Children and Grief and Pets
“Have fun in the spirit world! I love you, Simon”
This is what my 11 year old son wrote on our cat Hannah’s cardboard coffin before we buried her. His sweet words meant the world to me, not only because of the love and sentiment behind them, but because it was only a couple of years ago the mere topic of death would have made him extremely fearful and anxious.
When Simon was 9, a shift occurred in his consciousness. It was as if his feet had suddenly landed on the ground and the childhood bubble of innocence that had surrounded him all his life had popped. He was suddenly aware of crime, “bad guys”, and death.
He had come to the realization that one day his parents would die and he would be alone. And that thought absolutely terrified him.
So I made a decision. We were going to dive into the concept of death in hopes of alleviating his fears. We began a conversation about one of life’s big questions, “what happens when we die?”
At the time, Simon didn’t have a clear answer to this question. We began to read countless picture books about what happens when people die. We discussed different beliefs and shared our thoughts on faith. And slowly, he began to formulate his own belief about death.
Now I am not nieve, in that I know he adopted some of his parents’ beliefs on the topic. But what he believes isn’t as important to me as the knowledge that having a belief has brought him some relief.
We can now talk about death without him going to an extremely fearful place. It still causes some anxiety, as it does in all of us, but it is no longer a debilitating topic. What would have been an emotional and fearful ordeal a couple of years ago, was now met with love and understanding.
By the way, our beautiful cat, Hannah, lived to a ripe old age of 20 years. On the day she passed, Simon said to me, with tears streaming down his cheeks, “I’m so happy for her. She’s going to be with her mom and dad again.”
At Professor Child, we love to ask children life’s big questions. Sometimes they have answers that amaze and inspire us. Other times, as in Simon’s case, asking a big question made me realize, as a parent, that I had some work to do. We encourage you to ask the child(ren) in your life, “what do you think happens when a pet dies?” You might be surprised at the answer.