“GRIFFIN” was a part of the family since my oldest was two; she is now eleven. He saw the addition of three other children, two other dogs, three new cats (we already had two when he arrived), hamsters and guinea pigs. He was involved in a lot of first times with this growing family.
About a week before Christmas, “GRIFFIN” finally crossed the bridge. His health had been failing for a good bit of time. We (the adults) had actually prepared to say goodbye about two years ago when we found him lying in the grass not able to get up. Fortunately, he rebounded and gave us two more good years.
A few days before I took “GRIFFIN” for his last car ride, I asked for help from my friends and family on how to deal with the loss of a pet with the kids. All but one of my children are old enough to understand what is going on and knew that “GRIFFIN” was not doing well. What they didn’t know, and I wasn’t exactly sure how to explain to them, was what was going to happen.
I worked as a veterinary assistant for 15 years and have been involved in euthanizing animals. I have cried with families and celebrated the lives of pets with families. What I haven’t done is dealt with this with my own family. How was I going to explain to my nine year old or my seven year old that the dog that they loved so much was not coming home.
I am sure that there are many people out there that would have done things differently and I am also sure that the psychologists out there would like to string me up, but I am me and they are my kids.
Here are some tips that worked for me when it was time to finally start having the conversations.
1. First and foremost, I was honest. With ALL of them. I didn’t sugar coat things, I didn’t lie to them. I didn’t try to make “GRIFFIN’s” death more or less than it was.
2. I made sure that the kids understood that “GRIFFIN” was a good dog, that was well taken care of by our family and that he was loved each and every day. I made sure that they understood that there was nothing different that they could have done, the doctors could have done or I could have done differently to make “GRIFFIN” better. I wanted the kids to understand that death is as much a part of life as living.
3. I invited them to come with me and “GRIFFIN” to the vets office. Now this is something that I debated a great deal, but I finally decided that it would be OK. None of them wanted to come – FOR WHICH I WAS VERY GRATEFUL.
4. The last thing we did was have a good cry together. I, of course, made some jokes to lighten the mood, but that is what I do. I think the kids seeing that we were all saddened by this was good for them. I think that we all shared our feelings really helped them.
5. One additional thing – never use the phrase “put to sleep”. I actually learned this from a mortician several years ago. No, he didn’t deal with people that had been put to sleep, but he told my sister and I not to use the phrase “she died because she was very sick”. He explained that rather than soothe, that would cause stress and fear. Every time someone got sick, the child thinks they are going to die. I didn’t want my kids to think that if they “went to sleep” they would not wake up.
Death is not easy to deal with, explain, or figure out. Every family with pets will deal with it at some point. I hope that the tips above might help you and your little ones deal with it together as a family in a less stressful way.