Helping a child deal with the loss of a pet

Helping a child deal with the loss of a pet

It’s been over three months now since our beloved little bear Paddington died and in fact, it should be his second birthday shortly.  It’s not been an easy road since for any of us, but least of all for my son as he loved his little cat so very much.  I thought I’d share our story and some ideas that we’ve looked at for helping a child deal with the loss of a pet.  Perhaps you have ideas that I’ve missed too, in which case, please let me know your thoughts.

Helping a child deal with the loss of a pet

Paddington was my son’s pet cat.  We have Brewster too, but my son was a toddler when he joined our family and he doesn’t remember his kitten days.  From the moment Paddington joined us in May 2019 he was just totally adored by my son.  They were inseparable, even more so during the months of lockdown that we faced in 2020.  There were times that I felt it was only having Paddington that got him through those months.  His friend, companion and confidant.  To lose him on the second day of his class having to self isolate in November 2020, only a few weeks before my son’s eleventh birthday was just hideously cruel. Without even thinking about Christmas.

Helping a child deal with the loss of a pet

We didn’t even know that anything was wrong that day.  We’ve had a few sleepless nights over our wandering nomad fur ball.  He was so much more confident and adventurous than Brewster but on Tuesday 25th November 2020 Paddington had just gone out for an hour or two in the afternoon.  It was just a normal day.  School at home round two was going ok, we’d had a good day. And then the phone rang.  It was the Vets, but not our Vets.  Why were they calling? They had Paddington, a dog walker had found him and taken him to the vets.  He was already dead, he’d been found in some undergrowth. He looked unharmed, we’d be ok to see him if we wanted to.

It was all such a shock and my son had been in the same room as me as I took the call, so he fell apart in front of my eyes as he realised what had happened.  AND he was self-isolating because of a Covid case in his class.  We couldn’t just grab our coats, get in the car and drive to the vets. Bloody virus!

I got off the phone and comforted my son as best I could, we were both in bits to be fair.  But I knew that everything that was to come had to be led by my son. He’d just lost his pet, his confidant for the last eighteen months, this was something he was going to remember forever.  Helping a child deal with the loss of a pet to my mind means being totally honest.  He was nearly eleven when it happened and old enough to understand and it was definitely the right course of action.  It was also a huge shock.  Paddington wasn’t even two years old, he’d been with us just a couple of hours before.  It made no sense.  I had to help him to accept the reality, the finality of this situation.  That his beloved bear wasn’t going to be wandering across the garden any minute.

The vet had reassured me that there wasn’t a mark on Paddington.  Which made things easier.  I’m not sure how I’d have dealt with things if he’d been found in a different state.  But as things were, I explained our options to my son.  We could get his Dad to pick Paddington up and bring him home.  He could cuddle him, stroke him, kiss him goodbye.  We could then bury him in the garden.  Or we could take him back to the vet later and ask them to cremate him for us, and then we could bury his ashes in the garden.  It was his choice.  If he didn’t want to see Paddington then that was also totally fine.  He didn’t need to make an instant decision but he knew very quickly that he wanted to see him.

So we rang Daddy P, explained what had happened and asked him to pick Paddington up for us asap which he did, after going to the wrong vet first, but we’ll gloss over that fact! Initially, my son had wanted to bury Paddington in the garden as he was, but by the time his Dad had come back with him, he’d changed his mind.  He didn’t want anything to get to Paddington in the ground but he did want to have him at home.  So we agreed that we should ask our vet to arrange a cremation and we could then bury his ashes in the garden. It was getting late and my son was adamant that he wanted Paddington to spend one last night at home.  I knew that having him in a warm house probably wasn’t the best idea.  So I explained that it would probably be best if Paddington ‘slept’ in the garage in his box overnight so Brewster didn’t get upset.  He was happy with that and I rang our vet and explained what we wanted to do.  They were lovely, especially as they’d already had to deal with the OH turning up there instead of the other vet in town to pick Paddington up in the first place. We agreed that the OH would stay with my son in the morning and I’d take Paddington on his last journey.

Things have changed since I lost my saggy old cats, I don’t remember there being any choice on cremation caskets in those days.  I arrived at our vet to drop Paddington off and they explained that there were all sorts of options available to us and that we didn’t need to make a decision there and then, so I brought a leaflet home to show my son.  She also pointed out the options that were included in the price of the cremation itself and a rough idea of pricing on a few of the other options.  I quickly checked the website before showing my son the leaflet so I had in my own mind what I was willing to pay.  Anyway, we could have decorated cardboard tubes that you could then use to scatter ashes or there were all sorts of boxes and even ornaments.  My son opted for a simple beech box which I also really liked.  When I’d lost Monty and Roxy their ashes had been returned in bags inside hinged boxes so I could scatter their ashes and keep the boxes as a keepsake.  I told my son we could do exactly the same with Paddington or he could be buried inside the box itself too.

It took nearly two weeks for Paddington’s ashes to be returned to us, which gave my son plenty of time to think about what he wanted to do next.  He decided he wanted to have a little memorial garden for him, something he could see from the living room but also from his bedroom window.  He wanted to place Paddington’s ashes in a planter with bulbs on top, so we headed to the local garden centre so he could make his selection.

