The Chatterbox

The Chatterbox

News and views from the staff of FamilyEducation.



beck's picture beck

One of my cats is suddenly much older, too, and I've been gripped with sadness whenever I pet her, this knowledge of what is inevitable.
Desser The Best Ever Cat by Maggie Smith might be the sort of book you're looking for. I don't know any books that won't cause voice trembling and crying, though.

Aliki McElreath's picture Aliki McElreath

Thanks, beck. I'll check out that book next time we're at the library--probably on Friday.

Books really get to me--I've always been an emotional reader... :)

Omaha Mama's picture Omaha Mama

I am like you and address many issues that come up at our house with a book (weaning from the binky, potty training, hitting, biting, school, etc) so I think your idea is great.

Honestly, I think the loss will be a lot harder on you than your kids. They just don't seem to take it the same way. Our nephew's beloved dog was hit by a car and had to be put to sleep, his parents feared telling him, and were surprised at how quickly he resumed the game he was playing after they told him.

I lost many pets as a child, we lived in the country and the pets were not nearly so protected. I remember feeling sad, but it not lasting very long.

Good luck and best wishes to you.

Lilianpw's picture Lilianpw

I don't really have any suggestions, but I've blogged in the past about how Kelvin first found out about death. I'm glad he hasn't talked about it since we first had those conversations two years ago... (May 2006, on or around mother's day).

christinegreen's picture christinegreen

i'm so sorry about the kitty--it is so sad to lose out beloved pets.

i am struggling with this, too, as our neighbor just had a heart attack last night. i hope he is ok, but if he isn't what do is say? how do i prepare them for the death of an actual person?

Faerluna's picture Faerluna

I wouldn't worry about crying in front of the kids. You're only human and it is good for them to know that you care deeply for Izzy.

They need to know that it's ok to cry when they are sad, and you crying in front of them will affirm that. They need to understand that it's good to talk about being sad and for them to feel that you will all get through it together.

Try not to say that you have to put Izzy to sleep. The kids may take it literally and then be scared to go to bed at night, fearing that they might die. You can reassure them that the vet has done everything they can, Izzy will never be able to get better and this is the kindest thing you can do for her to ease her pain.

Personally, I really appreciated having a mobile vet come to our house when it was time for my cat that had mouth cancer. She was always very nervous at the vet and it was better for everyone to be there at home. Something to consider if they have mobile vets in your area.

Aliki McElreath's picture Aliki McElreath

Christine and Faerluna and Lilian--thank you so much for your responses. You're right, it's okay to cry in front of the kids--it's just hard to tell yourself that it's okay!

These are all weighty, and difficult issues. We had a neighbor who committed suicide last year and that was very difficult tot alk about--there was no way around it, since the police came and everything, so we just had to take the plunge and address some difficult issues.

kskitts's picture kskitts


As a first time reader of your blog, I was pleased to see several subjects that struck a chord with me. I have a couple of childhood memories about the death of beloved pets, both cats. First,I vaguely remember finding our cat one morning on the porch, curled up like she was sleeeping, but dead. I remember feeling quite sad, but my mom was matter-of-fact about it. She said something to the effect that animals know when they are going to die, and that our kitty had found a comfortable place to go into an endless sleep. I know I had been shocked to find her, and was sad for a while, but we made a nice burial site for her in the backyard, and said goodbye to her with love. She seemed very peaceful already, though I missed her. How I coped over time is a memory lost to me now, though I know it wasn't in my nature to be sad or morose for long. I had probably been about seven or so.

The second memory I have of a pet dying involves our female cat that we had named Evel Knievel. We had named her that because as a very young kitten we had thought she was a male, and she loved jumping long distances from the back of one couch to another. Evel was a singular cat: the only cat I've ever met that scared dogs out of her yard. If they didn't heed her hissings and fluffed out tail, she run after them and actually jumped on their backs, digging in her claws. One of those encounters was enough for most dogs--they used the other side of the street from then on.

Anyway, I guess Evel loved adventure and danger. I found out the truth of her demise decades later. Decades! It seems Evel had wandered into our next door neighbor's yard and had finally been caught by the vicious dog. My own parents must have been shaken up by what they heard or saw, not sure. But I clearly remember wondering, after a day of not seeing Evel, what had happened. My dad very gruffly said, "Oh, cats just sometimes wander into the woods when they know it's time to die." There was a creek with a full forest across the street and down a very steep embankment. Again, I remember feeling very sad, and missing Evel, but because she was there one moment and gone the next, I guess I somehow accepted that Evel had probably gone to the woods (we had, in fact by then had her for quite a long time, so it seemed a plausible explanation) and was probably sleeping for good on a big pile of leaves or on the softest of moss.

It was a long time later that my younger of two brothers surprised me with the true story. I wondered then as I do now, if that was the right way to handle it, I mean my parents giving us a cover story for our emotional protection. I think even my youngest sibling, who at that time would have been about 7, could have handled the truth. It was a wretched way to go, I'll give you that, and we may have looked at that dog very very differently, but it's curious; my parents were always very upfront and honest about most things. Matter-of-fact explanations were a daily occurance.

I've come to realize, having kids myself now, that my parents had struggled themselves with the experience, had most likely been very shocked and upset, and wanted a cleaner version of death for us to experience.

So my advise? Do what you feel is right in your gut at the time. Your kids may even lead you. They understand the need for an animal who is in a lot of pain and is suffering to be helped to go. They will probably understand if you explain that it is a greater act of love for their pet, but that it takes courage.

I would suggest having them think (afterwards?) about a nice place to lay your pet to rest, and to let them pick flowers or other things of beauty to share. After that, I would make sure to have some activities planned that will take their minds off of the pain. Children are sometimes quite amazing when it comes to death. My second son, and this isn't about a pet, said he did not want to see or say goodbye to his grandfather who had died in his hospital bed an hour before. He was about four, and said, "He's dead! I don't want to see his dead body!" His older brother, then about nine, did want to go, so I took him. He was very quiet, but his grandmother was acting nutty. He handled it all just fine--he was quite used to his grandmother acting nutty. So sometimes your children will help you know how to handle the pre- and post-mortem.

In the end, there's no right or wrong. I think it's about whatever is appropriate and seems to fit in some way with you and your children's particular needs and state of mind. You'll know what to do when the time comes.

Aliki McElreath's picture Aliki McElreath

kskitts--thanks so much for reading!

And thank you, too, for sharing your own experiences. One comment you made resonated with me in particular--that your own parents had probably struggled with their own sorrow and shock about your family's pet loss, and so were finding it difficult to discuss with you and your siblings. I think you are so right--there is no formal for dealing with these things--you just have to trust your instincts.