Explaining losing a pet to your kids

Nearly two weeks ago something really sad happened in our house and it took us all a good few days to adjust to what had happened.  There had been a fire at a local cattery and my mother in law and Miss Roo had gone to fetch her two siamese cats.  Unfortunately, when they arrived they found the place had engulfed in flames and the fire brigade still there having been tackling the fire as it had raged through the wooden pens and devastated the cattery to nothing but charred cinders.  Both the cats had been lost as well as nearly all of the other animals that were being boarded there whilst owners were away and my mother in law was absolutely mortified as this is the last thing you expect to happen, especially when returning from holiday.

death of a family petThis lead to the inevitable questions from Miss Roo about where had the cats gone and why weren’t they at nanny’s when we went down to comfort her later in the day.  The cats were a huge part of my mother in law’s life, having been widowed some years ago they were company and a reminder of memories with her husband.  Miss Roo came to me and asked where they were and, because of the relationship we’ve always had and the sort of family we are, I explained to her that they had gone to heaven.

To see your child look up at you with innocent eyes, trying to comprehend what you’ve just said and process that heaven means someone has gone is truly heartbreaking.  Trying to explaining losing a pet to them in a way they understand but yet doesn’t frighten them is one of those parenting challenges.  Her little face crumpled and tears began to run down her face.  Roo totally understood what had happened, she ran down the stairs and into nanny’s arms giving her the biggest hug, gently stroking her back and her hair (which for a four and a half year old seemed an immensely grown up gesture to perform).

For a while she sat there saying over and over again “I will never see them again”, “I will miss Sisko and Star”.  Like me Roo has been around animals since she was born and these pets were as much an integral part of her family as they were my mother in laws.

Slowly over the next week she was quiet and for a few days kept telling everyone that Sisko and Star had gone to heaven, not nanny though. She knew that to say this made ‘nanny sad’ in her words, and she never mentioned it to her again, just asking for nanny every night and wanting to speak to her to see if she was ok.  Children are resilient and compassionate in the strangest of ways and overcome loss and adversity in the way they know how.  Roo had seen us comforting nanny and took this as a sign that it was what she would do.

The weekend just gone she quietly remarked to nanny as they came home on a Friday night ‘that there were extra stars now in the sky because Star and Sisko had gone to heaven and turned into stars’.

This is I think the perfect analogy of losing a pet and I am so proud of Roo for processing what happened and dealing with it in the way she knew best.  Explaining any sort of bereavement or loss to kids is really hard, I did speak to a friend of mine who is a confidence and life coach for children and she was kind enough to give me a link to some bereavement books for children if you want to find a way to explain loss to your child in a way they can comprehend.  Ultimately, remember children and childhood pets have a special relationship.  For many children their pet represents security and continuity. Children may need special consideration and extra attention at this time as often a pet’s death is the first experience of death in many young lives.

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3 comments

  1. Sarah Lambert says:

    Oh how awful I’m so sorry to hear about your Mother-in-laws cats what a tragedy it was,We lost our pet dog around months ago and my children were very distort.We didn’t find it very easy to tell the kids what had happened and worse still my little boy actually found our dog dying that very morning so heartbreaking.

  2. Karen Marquick says:

    Samuel lost one of his grandad’s when he was 4 years old and at that time I told him that his Grandad was now a star in the sky. That helped him a lot and last year when his great grandad died he remembered and looked at the sky and said great grandad’s a star now. Its a nice way of helping young children to cope with loss x
    Karen Marquick recently posted..Christine’s last Mile for AutismMy Profile

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