Support Kids with Pet Loss Grief is a common concern for parents, caretaker, and family members of many of my clients.
Here is a chapter from my book, Healing a Child’s Pet Loss Grief. I hope this helps you when helping your child cope with their grief.
Significance of a Pet Funeral and Other Mourning Rituals to Support Kids with Pet Loss Grief
The death of your child’s pet may be the first time your child will experience the death of a loved one. Supporting and encouraging your child to outwardly celebrate the life they had with their companion can teach them how to manage all types of personal loss and help you support kids with pet loss grief. This in itself is a valuable lesson for the rest of their lives.
Too often, I have seen in my practice that parents will sometimes be preoccupied with the logistics and their own emotions surrounding a family’s pet. They forget to help their child grieve and mourn. I have also seen parents shield their child from death and funerals.
Since the subject of death is unfamiliar to children, it is up to you to teach and support them in a healthy way. My clients who help their children cope by telling them the truth and creating some type of end-of-life celebration avoid having their children sense there is something wrong and possibly feel as if they are responsible for their pet’s death. It’s a healthy way to support kids with pet loss grief.
The grieving process for your child calls for guidance from you, so they can understand loss, mourn, and express themselves. Inviting your child to participate in decisions, such as burial, scattering the ashes, and planning a funeral, to the extent of your child’s maturity and what you are comfortable with, will help them greatly.
When you are considering a pet funeral—know that children are naturally curious about death. Their age, maturity level, bond with their pet, and your behavior will all be influences.
Since you are a very special parent that wants to honor your child and their pet, please remember that if someone says that you are weird for holding an end-of-life ceremony for a pet—PLEASE DON’T LISTEN! If you listen, you will be holding back a very important step for healing the grief of your family.
By supporting your child to experience the creative and necessary process of mourning and exploring the options in this chapter, your child will have the chance to respectfully celebrate the life of their pet and thank them for everything they shared.
Also, by spending time allowing your child to create the end-of-life ceremony or by having a pet funeral celebrant help you create a personalized celebration, your child will get the chance to have some closure and say goodbye. I have been conducting pet funerals and pet memorials for many years, and I have found that holding a commemorative event is an invaluable aid in the healing process. I also love working with children with their creations because of their ability to be honest and innovative.
Another way to support kids with pet loss grief is allowing your child to express their feelings and pay tribute to their pet is healthy, normal, and essential.
How Liam and Emma Did It
My clients Liam and Emma hired me to help their daughter, Charlotte (age 9), create a beautiful celebration when her dog, Lily, was buried in their backyard. I met with Charlotte, Liam, and Emma on Skype, and helped Charlotte compose a beautiful eulogy that paid tribute to all the things that she’d shared with Lily.
Charlotte decided to invite not only her family, but also her friends that loved Lily as she had. Her parents told me when she read the eulogy, everyone was supportive of Charlotte by hugging her after she was finished reading.
After the ceremony Liam called and told me, “Wendy, the funeral that Charlotte created was absolutely perfect. I am so glad we had a funeral for Lily. It helped Charlotte so much.”
Eulogy that Charlotte Wrote and Delivered about Lily which is a wonderful way to Support Kids with Pet Loss Grief
Hi, my name is Charlotte, and I would like to tell you how much I loved my dog, Lily.
Lily was my favorite dog in the entire world. She would follow me to the bus every day and helped me with my homework.
I loved her every single day, and I told her by hugging her and giving her a big kiss on the forehead.
Lily also liked it when I read to her before we went to sleep. Mom and Dad said it was okay to let Lily sleep in my bed, and I liked that because it was really fun.
Lily liked her toys, food, and sleeping with her legs sticking up in the air. That made me laugh.
I want to tell Lily that I am her best friend too and thank her for being mine.
I am happy all my friends are here.
Types of Celebrations
Here are some definitions of the types of end-of-life celebrations that you can consider when you are ready for this step in supporting your child with pet loss. I listed them here and will talk more about them later in this chapter.
Pet Funeral—This is a celebration/service in which the body or cremains of your child’s pet are present. This event takes place relatively soon after the pet reaches the end of their life.
Pet Memorial—This is the celebration/service in which the body or cremains of your child’s pet are not present. This event can take place whenever you and your child would like. There is no time limit as to when a pet memorial takes place.
Pet Remembrances—These are the anniversaries, holidays, and/or special occasions that your child shared with their pet during which you celebrate the memory of your child’s pet.
The thing that I absolutely love about helping children and their parents plan and officiate a pet’s funeral or memorial service is that I get to witness the unwavering amount of love and healing that takes place for not only that child but other family members as well.
