Helping Children Cope With the Loss of a Pet

Just over a month ago we said goodbye to our dear Mauer. It is almost impossible to believe he has been gone that long. Our house is quiet. Too quiet. The night we said goodbye I couldn’t sleep; the house was too silent and surreal. I turned the TV on to tune out the quiet and have slept with it on every night since. Some days I still feel like he’s at one of his ‘grandparents’ houses and will be dropped off and running through the back door at any moment.

I know he’s not and I’m finally coming to peace with that. I can finally talk about Mauer with a laugh and a smile in happy remembrance. The heartache is still there and will never truly go away, but there is also a warm sentiment, knowing that we were lucky enough to have him for eight beautiful years and create so many loving memories.  

My oldest son is a kind, gentle spirit – much like Mauer. I was worried about his reaction to the news when Mauer was diagnosed as well as his reaction on the day Mauer would head towards the Rainbow Bridge. This would be his first exposure to any real loss; the realization that somebody he loved so much could be here one moment and gone forever the next. How do you prepare a little human to cope with that kind of confusion and pain?

These are the parenting moments you know you will face, but hope to avoid for as long as possible. This is a teaching moment to help set the foundation for how my children will deal with grief; an opportunity to shape their understanding and reaction.

Reading is part of our household culture so it made sense to look to books for guidance. I found two that were great. Full disclosure: I think they helped me cope more than anybody!

After a bit of research, I landed on The Forever Dog, by Bill Cochran

and The Rainbow Bridge: A Visit to Pet Paradise by Adrian Raeside.

When the books arrived I tucked them away in my closet. I knew I needed to read them alone before we read them as a family. Admittedly, I kept them hidden for awhile avoiding the difficult situation we faced. Eventually Mauer was giving me signs that time was more precious than I ever imagined, so I turned back to the books. 

We read the books. And we cried. And we hugged Mauer knowing what was coming.  

The Forever Dog starts off describing a dog that seems to be put together from other dogs’ spare parts. Seeing as how we never knew exactly what breed(s) Mauer was this really hit home. The description helped us laugh through our tears.  

The Rainbow Bridge: A Journey to Pet Paradise gives a beautiful description of where our pets go to wait for us. The images were comforting and helped us connect how happy (and pain free) Mauer will be when he gets there.

That morning my oldest son hugged and kissed Mauer knowing that the doctor was coming over. He seemed to understand what was happening, but didn’t quite connect how final that last goodbye would be.  

My husband and I spent a beautiful day with Mauer and helped him finish a few things remaining on his bucket list.  

When our boys came back from their grandparents, they were a welcome relief to the quiet. Then there were questions:

How was Mauer’s doctor’s visit? Is he feeling better? Did he go to the Rainbow Bridge?

We decided it was best to be blunt. There is no way to sugar coat that Mauer is dead and we won’t see him again; our son deserved the truth.  

There was no way this momma’s heart could have prepared to react to my son’s raw and honest grief as he realized that Mauer was truly gone forever.  

What I could prepare for was knowing that it was hard and that we would need to talk about it. So we talked about it. We talked about Mauer several times a day. We will always talk about Mauer because he was our entire family’s first dog and will always hold the special spot of ‘top’ dog.M

This was a family learning experience. I can only guess what my son gained from the experience, but I learned a lot. Two moments truly stood out and showed me that no matter how prepared we are to guide our chikdren, we need to adjust and adapt as we realize their innocent minds process in a much different manner than ours. 

1. Children have a hard time differentiating one illness from another, and pets from humans. My son had a fear for about two days that anybody who was sick was going to die, including him. This led to new conversations and trying to explain that this sickness is rare and is not something to worry abot.

2. The Rainbow Bridge book was taken literally. In the book, Rick is able to visit Koko at the Rainbow Bridge one last time. My son expected this as closure. That he would see Mauer at the Rainbow Bridge and see Mauer in the book illustrations. We tied this conversation into heaven; a place that we know exists but we don’t get to visit until we are meant to.

I learned a lot about myself and how I cope. I learned that I want my boys to cope in a healthy way, knowing it’s ok to cry, laugh, reminisce, be angry, and eventually move on.  

Now that we understand the finality of Mauer’s illness how do we prepare ourselves for the next part of our journey? How do we fill this hole in our hearts and in our home?



Leave a Reply