Saturday, November 19, 2011

Teaching Kids About Pet Loss

This past week our beloved 17-year-old cat Sammy passed away.

She was a sweet-natured, lovable, goofy, always hungry, sometimes stinky girl who grabbed your heart from the start. Everyone who met Sammy was instantly drawn to her. She was a beautiful creature.

Thinking back to happy memories of life with Sammy brings a smile to my face. While cats by nature are frequent sleepers, I really do think she slept more than the average. She also enjoyed catching a warm beam of sunlight while resting on the carpet staring out the window bird watching. Sammy also liked it when Sarah was a baby and ate in her high chair waiting patiently for Sarah to either drop food by accident, or on purpose, to devour.

When we lost Sammy's sister Maggie four years ago before Sarah was born we knew we had Sammy to go home to, which in some instances, made the pain of loss a little less difficult since her presence was still there especially in the eyes of Sammy. This time around, with Sammy now gone we had Sarah to come home to to care for and love.

In addition to grieving myself, I also didn't have to explain to a young child what it meant to die or any discussion at all about the after life.

This time around, with Sammy, things were different.

With a nearly four-year-old to care for, things were indeed very, very different this time around, and more difficult as there was much more explanation needed.

Sarah knew for a while that Sammy was sick and also that she lived a very long life. Daniel and I conveyed that to her many times.

When Daniel and I knew that it was Sammy's time to go, the night before we sat down with Sarah to try to explain.

I digress for a moment.

A couple of years ago there was an incident at a local playground, which inevitably helped us to start communicating the concept of loss to Sarah. Who knows. It may work for you if you are ever unfortunate to be in this situation of explaining loss of a person or animal to a young child.

It all started with an innocent green balloon given to Sarah at a party. The details of this particular situation is here to read. It was something I wrote about in a previous blog post entitled Sarah and the Green Balloon.

The moral of the story was that the green balloon cast into the sky became a representation of lost loved ones who are no longer with us and who are up in the sky watching down on us. There is no discussion of heaven or G-d. Just a simple explanation that people and animals that once were with us here on earth are now gone and live in the sky, never to return.

We explained to Sarah's teacher the morning we dropped her off at school before taking Sammy to the vet about what was going on and be aware that Sarah may be sad, start talking about Sammy or green balloons, then they would understand. Her teacher seemed very appreciative that we informed her of this as it helped her to understand what Sarah was going through or may in the coming days, weeks, months.

That day, Sarah also knew that Daniel and I would pick her up early to buy green balloons to cast them into the sky for Sammy, Maggie and her lost loved ones.

At first, Sarah thought we were bringing home a green balloon for Sammy, and when we walked in the house she started to look for Sammy to show her the balloon. Interestingly, Sammy loved to nibble at the ribbons on the balloons.

My heart fell. I bent down on my knees to say to Sarah that Sammy was not hear anymore and that she was up in the sky. I further said that was why we got the balloons to put them up in the sky to share with her to let her know we were thinking about her, and that we miss her.

We then went out to the back yard and let each balloon go one by one. The first, for Sammy. The second, for Maggie. The third, for all of our lost loved ones.

Then, we went inside and dined on vanilla ice cream, one of Sammy's favorite treats.

In the days following it's been more difficult for Daniel and I especially. Sometimes I hear phantom sounds thinking I hear Sammy. I brushed my foot across a pillow and it felt like fur and was instantly stopped thinking it was her.

Loss takes time to cope with for adults and for children. There is really no exact way of helping kids, young ones especially, on how to handle loss. You can only do what you think is best.

For Daniel and I, missing Sammy is going to be a forever thing because of the number of years we loved her and cared for her. For Sarah it may be different. Nonetheless, it will take time. It's also okay to show our emotions to our kids so they know that we are affected by what has happened and can ask questions.

Every so often Sarah will mention Sammy and have needed to say to her that Sammy is not here anymore. As hard as it is telling Sarah this I am just thankful to G-d to have my precious Sarah with us for lots of hugs and kisses and someone to focus on while we grieve.

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