Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Learning the Hard Lessons - Loss and Death

Our cat died yesterday.  Another in a line of deaths that Zippy has had to deal with over her short life - Great-grandparents, parents of friends (this was especially difficult), and now the cat.  As a parent it can be a hard lesson to teach especially in that moment, but it is oh so important.   Here are some of the things that I have done over the years. (I am not an expert.  These are my experiences and observations.)

  1. Talk to your child.  Even at a young age children are amazing astute, explain what is going on in your own words, your understanding will help them get a grip on a very big concept.  Explain the physicality of death - the body stops working because...  Explain the religious aspect of death, the spirit, the soul, afterlife.  If there is a funeral explain why they are doing what what they are doing (in our case, everyone who has died has been Catholic and we are not, so explaining mass was necessary.)  Explain why people are behaving the way they are.  Death often makes people act differently, crying, mourning may look strange to a child.
  2. Listen to your child.  Take the time to see if your child has any questions or concerns and answer the honestly.  In every instance, and especially when it was the parents of friends, Zippy asked the question "Are you going to die?" We answered honestly, "Yes, but probably not soon." If your child is having an especially difficult time dealing with death, particularly if the death was someone very close, finding a counselor to talk with is a good idea.
  3. Pray.  Death is a big thing, even the death of a pet.  God is big, He can handle it.  Praying for the family of the deceased is also something that children, who often feel helpless, can do.  Philippians 4:6-7 says "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
  4. Write or Draw. Putting something down on paper can aid the child's understanding and help them express feelings in a way they can not do verbally.  It can help the child understand for herself. (This can help adults too, and perhaps is the motive behind this post.)
I was impressed by Zippy's ability to deal with the death of our cat, Plaid.  We spent the day yesterday watching him get worse and worse.  We were sad when he died, and there were tears shed, but she understands, thanks to the things that we have talked about together. 

If you are blessed not to have to deal with death in such a personal way, learning this hard lesson is still an important thing to do.  There are books that may aid in the lesson.  I have not searched out any.  Please leave a comment with a book that you have used or think is good.

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