Article contributed by: Phyllis O'Beollain
Losing a pet is traumatic; no less traumatic than losing a human friend or family member. It is important to have ways to express and deal with your grief. Children have even less resources for dealing with their feelings of loss, so it is up to you as the adult to help them express their grief in creative ways that are age- and skillsappropriate.
If you enjoy drawing or painting, this can be a soothing activity as you think about happy times with your pet. You can sketch with pencils, use watercolors, markers or even crayons to express your feelings. You can draw your pet or a place that your pet enjoyed. Your children – even the younger ones – can express grief by drawing or coloring pictures of their pet, talking about the pictures and sharing their feelings. It is critically important that you pay attention to the child, listen to what s/he is saying, and do not tell them that their feelings are wrong! Feelings are not right or wrong; they are just how you feel. The stages of grieving may include denial, anger, bargaining, sadness and acceptance, and these stages are not necessarily in order…nor does everyone experience every stage during any instance of grieving. If your child is angry with the pet for leaving, you can let them know that is a normal feeling, and you may wish to reassure the child that they did not cause the pet to leave (it isn’t their fault).
Your artwork, and that of your child’s, may be something you would like to post in your home, to keep happy memories of the pet in the forefront, until the sadness has faded with time.
If you find your creative outlet in the kitchen, making some healthy pet treats for your local animal shelter/rabbit rescue may help distract you from the pain while honoring your pet. There are some very simple recipes online, and even small children can cut out cookies or use a toothpick to make ‘eyes’ on a cutout bunny treat. Some cookies can be rolled into balls if you don’t care to roll out the dough. Making simple bunny toys from cardboard toilet paper tubes stuffed with hay is another outlet which will honor your pet and be greatly appreciated by the residents of your local shelter.
If you favor writing, a poem or a bit of prose about your pet may be a comfort to you, or you could just jot down happy memories of your pet. You could keep these in a shoebox or other box, perhaps with some photos of the pet. Your children may enjoy contributing to this, and the littlest ones can even ‘dictate’ stories for you to write down. An inexpensive journal is another way to preserve these works.
Storytelling is another outlet: try lighting a candle and reminiscing about your pet. If you have children, they may enjoy telling stories about the pet as well. Talk to others who understand.
The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement has a lovely website (here) with a great deal of information on dealing with the passage of a pet. For the grownups, there are live chat rooms with counselors available for discussing your pet, your grief, and ways to deal with it. There are even chat sites (with counselors) for dealing with anticipatory grief, when you realize your pet has a limited amount of time remaining with you. I have utilized both of these and I do highly recommend them. Even if you think it ‘won’t work’ – give it a shot, even just for five minutes, and see if you don’t feel better (and if you don’t, you can leave the chat). There is no charge for this service. The APLB has an entire section of their website devoted to helping children through their grief, as well as a section of the website where you can post a photo of your pet and a written message to him or her. Your child can help select the photo and write the memorial statement, and s/he and her friends can visit the website and see and honor their beloved pet there.
Need more resources? Try ‘Animals in Heaven? Catholics Want to Know!’ – a book which is appropriate for anyone, you needn’t be Catholic. This uplifting, comforting book by author Susi Pittman offers reassurance and support during your time of grief. It will get better with time. Eventually the pain will ease. In the meantime, be kind to yourself and your children and find ways to work through your feelings of grief. –
Arctic (pictured) was a very special bunny. Adopted as a very senior bunny, we had the privilege of less than two years with her, but she packed a lot of life and personality into those two years. Despite multiple chronic physical afflictions, Arctic remained cheerful and upbeat, shuffling over to greet all visitors and offer her neck for skritching.
Phyllis O'Beollain is a pet enthusiast with a healthcare background; she is a member of the Dayton Area Rabbit Network, the Buckeye House Rabbit Society, the Columbus House Rabbit Society and the Ohio House Rabbit Rescue. She and her daughter live in a household ruled by 3 rescued rabbits.