Why do we hurt so? Growing pains and losses….They were truly “out of this world” — “Astroid”, Pet #1, was along the lines of Ratatouille the little mouse 🐁 . Well not exactly, ours was a hamster and likely more smelly than a cartoon, he didn’t know how to cook nor French speaking, but we thought he was the cutest!
“Comet”, Pet #2, was a beautiful array of blue hues fish 🐟 and he lived happily in his fish bowl until we came home to find him floating on the surface… the cycle of life from birth to death are an inevitable part of our being, and building health literacy.
Thus why having guidelines for different ages such as that provided by the International Handbook of Health Literacy published this year is so necessary for training professionals.
Pets who have short lifespans (1-3 years) are likely to die sooner than others, some pets die in accidents or wander off (like our cat “Lucky” featured in this past post) and we need to be prepared for this loss. Fall season seems to be common time for pets to “go” as if they want their carcass to become part of the earth’s organic material again.
When we have young children dealing with this issue their experience of loss can be quite extreme, and difficult for us to handle. This is normal for most …. as we are all sad, and a bit of self-care for adults is vitally important! If intense grief lasts more than a couple of months, consider a grief counselor or contact a group that deals with this and puts us in contact with the right specialists.
For almost all, special therapy is not necessarily needed as over-ruminations may cause more problems in the end. This post is about pet loss and not meant to address all kinds of loss which may need special approaches like play therapy or family therapy.
First, inevitably a lot of crying or anger and even denial it has happened, the need for physical comfort (hugs, kisses), holding stuffed animals that remind us of our pets. Then, accepting, reminiscing, and beginning to understand the larger concept of loss. Using books to process especially since very young children think “he’ll just wake up” whereas finally as they get older their cognitive process changes and they better understand irreversibility which means it is not coming back.
Helping kids by keeping them hydrated and giving them Chewable vitamins during a time they might under or overeat things not very healthy or not enough for sustained nutrition, should be emphasized during this grieving process, which is most intense the first weeks.
Finally, some type of memorial which can include a “Goodbye” letter to the departed pet or a flower memorial in the place where the pet was. We even gathered field stalks or “stubble” to our flower vase gathered from outside areas after taking a healthy walk. This helped a lot, as he commented, “that looks better than the empty space, much better now.”
Books are always a great way to process feelings …. these were particularly helpful:
- A Dog Like Jack by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan, a story about a boy who loses his dog.
- The other part of a series The Way I Feel Books relating to different emotions like sadness or anger (for younger kids who especially are first learning how to identify their feelings.
Finally after a week my child wrote a goodbye letter on his own to his dear departed friend “Astroid” that I kept for memory’s sake and for closure. It speaks for itself….