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Monday, August 10, 2015

How to Help Children When a Family Pet Dies

Tigerlily 1997-2015
It seems that most children dream of having a special pet of their own. My daughters love animals. I was the same way, and I still am. I have had many pets through the years. I remember Lady, our pit bull dog that was so gentle. She would let my sisters and I dress her in clothes, and she protected us from danger, and never once did she hurt us. Bobby was a tail-less kitten I had taught to walk on a leash. He loved walking around Lake Elizabeth in Fremont. Then, there was Tigerlily...

Last week, we said "goodbye" to our darling 18-year-old cat, Tigerlily. She was the oldest pet I had ever shared my life with. While I write this tears are filling my eyes. I adopted Tigerlily from the pound as a kitten when I lived in the bay area, right after I graduated from Holy Names College and moved out of the dorms.

Be Honest About Your Own Feelings

For 18 years, I cared for my sweet, little cat. Tigerlily has been through a lot with me. The best and the worst times... She was there. I tried as hard as I could to take care of her the best that I could, but even after she passed away I remembered all the mistakes I made. My mind was heavy with thoughts like, "I should have done this, and I could have done that". It hurt so bad to not be able to fix it for her... To take her pain away. I was feeling all this in the midst of caring for my daughters. Thank God my husband was such a good support through all of this. We buried her while the girls were sleeping on Saturday morning. It was very hard, but better to do while they were sleeping. I was able to work through it a bit before they woke up. It's hard though, because the reality is that's kids are right there next to you when grief strikes.

Understand and Be Real About Connections to Other Grief

Copyright: Lovey Dove by Caroline Brooke
In Memory of My Little Sister
Just because I was a counselor and I know a lot about grief counseling, doesn't mean I know so much when I am grief stricken. It's kind of like a doctor trying to set her own broken arm. It's pretty hard to do. Like when my little sister died... I felt like someone punched me in the stomach, riped out my heart and killed my soul, and there was no way I was getting out of that feeling anytime soon. It didn't matter that I had education and experience with grief counseling. I was broken, just like anybody else. That's the reality of life. We all get humbled and we all get broken. Reality check.

Unfortunately, the day Tigerlily died Dan (my husband) was not there. The girls and I were at home and I found her. My heart broke as I saw her lying there... No longer in her broken body. I asked God to help me know what to do, what to say to my daughters. I went in the other room and told them. Now, when a pet dies it brings up more grief, like when my sister died and when I saw her lifeless body. I began to get flashes of the moment of my little sister not in her body anymore, and it was excruciatingly painful.

Let Them Cry and Cry With Them

I walked into the room with tears in my eyes. I let them see and I said, "Girls, I'm sorry but Tigerlily is in heaven now. She left her body." The girls immediately began crying. I said, "It's okay. You can cry. I am here for you. I understand." I hugged them and they both cried for a long time. We all cried together.

So, if we are going to help them, we need to help ourselves by showing our real feelings and grieving with them. I was sure that they felt protected and loved. I hugged them as they cried. We cried together.

While they were crying I was trying to think of what to do to make it better for them. I didn't know what to do at first because I was so upset, but letting them cry was very hard, but it definitely helped them get it out. It is very hard to see your children cry.

I remember when my sister died, my nana said, "Don't cry. It will upset your mom." She wouldn't even hug me. I remember how bad that hurt and how bad I just wanted her to hug me and tell me she was there for me. I wanted her to cry with me. I wanted her to understand. I felt very alone. I felt like she didn't care about my sister or me. Maybe she did, but the message seemed that she didn't.

After the experience of losing my sister and not having the support I needed, I knew that the best thing to do would be to let myself cry and not be fake. I needed to let my daughters know I was real, and that I am there to understand and cry with them.

Get out of the House and Connect with Supportive Family and Friends

We got sick of crying, but felt like we were trapped because we were so sad. We were kind of zoning out and being very sad. We all seemed to feel that way. I texted my friend and she mentioned going out of the house to icecream.

Yes, I know, don't use food to console a broken heart... But whatever. I had to get them out. We could not take it anymore and the only thing I could think of doing that they would normally freak out about was icecream.

After we went out to icecream, we stopped off at church to take care of an errand. Then, we headed back home.

We then all felt like we were in shock for a while. I looked over at our dogs and were thankful to see them there. Our miniature poodle puppies were the perfect distraction from the pain for a while. The girls played with the puppies. I knew Tigerlily was going to die soon, and I planned out getting them in advance.

Shower and Rest

Have you ever seen someone who died? When I have, afterwards I felt like I needed to wash all the sadness off of me. Letting yourself cry in the shower and having the tears washed away by the water is somehow therapeutic, but not healing. Sometimes, broken hearts never heal. Sometimes, we just need to learn to use the wisdom of our scars to help other people.

It's good to get the kids in the bathtub and let them stay on schedule with self care and rest. Of course, it truly depends on the situation as to whether this can happen or not and when it can happen.

