Dealing with death and loss is a difficult subject to discuss…with anyone…and any time. But just as natural as it may be to talk about ways to improve our life, talking about death and loss needs to be equally as natural.
A Vicarious Connection To Death
I recently saw an episode of Dr. Oakley: Yukon Vet. In the episode, Dr. Oakley’s daughter had a pug, Daisy, for 14 years & 9 days. Her daughter and Daisy grew up together and had a special bond.
When Daisy developed a cancerous lump on her leg, Dr. Oakley — as a vet — did all that was medically possible to “fix” the problem, while still being a mom to her daughter. She did everything she could to balance both roles by compartmentalizing her thoughts and feelings. My heart ached for both of them, especially as I observed her daughter “coming to terms with the impending possibility” of Daisy dying.
And when Daisy’s vitals suddenly “crashed” while the daughter tended to her as her mom she was caring for another animal patient, I personally was jettisoned back to when my cat, Daisy, was unexpectedly diagnosed with bone cancer in her and living through her rapid decline…just terrible.
As I watched the Dr. Oakley episode, tears welled up in my eyes.
Death sucks…for the living.
I have since concluded that loss is acutely felt proportional to the depth of the bond you had with that which was lost.
I Had To Learn To Live…
When Krumb died.
My first personal feline “furbabies” were Chip (the girl) and Krumb the boy.
When Krumb died, it occurred away from – out of sight of – our then toddler twin daughters in the middle of the night.
The next morning, when Krumb did not appear for the morning feeding, I to summon up my mental and emotional strength and explain things to our toddlers.
What did I say?
- What happened? Krumb died.
- What caused the death? Krumb developed a blood clot that traveled to his heart.
- Where is Krumb now? Krumb is not here anymore; he’s gone to “cat heaven” where he’s no longer in any pain.
- Will Krumb come back? Krumb will not be here anymore, but we have wonderful pictures of him to remember him.
- What now? you may feel sad or mad and that’s okay; we all will miss Krumb, but daddy and I are still here for you.
The key things to dealing with death and loss and explaining it to children are:
- Don’t sugarcoat the reality.
- Assist them with the idea(s) of permanence and absence, the former being, well, permanent and the latter most of the time being temporary.
All in all, my daughters, husband, and I learned to live…without Krumb.
Over the next 15 years, our daughters had more time to bond with Krumb’s sister, Chip. Their experience of having to deal with death and loss was different. Chip’s death at age 18 was gradual.
First, there was the diagnosis – feline diabetes. Then came dealing with the realities of…
- the treatments – medicines, special foods, and eventually the IV injections.
- the time playing a factor – two years of seeing her decline
- the technicalities – of what health and sickness “looked like” and what each required.
Second, there were the discussions that had to be had with…
- honesty – with regards to each of our/their feelings
- openness – to giving space for each of us/them to be with their feelings in their own way.
When Daisy unexpectedly died 3 months after Chip, an aspect of death – its suddenness – came to the forefront. This required a different type of sensitivity to the “timing of it all” that can rattle a person’s sense of security in the assurance or sense of someone’s presence.
So it was important for us to convey that the suddenness of death can make someone feel “unsettled” but that
the memory of them
can steadily remain alive and present with each of us.
When explaining such concepts, it is important to make sure to use plain language regarding
- the “afterlife” (however it is that you conceptualize and/or understand it)
These can be hard water to navigate and if you are unsure of how or are having any difficulty, I want you to know that there I have solutions that can help you through it.
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