A few weeks ago, we said goodbye to Bambi—our family dog and my best friend of almost 18 years. She lived an extraordinary life and will always be considered my first child. We grew up together and along the way she taught me a lot about responsibility. She was my stable, constant companion. After having kids, Liam and Norah grew to love Bambi, and even though she would tend to avoid them sometimes, she grew to love them too—especially at mealtime. We would always joke that Bambi went deaf just at the right time… when the children were born! Despite her age, I never wanted to entertain the thought of how to cope with the loss of a pet—I loved her too much.
But 18 years is a long life for a dog and watching her grow older was not easy, as you can imagine. After long consideration, my husband and I decided it was time to say goodbye and let her go peacefully. Though I was prepared for what this experience might look like for me, I was unsure about how to explain what was happening to our very young kids. So, here are some of the ways I was able to navigate this difficult experience. Hopefully, these tips for how to cope with the loss of a pet can help you too when the challenging time comes.
Saying Goodbye With Lap of Love
We decided to give Bambi a send-off at our home with a pet hospice Lap of Love, and they provided me with some excellent resources to help the children with the experience. Since my children are quite young and aren’t fully able to communicate their feelings yet, we used the coloring book and a very simple statement: Bambi’s body isn’t working anymore and she is leaving tomorrow to go to heaven. Lap of Love made a ceramic casting of Bambi’s paw which we shared with the children.
A few weeks have gone by and the kids still ask about Bambi, so I thought it would be nice to reach out to a few child therapists to see if they had any suggestions on how to manage this transition. I know I’m not the only one going through an experience like this, so if you’re dealing with the loss of a pet and have young children, I hope these tips are helpful for you as well.
Tips From Child Therapists
Rebecca Kason (PsyD) and Yasmin Henning are two child therapists who were kind enough to offer some advice on how to help young ones cope with this loss. Here are some of the tips that have really made a positive impact on my kids.
“First and foremost, explain what happened in a simple, clear, easy-to-understand way,” says Kason. “Don’t overcomplicate it! Something as simple as Bambi has passed away and she won’t be coming back. There is no need to over-explain or give an elaborate story. Euphemisms can also confuse a child, so be mindful of using gentle, clear language. Encourage your child to ask questions, and be open, honest, clear, direct, and succinct with your answers. Do not give any more information aside from what was asked.”
Another tip from Henning is to embrace all the feelings. “Children have all kinds of reactions when they learn of a beloved pet’s death,” she outlines. “Some will cry and might be very upset or they might not seem to react at all. Some may bombard you with questions. All feelings are okay. Answer their questions and stay with them through these feelings.”
But the most important thing to remember is that all of your feelings as a parent are okay too. As Henning explains. “It’s okay to be sad and even cry in front of your children. You can let them know, ‘I’m feeling sad right now. I really miss Bambi.’ It’s okay and even important for children to witness a range of emotions. You are showing them that it’s okay to have these big feelings and that they pass.”
Overall, it is absolutely integral that you not suppress your own feelings or the feelings of your children. The loss of a pet is an extremely difficult and highly emotional situation and there’s no need to hold back from expressing how you feel, even in front of your kids. While it may feel too direct to explain exactly what happened to young ones, sugar-coating the situation will only confuse them and make it more difficult to understand down the road when they grow up. For some additional resources, including a pet coloring sheet which my kids love, I’ve included some useful resources below:
Since Bambi’s passing, our home just hasn’t been the same. Her physical presence is missed tremendously, but her spirit will live within my memories for the rest of my life. I know she’s up there in doggy heaven somewhere enjoying a bowl of her favorite treats like the true queen that she is. I am grateful for all of the good times, for teaching me responsibility and patience, and for the endless amounts of love and comfort she gave me in some of the hardest times of my life. Here’s to you, Bambi. I love you and I miss you.
If you or someone you know is going through a similar experience, please don’t hesitate to reach out and chat! My DM’s @brandyjoysmith are open if you’re looking for support during this difficult time.