Sing to Relax Your Children

Singing to children can really help them relax. Also, my friend shared these CD's with me. This is great for bedtime or nap time. Praise songs help children and it brings the Holy Spirit into your home.

Listen to Scripture Lullabies...

Audio Clips of Songs for Scripture Lullabies

YouTube Video/Song:

Respectful Burial

When we woke up early on Saturday, Dan and I buried Tigerlily. We set up a special spot for our family to go to remember her. Fortunately, the kids were asleep when we buried her. We worked hard at protecting their eyes from seeing her. That can't always be done, but thankfully, we protected their eyes and hearts from this step. I remember when my sister died. No one was protected from this. It was all so sudden.

Our oldest daughter did sneak out into the garage and she saw Tigerlily. For her, she needed it for closure. Our younger daughter definitely did not need that same experience. So, we kept her away.

As Dan and I dug a hole for Tigerlily, we started remembering his mom and my little sister. It was a time of tears and a reality check. We started thinking about wasted time and how if people don't honestly deal with their grief they disconnect themselves from anyone that will remind them of their grief. It's shocking how some relationships can't survive well after a death in the family, because some people are not able to rely on each other and grieve. Some people would rather just have a new life and pretend like it never happened. We agreed to honestly deal with our grief for the sake of our children.

There is something very deep and real about digging a hole for your lifeless pets body. It hurts to say goodbye. I don't think I even knew what was going on when my little sister died. I didn't even sit where family was supposed to sit. I was in complete shock. (Do you see how grief is connected.) So, when we were digging the hole to bury Tigerlily we started reflecting on things we never want to think about.

We prayed for Tigerlily. We asked God to take her spirit up to heaven. During our prayer the wind blew around us and the sun warmed us.

Saying Goodbye and Memory Spot

Yesterday, our 8-year-old daughter sat on the rock next to Tigerlily's memory spot. She told me about how she sat there alone and thought about Tigerlily. This special place seemed to really help her.

We are planning a service for Tigerlily. I'll have the girls write her a card and pick some flowers. Of course, I'll show them how to do this first.

Love, Art, Play, Writing, Scripture and Prayer

Ask: How do we know animals are in heaven?
Answer: Read God's Holy Word. (Hold up the Bible.)
Read: Revelations 19:11
"Then I saw heaven opened up, and behold a white horse!
He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True..."

See, even Jesus is going to ride a white horse when he returns. :) There most definitely are animals in heaven, so we will see our dear, loved animals again.

Pray: "Holy Spirit, in Jesus' name, please bring (pet's name) straight up to heaven, safe and without pain, peacefully with You. Please let me see (pet's name) when I go to heaven, too. I promise to take care of my body and care for other animals when I miss (pet's name.)"

Print out this Prayer Jar Craft and Activity:

I started thinking about having the girls write a little book about Tigerlily. I came across this book as part of their "Caring for Pets" activities. (See the two pages above. Cut out the animals to glue into the mini book.)

  • Enjoy Nature
Go for a walk and make a bird house/feeder to help the hungry birds.

  • Pay Attention to Play
I noticed that since Tigerlily died, our 3-year-old daughter has been carrying around her toy cat. I need to sit down with her with her cat and listen to what she plays out tonight.

  • Show Love to Each Other and Other Pets
    Give lots of hugs, let them cry. It's okay to cry, too. Hug all of your other pets, too. If you don't have one, just go get one that is sad, just like you, and needs a home and someone to love.

Caring for Ourselves, So We Can Care for Our Children?

Honestly, I think the last two generations have been pretty selfish and haven't done all that great of a job in caring for their children as a whole. Dealing with their grief is kind of a joke when so many people can't even bare to deal with their existence as human beings.

It's pretty obvious with all the abortion that's been going on. Let us get real and understand that children are intuitive. They know what you don't say. They know what you do. Lately, people all of a sudden snapped out of it, unless they are totally in denial. So, a lot of people may or may not need help with taking care of themselves. That's questionable right now.

Whatever we do, we must not reject our children's feelings and cause more grief. Your time alone is not more important than them crying on your shoulder.

Be real, don't be fake and say what you mean. Stop being selfish and put your children first. No. You are not more important than your children. No. Your career is not more important than your children. Realize this while you help your children grieve.

It's important to get a little time alone to clear our head, but quite honestly I don't see a problem with that in our culture in this day and age. Most people have no problem with dumping their kids off with strangers and acting like it's perfectly normal.

So, here I'm going to ask us to question if we are really caring for ourselves or just being selfish jerks.

We must hold on to the ones we love, especially our children who need us, while we grieve. It's okay to let them see your cry while you love and protect them.

It is crucial.

No. I do not think I am Mother Teresa. I just think she was an amazing example for us to learn from. Wouldn't you want to meet her? She was an amazing woman.

Illustration by Caroline Brooke

Now, go give your baby a hug!

I will, too. :)


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