Apr 24, 2014

Involving children in death.

We recently had 3 baby bunnies born to what we were thought were our two sister bunnies. When we discovered them, one of them was a lot smaller than the others. I had a feeling it might not make it but I let Marlo enjoy its sweetness anyway. She called him Mars.
Two days later when Marlo went to check them as soon as she woke up she said Mars wasn't moving and she thought it was dead. It was. She cried.

We have had many pets die on our little farm before- mostly chooks, and goldfish but the death of animal that you hold and cuddle is different( I realise some people hold and cuddle their chooks, but we don't). When we have had fish that have died we have put them in our worm farm, this has fascinated Marlo - that the fish become worm food, so with that in mind we did the same with Mars.
We carried Mars down away from the house. We collected flowers on the way. We decided that we didn't want to put him in a hole because the animal that found him to eat should just be able to take him easily, and animals don't routinely bury their dead.


We laid him down and put flowers around him and between his paws. Marlo said "I wish I would have been able to watch you grow up Mars"
We both cried a little bit. Marlo wondered what animal would find him, I thought possibly a snake or goanna and that Mars would be a good meal for them and it would stop them having to kill an animal that was happily running around. Even though Marlo is scared of snakes she understands that this is how nature works. It's the circle of life. (Lion king reference)


Marlo wondered if the other 2 babies would notice that Mars was gone, I said I thought they would. We have had discussions before about what happens when you die and I just say I don't really know and know one really does know but people believe different things. I find this especially hard as I really don't know what my views are on the afterlife. I guess this makes me more agnostic than anything. We don't talk about Heaven and Hell and Marlo would have no idea about Easter being anything to do with Jesus and rising from the dead, we will explain it to her one day but at the moment its all about the Easter Bunny.

She wanted to go and check Mars the next day, I explained their may be lots of insects over him and it might be a bit gross but she really wanted to, he was still here, the next day he was gone.

I remember the first time a goldfish died. I was shocked at how devastated she was, I think we can never guess how children will react to this stuff. She asked about the fish for months after, where was it now etc etc. When our first bunny Vinnie ran away after being scared by a neighbours dog, Marlo was devastated, I understood that, she had wanted a bunny for so long, she finally had one and then he was gone- yes, he was still alive, happily bouncing in the forest we thought, but still a loss. She said this is very sad because babies shouldn't die, I agree they shouldn't but sometimes they do.

I talked to a few friends about this who work as counsellors with children and they all agreed, the child needs to be included as much or as little as they want to and the death of a pet is the perfect opportunity to try to understand death. Answer all questions clearly and don't be ambiguous. I remember my friends little boy being quite frightened when he was told "Grandma is watching over you all the time." - although maybe other children would find this comforting. My rule of thumb is always - after anything big has happened- have a talk about it when it happens then a few days later ask them about it again, what are you thinking about that now? Do you have questions? Tell me how you understand it? You know yourself sometimes they are so confused about something that they haven't understood properly.
 I would love to hear what others think about this. what happens when a pet dies at your place?


17 comments:

  1. I'm with you Cath about being honest with kids about death. My kids have been exposed to death both in terms of losing pets as well as beloved humans. We try to be guided by them and answer all questions honestly while trying not to freak them out with information they aren't ready to hear. Lots of emotional support no matter how 'small' the loss. A seemingly small loss to us might be a massive one to them.
    I love the way you handled this one.
    Andi xx

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  2. I love the fact that this experience was so open and natural. My 5 & 6 year old still often have a cry about their great grandma who passed away 18 months ago. We have a cuddle and talk about all the things we loved about Nanny. We usually end up giggling at the memories. The kids love remembering her cuddles and kiss biscuits and other memories. All the kids came to the funeral and we all as a family walked from Pa Pa's house- aunts, uncles cousins to the church. Recently my daughter has been asking about where Nanny is buried, so my mother in law is going to take them to put flowes on the grave (Nanny was her mum).

