Generally, it is best to keep to the truth about your pet's passing so there is no dishonesty. For young children, it may be easier to explain your pet's death in a way that they understand and can relate to. For example, if the pet was ill before it passed away, it may help to explain to them gently that the veterinarians had done everything they could and that it was the kindest way to take the pet's pain away, allowing them to die peacefully without feeling hurt or scared. Be careful about using the term 'put to sleep' for young children; however, as they tend to think of things literally, and this may conjure up scary ideas about going to sleep. For older children and other family members, it can be better to be straight, honest and more factual. Whatever age the child is or children are, ensure that they feel comfortable asking questions and encourage them to open up to you so they can talk about their feelings which will, in turn, help them manage their emotions and help you all work through the grief together.
You may find it helpful to explain to other family members and your close friends that your pet has passed away so that they can offer you support both for you and your family during this time. Touch on how you feel about it in as much detail as you feel comfortable doing as this can allow them to understand what and how you are really feeling. Everyone reacts differently to grief and there is no right or wrong way to behave, so it is important that you feel comfortable. Give yourself and other people who have been affected time to heal and to process what has happened, and this is often easier to do when you are able to openly talk to people close to you or going through the same emotions.
Once everyone has had some time to understand, process and accept what has happened, it may be beneficial to think of some creative ways you can remember your pet. This will allow the grieving process to happen naturally and help to create a platform for happy memories and share feelings. You could hold a memorial service for your pet to allow yourself and other family members to come forward and share fond memories or their favourite things about their pet. If children don't want to talk about it, you could suggest that they write down these memories or feelings on a piece of paper and throw it into a fire, for example. You could even purchase environmentally friendly paper lanterns and put these written memories inside before they are lit and float off. You could also consider creating a memory book with photos and captions so that the family has something physical to look at when they feel sad or miss them which can help evoke feelings of happiness and fondness when they look back at it. Alternatively, they could frame photos of your pet, or you could plant a tree together in their name so that family members have a place to visit when they feel sad. All of these suggestions can help to create a sense of closure and acceptance among the family and can bring family and friends together during this difficult time.
If you have children, consider suggesting to them that they should tell their friends of the pet's passing, or if the child is young, consider telling friends' parents so they can explain this to their own child and help them know what to say to offer support. If your child is at school, we would suggest telling your children's teacher about what has happened so they can provide additional support and also watch for any worrying behaviour. Depending on their age, the teacher can also help encourage your child to open up and talk about the pet's passing in a familiar environment where they feel safe. Regardless of age, it is always better to talk about how you are feeling and to communicate so friends and family can be supportive and help you through this really difficult time.
If you’re in need of some extra support in the days and weeks following your pet’s death, take a look at these handy guides written by leading figure in grief and empathy education and author of When Pets Die: It's Alright to Grieve, Doris Zagdanski.
Patch & Purr offers pet cremations for when your loved one is no longer by your side, but forever in your heart.
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