Pets are wonderful. They are company, entertainment, and they love unconditionally. They are ‘best buddies’ to our children, the latter learn about caring and responsibility. Unfortunately, we also have to say goodbye to them when it is their time to pass on.
Munchie, our cat, had been with us before either of our children were born. He was our first baby and a constant in our lives. He had also become a much-loved pet with our children. He was so gentle and careful with them as babies. He loved to snuggle up with each child as they lay in bed or sat on the couch. He grew older and yet remained as patient as ever with us all.
Once we knew that the time had come for us to say goodbye to Munchie, we needed to help the children understand that it was all a part of the process of life: natural and, although sad, something that was okay. The children knew something was very wrong; poor Munchie had cancer of the brain, but we avoided mentioning cancer as my youngest is a survivor of leukemia and we didn’t want him panicking. So we explained that Munchie had become ill and that there was nothing we could do to help him get better anymore. We talked about how old Munchie was, and how we did not want him to suffer pain if there was something we could do to help him. The children were part of the discussion on treating their beloved pet and they made wise and educated choices.
I firmly believe that children need to know that death is a part of life, and more importantly, it is nothing to fear. We talked about Heaven and the fact that Munchie would go there and be with Nana Nora, Granddad Philip and Big Poppa. The boys asked many questions, some were hard to answer, some we could answer naturally and with conviction. What struck me the most was how my boys decided they wanted to make sure the cat they loved so much was okay…not hurting, not unhappy, but in a good place.
We did not involve the boys in the actual moment when Munchie left us. I was a wreck, as was Hubby. We had always said we were not cat people, yet losing Munchie was unthinkable (so much for our pep-talk working on ourselves). We had agreed, however, to bury him in our garden so he would always be a part of our lives. I brought my lovely cat back in a cardboard box, limp and lifeless…gone.
Something amazing happened upon my return home from the vet. They boys asked to see Munchie…to say goodbye. I was a little hesitant, but we had spoken about the body only being a vessel for the soul so I felt it only fair that the boys be able to see and touch the body. We must have spent wuite a while stroking the little guy; he looked calm, asleep, and peaceful. The boys talked to him but also acknowledged that his soul was listening from Heaven. Then Button asked if they could decorate the box before we buried it. The most touching scene of my sons taking so much care to color pictures and write loving messages unraveled before my eyes. Munchie was having a true send-off…a proper goodbye.
We all cried over the next couple of days. We talked about Munchie and relived happy times with him. Peanut and Button want me to blow up a photo of him for our family room…on canvas! I will do that very soon. The death of our wonderful Munchie was sad yet I saw so much understanding and acceptance in my sons. I know they will miss him tremendously, but I also feel they have learned a little more about life and feel better for that.
Munchkin Magee: the formal name of the kitten we rescued after he had been abandoned in a plastic bag by his previous owners. He was the cutest bundle of fluff, but we couldn’t think of a name for him. While we pondered, I used the nickname, Munchkin, as he was just so cute! The name eventually stuck but we shortened it to Munchie on occasion and that eventually became the most used name. We could not bend over to pick something up without Munchie leaping onto our backs and settling down…he loved to climb on us.
How have you dealt with the death of a family pet when children are involved? How much do you think children should be involved in the process? What helps you get through it?