Paddington came home for the final time just before my son’s eleventh birthday.  It was very emotional.  Even more so when we discovered that our vet had taken paw prints of Paddington before he’d been cremated.  It was such a lovely thing to have done.

Cat casket and pawprints

They’d also sent us a condolence card and some Forget-me-not seeds which my son decided he would also plant in the memorial garden. Now as soon as we looked at the box we realised two things; it was too long to fit inside the planter my son had picked AND it was a sealed casket. Uuum, plan B might be required. It had also come back with a beautifully engraved brass name panel which we hadn’t expected.  It was really too lovely to cover in earth anyway.  So again, I talked through the new options we had with my son.  We could bury the casket in a different planter, my son wasn’t keen.  We could unscrew the base of the casket and sprinkle Paddington’s ashes in the planter, but if we did that my son still wouldn’t be able to use the casket as a memory box as he’d planned. We could still use the planter as a memorial but my son could keep Paddington’s casket with him, have it in his bedroom, wherever he needed him to be for a little bit of comfort.  We’d also received his casket and pawprints in a lovely personalised cardboard box, so that could be used as a memory box instead.

So all change, and in fact, it worked really well for my son.  Paddington’s casket stays by my son’s bed each night and comes downstairs with him in the mornings when he really needs to feel close to him.  He hugged it, talked to it, and I think it has actually been a better decision for him in the long run.

As soon as we realised that we weren’t burying him in the garden we decided to look at memorial plaque options on Etsy and we opted for a slate tile with Paddington’s name on it that we could place in the planter.

Project 366 2020 Week 50

I was also contacted by Sun-Catcher who wanted to send us some of their glowing garden decorations.  They contacted me on the day we lost Paddington.  When I explained the situation they really went above and beyond what they’d originally suggested and made my son a bespoke cat mobile for his memorial garden.  It made us both cry when it arrived and we knew it would be perfect attached to our bird table right next to the spot my son had decided on for Paddington’s planter.

Cat sun catcher mobile

If you’ve been following the blog for a while you will know that Paddington’s Mum is my boss’s cat and his brother lives with one of my work colleagues.  A real work/cat family.  When I told my friend what had happened she asked me if she could send my son something and she did the loveliest thing.  A few days later her husband knocked at the door and dropped off a box for my son.  Inside was a soft toy that looked really like Paddington and my son adored Paddington Junior instantly.

Helping a child deal with the loss of a pet

In fact, that soft toy has been his constant companion, goes to bed with him and waited on the stairs when he went to school (we all remember when kids did actually go to school!).  She also got him a lovely keyring with a little silver cat and angel wing on it.

Helping a child deal with the loss of a pet

We put that on his backpack, so he’d always have it with him when he left home.  The keyring also came with a beautiful poem card which we put up in the kitchen along with one of our favourite photos of Paddington.

Christmas was just around the corner and I had ordered my son a personalised tree decoration which has become an annual tradition.  I noticed that On The Nice List Designs also did pawprint tree decorations so I messaged Emma and asked her if she could do something a little different for my son and she did a great job.  He loved having a Paddington and a Brewster decoration for his tree.

Helping a child deal with the loss of a pet

Berry the Elf was a welcome distraction in December last year and I knew he would help my son deal with the early days of grief.  I also spotted a Lego cat that looked amazingly like Paddington and Berry delivered him to my son.  An instant hit which has been used in allsorts of Lego builds since he arrived.

Lego cat

I’d taken hundreds of photos of Paddington in the eighteen months he’d lived with us, and we printed a couple off, framed them and put them up in my son’s bedroom.  Basically wherever he wanted them to be.  I also suggested that we could make a photobook of his life, which we’ve still to put together.  I’m not sure that either of us is ready to do that just yet.  It’s been hard without him, especially with yet another lockdown and school at home to deal with.  He was loved so much, he was such a character.  The timing of his death could not have been any worse.  Just started self-isolating, just before my son’s birthday, just before Christmas.  Horrendous. Then we went straight back into another lockdown and he is missed so much.  He helped my son cope with the isolation of it all last year, he was there to comfort him when he found school at home hard, he was there for my son to feel he had someone other than me to talk to.  His loss has been felt hugely.  So I may have tried more ways of helping a child deal with the loss of a pet than I might otherwise have done.  But in these unusual times, I just knew my son would need every extra piece of comfort I could provide.

Helping a child deal with the loss of a pet

Three months on and we still have tears, not every day now, but still Paddington’s loss is felt deeply.  His casket is still by my son’s bed.  The soft toy, Paddington Junior is with my son constantly throughout the day, especially when he’s struggling with school work. We talk a lot about our wonderful little bear, our fluff ball who thought he was more of a dog than a cat.  He was only with us for a comparatively short time, but he left huge paw prints on our hearts and we will always be grateful that he was ours, even if it wasn’t for anywhere near as long as we would have liked.

3 thoughts on “Helping a child deal with the loss of a pet

  1. Sending love and hugs.
    That is just rotten that you couldn’t go to the vets. Covid has a lot to answer for. Reading this I am so sad for your son. To be honest I wouldn’t want any pet of mine to be buried either for the same reason as your boy. It sounds like the vets was brilliant, supporting your choices and how lovely of them to send the paw prints.
    The memorial is beautiful and how thoughtful of your boss to send the soft toy. x

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