is not often understood. This is a serious loss and it should be treated as such.

Remember to not worry about what others say about how you feel. Your pet was part of your family and only you can determine when you are ready to move on. There are wonderful support groups that are available to help some make it through some of the darkest days.

It is also important to understand that grief and sadness can be expressed in many different ways. For some children, this may be their first encounter with death or sickness of a loved one. Unknown territory is bound to bring about unfamiliar feelings. Try to be observant of any changes in behavior. Children usually look to the grownup they trust for help explaining what these new feelings mean but they might not know how to express themselves.

Try not to compare sibling's responses. One of my daughters cried instantly and for a while when we came home and found our dog, Bear, in his favorite place but not breathing. My other daughter, who actually found him, immediately began looking to play games to keep busy. The crying daughter said to the other, "You don't even seem sad. What is the matter with you? Don't you miss Bear?" Both reactions are absolutely fine. It is important to explain that everyone reacts differently to things. Spend time with the children individually so that one doesn't feel compared to the other and inadvertently feel like they are reacting in a bad way.

The big decision: euthanasia

Kids feel the loss of pets more deeplyIt is one thing to move heaven and earth and go into mountainous debt to save a child's life. But a pet? And will the procedure even work? This is the common thought process when this option rears its ugly head and makes your heart feel like it is tearing in two. The best way to look at this situation is to assess the amount of pain your pet is in and the determine the quality of life that remains for your pet.

Be as objective and honest as possible with your vet. If you do decide to euthanize, some clinics can take care of your pet's remains for a fee. There are other options that might be better for your family. Pet cemeteries or memorial grounds are available and provide a specially marked place to go and visit.

The old fashioned backyard burial is the most economical, but not the most ideal for people who move a lot or who rent. Cremation is a good option for people who rent and cannot have a funeral in their backyard. This is what we chose, and now Bear remains, in an urn, sitting in a special place of honor in our family room.

There are so many different sites that can help. Look below to find a connection for you:

Tracks in the Sand - Free sympathy cards to send to friends who are mourning and tons of related links.

The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement - Excellent resource for finding local U.S. pet grief support groups and counseling hotlines, related online forums and chats, and an opportunity to post a memorial page with paid membership.

About the Author
Katrina Cramer-Diaz is a working mom with a background in education and plenty of experience in parenting. She lives in Virginia with her four children.

also see in Society -> Death & Dying -> grief counseling

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