When a pet dies, all members of the family feel the grief and will mourn. But, little humans often hurt even more than the big humans. The death of one of us is often the first time a little human experiences death, and how parents and other big humans handle this grief is important and helps a little human to learn about loss.
Stages of Grief
Just as with any death, the stages of grief will be experienced. The stages of grief are called: disbelief/denial, anger, bargaining/magical thinking, depression, and acceptance.
Little humans will usually experience these stages more quickly than big people. Sometimes stages are even skipped. And sometimes, “Buddy is dead. Can I have a cookie?” is how it goes on a daily basis. Tears, then distraction. Tears. Then distraction. It’s also dependent on the age of the little human and their understanding of it.
Also, questions about the return of a dog friend can happen. Be sure your little human knows that their furry family member will not be alive again, that death is not catchy, and that it is okay to feel sad. It’s also okay to not feel sad and to love and enjoy their living pets.
Some things I’ve seen in helping a child with grief over a pet include:
- A funeral and burial.
- A memorial gift from parents like an ornament, simple piece of jewelry, or another item like a stuffed animal.
- A grief card.
- A nice picture with the pet hung some place important.
And, if the pet is terminally ill and euthanasia is planned, a proper goodbye may be essential. Ask your small human what he or she wants to do. Some want to say goodbye and others do not. Oh, and don’t ever say that death is like sleeping or they may become fearful of taking a nap or letting you take a nap!
The stages of grief don’t go in a straight line for anyone. People and pets will experience different emotions at different times and will not go smoothly from one stage to the next. It’s a process, not a set of instructions, and it can be a messy process.
Most of all, be patient and loving to your small humans. Allow children to grieve as they need, or not at all. Every human has a unique set of feelings and needs.