Pet death a double burden for parents

Joe Yonan writes of the aching and lingering grief of a pet’s death in today’s Post. He describes both the mourning process that many pet owners know well and also the disbelief that a pet’s death can bring so much pain.


(ANDREW YATES/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

As a former owner of two of the most angelic little dogs, I read Yonan’s piece with a tear welled in my eye. It’s been 15 years since Lady died and four since Penelope passed away. Memories of them remain tangible.

Our second dog died on our daughter’s first birthday, the very day, and she was too young to understand much of what was happening. If Penelope’s cancer had not spread as quickly, my husband and I would have faced the double burden of grieving and helping our daughter work through the complicated emotions.

Dealing with the death of a family pet is a difficult and common experience, but one that isn’t discussed much because pet deaths, from the outside, can seem trivial. It’s not.

Yonan cites a study that had subjects rank their own connections to family members and to pets. The subjects frequently ranked their pets as closer than family members — 38 percent ranked their pets as closest of all.

For a child, the connection may be especially strong.

How can a parent best help a child through the process of grieving?

A recent DC Metro Mommies discussion touched on the issue and subscribers shared a list of books that have helped children through the process. The list included “Up in Heaven,” by Emma Chichester Clark (Doubleday Books, 2004), “Saying Goodbye to Lulu,”by Corrine Demas, (Little Brown 2009) and “The Tenth Good Thing About Barney,”by Judith Viorst, (Atheneum Books, 1987).

Several online resources also offer advice on the subject, including the Kids Health Web site and the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement Web site, which has extensive age-specific tips.

An example from APLB: “Make a scrapbook or log with photos as well as drawn pictures of the pet and family members. Write memories beneath or beside them. Humorous instances should be included on the pages — which can help develop associations with happiness each time the book is opened.”

What else should a grieving family keep in mind?

Has your family pet died? What helped your family process the loss?

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