In my previous blog post, Help! We’re all grieving over here! Part One, August 2, 2021, I outlined ways a family can tackle grief over the death of a beloved pet. In this blog post, I address ways to help the children grieve the loss of a family pet.
Losing a family pet may be the first time your children face the death of a beloved family member. If so, you can guide your child through this life-altering event with love, compassion, and learned empathy.
There are many websites online that provide ways to support your children during this time. In this blog, I’m sharing with you a few ways I approach the topic of grief when I’m counseling clients who are struggling to help their children cope after a difficult loss.
- Communication – Keep the conversation flowing.
Provide open and honest conversations to create safe spaces for children to express themselves. It helps children process emotions when they know they can talk about their feelings, now when sad, and later, in happier times, when they’re celebrating.
Be honest. Tell the truth while being age-appropriate with details. The goal is to allow your children to learn love never dies but stays in their hearts forever. With time, their hearts will feel warm again. Life will return to a new normal, rightfully so. In time the intense pain they’re currently feeling will be replaced by happier memories shared with their beloved pet.
- Familiarize yourself with the Five Stages of Grief.
In her groundbreaking book, On Death and Dying, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross introduced us to the Five Stages of Grief. Kubler-Ross provided people with a roadmap of universal emotions encountered on a journey through grief.
There are five stages to the grieving process. The stages provide a guide to behaviors fueled by grief and ways for you to open communication with your children as they process their grief. The Five Stages of Grief are; denial/isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. The trick is understanding that no one goes through the steps in order!
The loss of unconditional love received from the family pet takes everybody kicking and screaming through each stage. As parents, use the five stages of grief to check in with your kids. Ask them if they can tell you what stage they’re experiencing at a given time. Doing this provides the kids with a vocabulary for their feelings. It also provides you with a great conversation starter, especially on difficult days. You’ll begin to recognize how the stages affect your childrens’ behaviors and then address concerns as needed.
- Focus on the memories!
It is possible to laugh and cry at the same time. As time goes by, begin to re-direct the focus away from the loss and toward happier memories filled with fun adventures the children shared with their pets. Never minimize a child’s feelings, whatever they are. Remember, you are facilitating their emotional growth and helping them learn how to deal with complex emotions.
- Get Creative.
A quick google search will provide you with a plethora of creative tools to help kids cope with losing their pets. Using such tools for your children to express their grief facilitates conversation, acts as a form of meditation, lowers anxiety, and so much more.
Visit a pet shelter and donate your time. Whether you walk the dogs, pet the cats, feed the fish, or talk to the birds, honor your pet’s memory by providing love to animals that don’t have a family to take care of them. Encourage your kids to think of ways to keep the memory of their pet alive. Popular nowadays is for kids to request donations to pet shelters instead of birthday presents. That is a sure-fire way to give back in memory of your pet. Honor your pets’ memory by giving your time to help homeless pets and support pet shelters!
- Moving on.
As with many things in life, some things need to be gotten through so everyone can move forward. Grief is one of the hardest. Following the above suggestions begins the healing process that, at some point, must happen.
Plan a ceremony or create a memorial to your pet. At petheaven.org, you can write a tribute and post a picture of your sweet pet. The website provides a serene place to visit on special occasions like birthdays and gotcha anniversaries. Rituals, like memorials and tributes, are helpful to heal from loss. Participating in them brings a sense of comfort and starts a path that will lead to healing.
When is it time to get another pet? Trust your judgment. You’ll know when the time is right. However, try to avoid getting another pet too soon. Bringing another pet into the home too quickly could lead to the misperception that the new pet is a replacement. That is not fair to the animal and not fair to the children. Getting another pet too soon may be a recipe for disappointment for all involved. Take the time your children need to get through the grief, then when all hearts are open again; the sting of loss is waning, you’ll find another pet to love and welcome into your family! It’s time to begin a new chapter!
After years of counseling families in crisis, I’ve witnessed how heartbreaking the loss of unconditional love from the family pet can be. If anyone in the family is showing difficulty processing the loss over time, consider short-term counseling to help them through.
One suggestion I make to my clients during grief counseling sessions is to honor the memory of their pets’ unconditional love by practicing unconditional love in their daily lives. Doing so keeps a pets’ memory alive and helps everyone heal. Go ahead, pay that unconditional love forward!!!
Wishing you all peace in your hearts.
Roseanne Olszewski has an MA in Transformative Leadership Development from the California Institute of Integral Studies. Ms. Olszewski is a crisis counselor and consultant assisting her clients to develop creative ways to tackle life’s hardest moments. She has over two decades of experience working with families in crisis. Roseanne is a loving dog mommy to her rescue dog, Apollo, part Chihuahua and Terrier.