One of the hardest topics for parents to talk about with children--especially young children--is death.
Death is sometimes scary. It's mysterious, and often sad.
Most of us want to protect the children we love from scary, sad, and mysterious situations.
However, if you live a life with animals as I do, you need to know about death. It's likely that you will outlive most of your pets--and even more likely that young children will outlive their pets.
It's good to have tools to help cope. Here are some book suggestions:
Here's how the book begins: My cat Barney died this Friday. I was very sad. My mother said we could have a funeral for him, and I should think of ten good things about Barney so I could tell them...
As the family prepares to bid final farewell to a beloved cat, the youngest child thinks of all the things he loved about Barney. This is a lovely, understated story that can be shared with young children.
Elfie and her special boy were very young together. When she is young, Elfie is full of pep, but as the boy grows taller, Elfie grows slower. The boy refuses a new puppy at first, but when he is ready, he plans to say to that one, as he told Elfie every night: "I'll always love you."
The always-wise Mr. Rogers says to the reader: “When sad things happen, the best place to be is near someone you love . . . someone who can understand how you are feeling.” Mr. Rogers gently helps young readers--and the adults who love them--to explore the grieving process.
Finally, it's important for the adults in the family to grieve as well.
Author Jon Katz works closely with his herding dogs, and the imminent death of Rose-- who had graced the covers of three of his non-fiction books and a novel--inspired this book. In straightforward language, Katz aims to assist pet owners (and their children) through the grieving process, providing advice, rituals, and personal stories about the loss of dogs, cats, and even a steer.
Reading a book won't make the grief go away. However, sharing a good book together will help provide a good start for meaningful discussion.
And when it's time to get another pet someday, you might want to say to that pet every night, "I'll always love you."