As a parent, there are so many tough situations that you're going to have to face. One of those situations, unfortunately, will be the loss of a pet.
We've gone through it quite a few times on our parenthood journey and it doesn't ever get any easier. It's difficult enough to deal with the loss on your end, but when you add a child's sadness to the mix, it breaks your heart even more.
Lexie is my nurturer. She is mature beyond her 9 years and is such a loving, compassionate child. When Lexie was 4, she got her very first pet that was hers and hers only. She loved her hamster, Toby, with all her might. She took care of him completely on her own without ever missing a day. And when he passed away, she was heartbroken.
We didn't run out to replace her beloved pet. We waited for her to tell us if she wanted another pet. On her 8th birthday, she decided she wanted another hamster. We rushed to the pet store before it closed and she picked out a huge, adult hamster that promptly took a chunk out of the employee's finger. We were told repeatedly that we could bring back the hamster if it didn't work out, but Lexie worked her magic and turned Coco into the most calm, gentle pet. We all loved that giant, furry hamster with the long tufts of grey hair around her ears!
Lexie added a few more pets to her menagerie. Some were chosen and some were by chance. She eventually chose a parakeet to keep her hamster company. As if that wasn't enough, early this Summer, a baby mouse that Dylan and Lexie found soaking wet and shaking in our yard, became part of our family. I thought it was going to die and told the kids to just let it go, but Lexie insisted that it was better that it died safely inside a warm home. I couldn't argue against that. Well, that little baby survived, grew and is thriving. And even though it takes a lot of work, Lexie loves her pets and takes care of them every single day without being prompted.
I, being the worrier that I am, sneak in to check on her pets each night. There's no doubt that Lexie is extremely responsible, but you never know with kids! I always find them in clean cages with fresh food and water, and I often find her sitting in her room holding one of her little pets.
Recently, Lexie started to worry that her hamster was going to die. She would inform me that Coco wasn't eating or drinking as much as she usually did, but her activity level and excitement over treats was still good. Lexie owned her hamster for a year and a half and if you add on the estimated age of the hamster when we bought her, she was at the end of her lifespan. As Lexie held her beloved pet the other afternoon, I stopped what I was doing and quickly snapped a few pictures. I'm not sure why I felt inspired to do that, but I'm glad I did.
Tonight, in the midst of the late night rush, Lexie walked up to me and I could just tell by the look on her face that something was wrong. I immediately stopped what I was doing and my heart skipped a beat. Her chin quivered and her bewildered eyes welled up with tears. My heart shattered as she uttered the words,"I think Coco died."
She stood in the hall, sobbing, as I went into her room to check. No matter how much you prepare yourself for the inevitable, it doesn't help. My heart dropped as I spotted Lexie's beloved hamster in the cage and a quick touch confirmed the loss. Tears filled my own eyes as Lexie's sobs echoed through the hallway and the weight of the loss settled in my mind. I was so sad to see her sweet little pet gone, but my heart broke thinking about how devastating this was for Lexie.
Lexie knew that Coco was old and she knew the end was getting close, but as a pet owner, you simply don't want to think about life without your pet. Lexie was most upset over the fact that she wasn't there with Coco when she passed away.
Every single plan for the evening got pushed aside and instead, I spent the night comforting my heartbroken daughter. Even though I know this is devastating for her at the moment, I know she will love another pet again just as she loved Coco. I also know that no matter what, she will never forget all her little friends that filled her childhood with so much love and happiness.
This part of parenthood SUCKS.
It's so difficult to see your child in pain, especially when you know you can't do anything to fix the problem. The weight of their sadness simply fills your soul and shatters your own heart into a million pieces. When you love a person with every ounce of your being, you experience every emotion along with them. And the loss of a pet is one of the most difficult situations a parent has to deal with.
My husband's immediate reaction to the loss of a pet is to say "NO MORE!" He said it after we lost our dogs (and we're now dog-free) and he said it after we lost our cats (we're now cat-free). But we always remind him of the old saying: It's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. It's completely true. I grew up with dozens of pets and Grant and I owned quite a few together. Although the pets who lived the longest were the toughest losses, I remember each and every one vividly. I don't ever regret owning any of our pets and I know loving them helped shape me into the person who I am today. They were part of my life story just as Toby and Coco are part of hers.
Helping Lexie deal with the loss of her beloved hamster isn't going to be easy, because I can't fix it. I can't bring her hamster back. I can't make her sadness disappear. I can't really make it better. But I can love her, listen to her and support her. Sometimes it's all you can do and sometimes it's enough. Time truly does heal and one day, another pet will help fill the void. It won't be a replacement. It won't be the same. But she will love.
Here's how we can help our kids deal with the loss of a pet:
Talk about everything your child did to make their pet feel safe, loved and happy.
Make a mini-album full of pictures of your child's pet.
Have your child write a journal entry about their pet, including details about their favorite things about their pet. What funny things did they do? What was their favorite thing to do with their pet? Did their pet have any unusual quirks? What did they love most about their pet? What did they notice most about their pet's appearance? Did their pet have super soft ears or a ticklish spot? These are all key details that they will never want to forget.
Clip a piece of hair from the pet to put with the photo album or journal entry and/or keep something special that belonged to the pet, like a collar or a toy. Sometimes it helps to have something physical to remind them that their pet really did exist.
Make a memory stone using a large smooth stone and permanent markers and put it in a special place in the yard or the home.
Frame a small picture of your pet to keep in your child's room.
Just love and listen to your child. It's the best thing you can do.
Have you ever had to help your child cope with the loss of a pet? What tips do you have for dealing with the loss?