Helping a Child with Pet Loss

How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.  ~ Winnie the Pooh

A reader writes: Today my cat Mischief died! She was the best cat in the world! She died with my parents at our house. I am VERY heart-broken! Besides my dogs she was the only friend that would NEVER get mad at me!!! I mean this is a lot for me to go through at the small age of 10! Do you know of any ways for me to cope but never forget the good times we had?

My response: I'm so very sorry to learn that your precious kitty Mischief has died -- I can't imagine how awful this must be for you, and I'm sure your hurting heart feels as if it will break. As you say, your kitty was one of your dearest friends - she was always there to play with you and comfort you and keep you company - and she was there to love you no matter what.

Since you're only ten years old, this is probably the first time someone so close to you has died, and instead of all that love you felt from Mischief, all you feel now is pain and hurt. You're probably hurting more than you ever have before in your whole life. That's because when you love a lot, you hurt a lot.

You may not feel like eating or talking to your parents or playing with your friends, and it may seem as if your whole world has been taken away - and nobody understands. Others may want to help, but they may not know how - and besides, nothing they can say will bring your Mischief back. Even if they loved Mischief almost as much as you did, they may act and feel differently, because everyone handles feelings about these things in their own way.

You asked for ways that you might cope with your feelings and remember the good times you had with Mischief. I don't know what you did with Mischief's body after she died, but if you don't have a grave to visit, you might consider making a scrapbook about her life, or drawing some pictures of her. If you have some photographs of the two of you, you could arrange them in a collage and frame it. You could write a story or a poem about your kitty and say why you named her Mischief. (For example, if you click on A Poem for Max, you'll find what was written by 11-year-old Katie Riley in loving memory of her dog Max after he died.) You could make a place of remembrance in your room or in your yard that you can go and visit, where you can remember Mischief by saying a prayer, or with your mom, you could light one of those little votive candles in your kitty's honor. When spring comes, you might ask your parents to help you plant a flower, a shrub, a flowering tree or a memorial garden together, to remember Mischief by.

Tell your parents and family members that you want them to talk with you about Mischief, so you can recall what was special about your kitty and what funny and silly things you all want to remember about your life together. It is healthy and normal to mourn the loss of someone you loved very much, and it is good to honor the memory of the one who died by creating loving rituals and memorials.

You might also ask your mom or dad to take you to the library or the bookstore where you can borrow or buy one of the many wonderful books written for children on the subject of pet loss. Just ask the librarian or the book seller to take you to the Children and Pet Loss section. You can read these books together and talk with your mom and dad about what you are feeling. One book I think you'd really like is The Tenth Good Thing About Barney, by Judith Viorst -- it's about a boy who works through his grief by planning a memorial service for his cat, and he thinks of ten good things he can say about Barney over his grave. Another one is The Best Cat in the World, by Lesléa Newman, about a boy who's very sad when his cat Charlie dies, and what happens when the vet tells him she has another cat that really needs a home. One of my very favorite books is Lifetimes: A Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children, by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen, which explains life and death in a very caring and sensitive way, and helps us remember and understand that dying is as much a part of living as being born.

Ask your mom to go on the Internet with you, where you'll find all sorts of helpful information on pet loss. On the Articles and Books page of my Grief Healing Web site you'll find a whole list of books I've read myself and personally recommend. Just scroll down the page until you come to the list of links under Books for Children and Those Who Love Them. On my Pet Loss Links page, you can click on the Children and Pet Loss category to find links to several helpful articles. Ask your mom to print them so she can read them, too. Also, I've authored an online course entitled A Different Grief: Helping You and Your Children with Pet Loss, which you and your mom could take together.

I hope this information helps, dear one. I promise that the day will come when you'll be able to think about and remember all your fun times with Mischief, and you'll be glad you had her as your best friend. For now, please know that you are not alone. I am thinking of you and sending you the warmest hugs to wrap yourself in. 

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