Amidst all the craziness of getting ready to move to a new home (a post or series of posts will becoming soon), we suffered a loss of a dear friend and family member. Our cat, BooBoo died suddenly on Thursday afternoon.
I didn’t think I would be so sad about losing a cat, after all, I always contended that he was “just a cat.” I am NOT a cat person, but maybe it’s because until BooBoo, I’d only met shitty cats. But really, he had a great personality and charmed everyone who met him. Regardless, watching the seizure or heart attack take him in those 30 seconds was horrifying and painful to watch. Seeing any living creature suffer is difficult.
But what this post really is about is how to manage the death of a pet with a toddler.
My daughter is 26 months, which means she lacks the comprehension of a soul, or Heaven, or any of the things adults rely on to accept death. I’m not religious, and I don’t believe in Heaven necessarily, but I do believe there is a spirit within beings that can linger after their heart stops beating. So what would I say to her that was still in line with my beliefs? Should I say he got really sick suddenly? Should I use the word “died” or “passed away” or just “went away”?
I found this incredibly helpful article and mentally filed away this advice for when she noticed BooBoo was missing. I decided to wait until she asked, rather than bring it up to her. They recommend to keep it simple, be very careful with your language (do not say “put to sleep” as young children are very literal). I liked the way they said this:
“BooBoo died last night. That means he’s not here today or anymore. It makes Mommy very sad, and it’s ok if you feel sad too.”
I was grateful that it happened while she was at daycare and that I could whisk him away to the vet before she got home. I couldn’t deal with the food dish, litter box, and toys for a couple of days. That was too difficult.
It wasn’t until 2 days later that I finally got the question, “Where’s BooBoo go?” It was strange, because we were sitting at the dinner table, with no cues or routine that had to do with the cat. I used the line: “BooBoo died. That means he’s not here today or anymore. It makes Mommy very sad, and it’s ok if you feel sad too.” She replied, “BooBoo is upstairs?” I said, “No, sweetie. He died. He is not here any more. I miss him and it’s okay if you miss him too.” She seemed to process that for about 10 seconds, then went back to her dinner.
About 20 minutes later, we were getting settled in on the couch to read and she started fussing, like she does when she gets frustrated with not being able to do something. I asked her what was wrong. Silence. I asked her if she was sad. She said, “Yeah.” I asked her if she missed BooBoo. She nodded. I asked if she wanted a hug. She climbed up on my lap, and we had a nice long hug. And then that was it. We read a few stories, watched a little Cars, and got ready for bed.
I am guessing that we may have some confusion over the next couple of weeks, especially because we are moving to a new house next weekend. I didn’t want her to associate moving with losing a pet. But I’ll keep the mantra in my head “Keep it simple. Be direct. Keep it short” and hopefully we can navigate these muddy waters well.
How have you handled the loss of a pet with your little ones? Did you make any kind of keepsake basket? A memorial? Or just keep it simple?