Even though there is much sadness, there are moments of incredibly rich emotional sharing with the celebration of a pet’s life. I witness life-changing events that children undergo by sharing their life with their cherished pet. I feel honored to be part of those tender moments shared by those who miss their pets and are mourning the loss of their treasured family member.
These are some of those life-changing moments that a pet funeral or memorial service can provide to support your child in their journey of healing pet loss grief.
A pet funeral, pet memorial, or pet remembrance can provide your child with:
- a sense of reality that their pet has reached the end of life;
- the opportunity for an honest and open dialogue that teaches them what a funeral is, what happens, etc.;
- preparation for human funerals in the future;
- a way to help them accept that death is part of life, depending on their age;
- a way for confirmation that death signifies that the pet is no longer living in the physical world but in a spiritual realm, depending on your spiritual beliefs;
- the opportunity for sharing thoughts, experiences, and feelings they had with their pet—as well as sharing by friends and family members;
- the space for them to acknowledge, reflect, and honor the incredible role that the animal played in their life—and for other participants to share as well; and/or
- a healthy way to say a formal goodbye.
A pet funeral is generally held within a few days of death and may consist of a viewing, a formal service, and a brief rite at the gravesite. The atmosphere is usually somber and sad, and the emphasis is on death, mourning, and loss.
The funeral can be held at a pet cemetery or in your backyard if your local ordinances allow this. Your child may invite family, friends, and even other pets that their pet loved. The ceremony you create can include music, the reading of a eulogy by your child that they wrote themselves, a celebration after the service, and time for others to share their feelings about your child’s pet.
A memorial service, on the other hand, may be held at any time after the pet dies. Its function is to remember and celebrate the loved one’s life. Oftentimes, the mood is more positive and uplifting. The service can be as small and private, or as open and elaborate, as you wish, and it can be delayed as long as its planning requires. Keep in mind, however, that having the service closer to the time when your child’s loss is most deeply felt is when it is most likely to help your child, you, and your family express and work through grief.
Many of my clients who have chosen cremation choose a memorial service that includes spreading the ashes at a favorite locale that their child’s pet loved. Many times a eulogy is also included or a celebration with food afterwards. Try to make it as comfortable as you can for your child and not force them to do anything they do not want to do.
Just like a funeral, your child’s pet memorial service will reflect their unique relationship with the animal and will include those things that are meaningful to them.
Pet remembrancesare lifelong celebrations. Every year, your child can celebrate their pet’s birthday by lighting a candle and having a small ceremony. They can also go to their pet’s gravesite and leave a favorite toy. This will all depend on the age and development of your child. Often pet remembrances are more important for the adult than the child. Yet, having your child watch you continue to pay tribute will only help them feel comfortable with death and honoring feelings as they become adults.
I encourage the parents that work with me to celebrate in some way throughout the child’s life if appropriate by remembering their pet on a special day. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. It could be as simple as asking your child, “Today was Jackson’s birthday, do you remember how Jackson loved his birthday cookie? What made you laugh when we gave him that cookie?”
Important Points for Planning
Here are some points you may wish to consider as you help your child plan their own unique ceremony of remembrance for their pet, always taking into account your child’s age and maturity-level.
- Take some time to plan what you’d like to do. Involve all family members, including your child and others who may be willing to help you.
- Ask your child whether they want to hold a funeral, a memorial service, or both.
- Given your family’s religious beliefs, traditions, and rituals, determine whether you want to include any religious aspects or whether you consider their inclusion inappropriate.
- Think of ways the service can be personalized for your child. At the service ask family members and friends who knew your child’s pet to reminisce or recall what was special about the pet.
- Decide who will hold the service, where, when it will be held, who will speak, and who will be invited to attend.
- Know that it is both normal and healthy to use a funeral or memorial service to help your child express their sorrow, proclaim their love, and bid a final farewell to their cherished friend.
Tidbits on How To Support Kids with Pet Loss Grief
- Your child will benefit by honoring their pet with a funeral or another kind of end-of-life celebration. Lingering questions will be answered and dialogue will be ongoing from the heart.
- Funerals are ways to celebrate the positive rather than express remorse—we forget that.
- A pet funeral is a portal for your child to understand that death is final in physical nature.
Wendy Van de Poll, MS, CEOL is a certified pet loss grief coach, bestselling author, animal medium and communicator. Through her experience and working with others she teaches folks… grief needs attention so that it can teach the profound lessons of life. You can reach Wendy by clicking here. She also has many books on Amazon to help you on your journey. Here is the link to access Healing Your Child’s Pet Loss Grief. Her newest is Pet Loss Poems: To Heal Your Heart and So