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    1. How great that you could turn the tears into giggles, how wonderful. Xx

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  3. We have had two of our dogs die in the past 5 years and the kids have been part of the whole process. When our Saffy died it was because she quickly deteriorated to a point where we felt it was in her best interest to have her put down. We decided to take the boys with us (little X wasn't around then) to our vet so that they could understand what was happening. It was a good experience for them to have and when we brought her home with us to bury her they spent time sitting by her body (their choice) while my husband dug the grave and drew pictures for her which we buried with her along with her collar and bowl. They were sad but it was good to talk about it openly. The same happened when our Rastas died although he died at home. We went through the ritual of burying him together and the boys know where the dogs are buried and talk to them sometimes there.

    When I was about 6 I saw my precious dog Toby get hit by a car. She flew through the air and had massive internal injuries. My dad took her to the vet where she was put down and she was never mentioned again. I was beside myself with grief and it was never talked over so it was really important for my kids to feel like their feelings were important and to feel part of the process as we said goodbye to our pets. xSam

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    1. So great to include the boys like you did Sam. X

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    2. I agree that it is important to include children..sometimes we fear or worry about what we do not know or understand.

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  4. Hi Cath
    Interesting read. We can all learn a lot from each other ..thanks for sharing. I really like the approach you took. Our children have not experienced the death of a pet but our Nanna died last year. She was very old-100! The children participated in her celebration of life by lighting a candle, placing a rose on her coffin and the eldest child-12 read some words about nan. It was a wonderful 'first' funeral to attend because it wasn't horribly sad-who lives to be 100! We have always answered our children's questions about anything and everything with the truth. Our eldest child lives with cystic fibrosis so has a shortened life expectancy. Death can be very hard and very sad but it is a certainty and normal part of life. We have often used the phrase ..everybody is born and everybody dies but there is a lot if living in between. This idea comes from a lovely picture book called 'Beginnings and endings with lifetimes in between' Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen. It is such a beautiful story, beautifully written and illustrated. I think you'd like it.

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    1. Oh, I love that phrase! Going to remember that one, thanks for sharing it.

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  5. Over the last three years we have had to lose both our old men dogs and the kids were given the opportunity to come along on those last journey. The decisions were theirs and not undermined. I think how our children respond to bereavement is greatly informed by how they are being raised (for want of a better phrase) anyway. Open to experiences, open to emotion, free to question, able to discuss, listening, listened to.

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  6. I wrote a big long comment & it seems the internet ate it :(

    So I'll just say I like the way you do things xx

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  7. I agree. I like the way you do things at your house. Wish you had been my mama.

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  8. Ugh, so hard. I think as long as things are openly discussed and acknowledged that kid's can generally deal with death pretty well in my experience. Mine anyway. A few months ago we woke up one morning to find one of our bunnies had broken out of the hutch and was fraternising with a wild bunny. Crap!
    A few weeks after that I was out feeding the rabbits one evening and found a weird, moving, nest of fur. I was mortified to find about six or eight tiny baby hippos in that nest. All night I stressed about them. We could not cope with six or eight more bunnies. I could not give them away (I have already tried to give our three away and failed), and let's not even go to the third option. Not an option. Oh and as for telling the girls - I decided not to until I had worked out what to do. The next morning I raced outside only to find them all gone. I was DEVASTATED!!!!! Google says that sometimes the mother bunny does eat her babies but it is rare. I guess they could have found their way out of the cage but I couldn't find where. Anyway, let's just say I have experienced a lot of death on the farm but those deaths still freak me out. Poor baby hippo rabbits. xx

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    1. OH MY GOD!!! Yes I read the eating thing but only if they are malnourished, which is unlikely in your case.
      And they do look like baby hippos.

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  9. It's tricky. We try to be very straight forward about the circle of life when it comes to animals (the kids have been through the loss of a couple of chickens and three dogs - two of ours, one of my parents.) I became a little worried at one point between dog one and two - we'd come home to find our dog missing, (turns out my husband had taken him to work, but) my eldest's reaction was very matter of factly 'maybe he's dead', as he wandered off to go play. Yeesh! Have we completely desensitised them? But when my parents dog was dying, he was pretty emotional and would just sit quietly with her. They process things in their own way. X

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    1. remember Marlo doing the similar! She woke up one day and said "I wonder which fish is dead today !" So not funny, funny !!

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