Our family is approaching the point at which we are going to lose our family dog. Our children, who are 10 and seven years old, have grown up with our dog and they love him dearly. He was three years old when our first child was born and now, as he approaches 14 years old we know his body will not hang on much longer.
My husband and I are dreading the day but we know it is coming. As our lives get busier and our dog’s life slows down there are some days I even wonder if the kids will even notice but then, out of the blue, they will say or do something that shows me how much they do notice.
I am afraid that this will be quite devastating to them. I know it is going to be for me. How do we prepare our children for this and what do we say when the time comes?
As the owner of an older dog myself, I too dread the day that I will have to make this decision.
Our pets are an integral part of our families and for many people losing a pet is losing a member of their family. It is a big loss and it is one that can be loaded with strong and powerful emotions. As you express, your children will notice and they will feel the loss so I am glad that you are thinking about this now and starting to prepare your children for the time when it comes.
Each one of us experiences grief and loss in unique and individual ways. Grief is sometimes described as a number of stages that we progress through and this may be true for many people but it is not always experienced in this way.
What is important to remember is that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. It is important that we respect both our own and other’s individual processes. This can be difficult to do at times because of our own thoughts and feelings.
As well we often are uncertain how to help or support others leading to discomfort and awkwardness in our interactions with each other.
One of the most important things that you can do to help your children is to talk about it. Start discussing what is happening for your pet and start discussing how you and your vet will be dealing with it.
You know your children and give them the information they need at a level that is appropriate for where they are at developmentally. Prepare yourself as well for how you want to answer questions like, “What will happen to him when he dies?” or “Where will he go?”
Let your own family values and beliefs guide this discussion and be prepared for some very practical questions about the process and what they can expect.
Another thing good thing to do as a family during this time is to take some time to remember together. Initiate conversations together about your memories of your dog during the time it has been with you.
Tell funny stories and share significant memories. Encourage your children to share their own. These stories help everyone process their thoughts, feelings and experiences in a way that will assist them now and when the day comes.
Finally, make a plan for how each person wants to be involved when your dog passes. Each person will have different needs and desires. Taking the time to talk about what will happen and how you are going to deal with it will go a long way towards helping all of you when the moment comes.
Best wishes and my thoughts are with you.
If you wish to ask a question of the counsellors, for a response in future columns, e-mail them at email@example.com. Consult a Counsellor is provided by registered clinical counsellors Nancy Bock, Diane Davies Leslie Wells and Andrew Lochhead at pacific therapy & consulting inc. It appears every second Friday in the Record.