Last Wednesday, I found my cat Christmas (a.k.a. crazy eyes) loudly crying upstairs. These were cries I had never heard before. When I went to check on him, he was on the ground, unable to move in agony.
I immediately knew something was wrong. I tried getting Christmas into the carrier as gently as possible. His body was cold and limp. I saw him dying in front of me.
Christmas survived the night, but he needed more testing to find out what was wrong. When I found him, his blood sugar was ridiculously low. He didn’t look right and he smelled terrible. I could smell death on him.
I could not believe what was happening and I felt guilty for not finding him sooner. He was always my healthy cat.
A Family Decision
Although Christmas survived the night, the various tests and the ultra sound confirmed terminal cancer (intestinal cancer) and a possible rupture.
Cats are very good at hiding pain and illness until they no longer can. The veterinarian recommended we either take him to a specialist for chemotherapy or let him go peacefully by euthanasia to prevent his suffering.
It was a big decision we had to make as a family.
I wasn’t sure how I felt about euthanasia until I saw my cat crying in pain the night before, as he barely clung to life. Although Christmas looked better the next day, he was still unwell. The vet said if it was her, she would “let him go.” His chances for survival were not good. Christmas had an incurable illness and was going down hill fast.
Knowing my cat was terminal and had a limited chance for survival, we decided to let him go. We didn’t want to prolong his suffering.
The Final Moments
We went together as a family to be with my cat until the very end. Christmas passed away with loved ones around, purring as he fell into a deep sleep. His death was calm and peaceful.
Although my son is too young to truly understand, we wanted to include him in the process. My toddler said goodbye and comforted Christmas. We wanted him to know that Christmas didn’t just disappear, but that he was somewhere special.
Ways to Help Children Cope
So, you might be wondering, what are some great ways to help children cope with a pet’s death?
Here are some ways to help your child grieve and get some closure after the death of a pet.
- Say Goodbye. Not everyone gets a chance to say goodbye, but if it is possible, providing your child with an option may help with the grieving process. Let them know what is happening, provide comfort, and give them some time to be with the pet.
- Draw/write messages to your pet. After the pet’s death, your children can write messages or draw something for the pet. This may help them feel better after the animal has passed. That way, they will not have any regrets about things left unsaid.
- Be there till the end. Consider being together with the pet until the end, so the child will know what happened or feel like they were able to be there for the pet’s final moments. Of course, if this is too scary for your child (who you know best), you can find other options.
- Cremate the body or bury it somewhere meaningful. As a family, you could decide on a good place to spread the ashes or bury the body somewhere meaningful. It provides a good way of making peace with the death. Burying a pet allows children to go back to honor the pet too.
- A Pet funeral and burial. Some families do prefer a funeral for their pet and there are options for burials at pet cemeteries. If this is something you would like, veterinarian offices can provide you with a contact in your town or city. Some families deal with grief this way.
- Let children grieve. Let your child cry. Sometimes, parents get upset when children cry, but letting them grieve is an important part of healing. They might need some time alone to grieve. Check up on them, but give them some time too.
- Talk. Communicating with your child about the pet’s death and helping them get through it is one of the best ways to provide closure. Kids may not always understand what’s happening, so it’s always good to discuss a pet’s death with them. Help them heal.
- Go out someplace together. After giving everyone some time for grieving, it may be nice to go to dinner or do something as a family. It may help take everyone’s mind off of the pet’s death and help the family move on.
These are my opinions on how to help a child grieve although I am no expert. These are just suggestions based on my own experience.
When I was a child, I considered my pet rabbit family. When she was poisoned and I later found her dead body in a dumpster, I cried for three days until my mom helped me get over it, but it took a while. I was a young child and that was my first experience with death.
With Christmas, my family had a chance to be with him until the end. Christmas’ body was cremated and we plan to spread his ashes together. He was truly a wonderful cat. A fat, happy, nervous cat that never caused an ounce of trouble. He also had some crazy eyes.
RIP Christmas. You will be missed.
What was your experience dealing with a pet’s death and were children involved?