We lost our cat, Chardonnay, last week. And by lost I mean she died.
She was 12, but her death was sudden and unexpected. I feel like we’re jinxed, because our previous two pets died with similar short time frames. I like to think it’s a blessing for them, even if it’s not for us as there wasn't time to prepare for the loss.
This is the second fur-child we have had die without a diagnosis and as a vet I find that incredibly frustrating and guilt inducing. It leaves me feeling helpless. I mean, if I can’t even save my own pet, what’s the point?
Dealing with our grief this time came with a different quandary as we now have a 2-year old human-child.
He came along with me to the vet hospital to do the chest x-rays, and was announcing to all and sundry ‘Chardy, sick!’ followed by him fake-coughing ‘Me sick, too!’ like it was a game. When Chrdy died the next morning, I did some rapid research around how to broach pet-death around children and the ‘what to’ and ‘what not to’ say.
I’ve experienced many kids reactions to their pet dying, so I knew that generally move on much faster than their adult counterparts. I’ve lost count of the number of euthanasia’s I’ve been in where the child asked for a new kitten/puppy/goldfish/budgie as they left the consult room!
I now pre-warn parents of that potential – as many parents are quite shocked and sometimes react angrily by the elastic reaction of their child, who one second ago seemed to be so attached to the dying pet. That can potentially intrude on the parent’s own grief at the time.
A friend sent an excerpt by David Elkind, PhD, a child psychologist, who suggests avoiding explanations with young children – don't say “Chardy died because she was sick”, as our son may inadvertently make the leap that if he get’s sick, he will die. Instead be factual and supportive “Chardy died, and we won't see her again, but we loved her and she loved us”. It was also interesting to learn that life and death concepts are usually not understood until about 8 or 9 years old.
I find it fascinating that there are so many euphemisms for death. Whilst these are fine with adults who understand the inference, kids just aren’t going to get it, and the euphemism can have a negative impact. “Putting to sleep” infers euthanasia, but also means going to bed or being anaesthetised, so again, try to be factual.
We decided to wait for our son to ask about Chardonnay, and then we would answer him as simply as possible, with as few words as possible, to try and avoid saying the wrong thing.
We’re still waiting.
This morning before I left the house, I looked for Chardy in our son’s wardrobe, her favourite sleeping spot, then remembered she was gone. I felt the familiar wash of sadness all over again.
RIP Chardy. We won’t see you again, but we loved you.
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