I secretly hate when people allude to either great news or bad news on social media without divulging, but now I realize why they/we do it. A few of you may have noticed that about a month ago, I was a bit absent from social and the blog. I just wanted to check in and say “I’m fine but something is going on” when really both my cats died and I was very sad. The loss of Bearcat was especially heartbreaking, as she was such a big part of our lives and on the blog and social a lot (Mimi preferred to be on her own). I couldn’t bring myself to talk about it without bawling, but not talking about and pretending I was fine felt awful. We had them for 13 years and then they were suddenly both gone.
For anyone who wants to know the details, keep reading. If you’re averse to super sad details, skip ahead a few paragraphs, by all means. So here’s what happened: It was 8:30 pm and I was writing at the dining table, after making my first soup of Soup-tember. Brian went outside to pull up the trash cans and I heard him whisper-scream “EMILY!!!” in a way that was terrifying and it will haunt me forever, followed by “Bearcat is dead.” I went to the front door and he met me with eyes full of sheer horror. I would later remark how crazy it is that emotions can produce such immediate physical responses. My eyes exploded with water, my throat closed up, and I started choking/crying. As I saw her body lying in the front yard, I collapsed onto the stairs.
We don’t know what happened and part of me doesn’t want to know because I fear it was my fault. You see, Mimi (our other, more independent cat), had been sick for a long time and refused even the finest of cat food and was losing so much weight, becoming terribly skinny. The only thing she loved was chicken. She would jump up on the island and beg for it, which was admittedly gross and infuriating, but the lady was old and hungry, so we would often cave in. That night, as I made my first soup, I shredded extra chicken and put it outside for Mimi. Bearcat could have died from a heart attack, or a coyote could have shaken her (they live in our area and there was fur all around her), but I really fear that she choked on the chicken I put out for Mimi. That maybe I didn’t shred it into small enough pieces.
I didn’t go outside to see her, I saw her from the front door. Brian said that only one of us needed to see it because you can’t un-see your first dead fur-baby and he didn’t think both of us needed to have that image forever branded in our brains. After googling what to do and calling Emily B. (who I knew had experience with this), he wrapped her in a towel and took her to the only nighttime vet that would cremate a cat at that hour (in a very depressing coincidence, it cost the same $50 to cremate her as it did to purchase her 13 years ago). I sat at home, nauseous and crying until he got home. I was feeling guilty in so many ways, but mostly just missing our Bear. Our little Bear Bear was gone.
I’ll be pretty honest here, we had two cats, we got them at the same time and I should love them both equally but I didn’t. Bearcat was special. She was the most affectionate, sweet, loving, cat ever. She would jump on your lap, rub her face against yours, snuggle into your arm all day every day, and purr so audibly that sometimes you couldn’t hear the TV. Everyone who met her remarked that she was the best cat that ever lived. She gave so much love, and our kids were obsessed with her.
Mimi was just a different story. During her last 10 years of life, she became unpredictable, rather “catty” and could be mean and lash out. She liked Brian more, but I was kinda scared of her, and so were the kids (although the kids were more fearless than I was around her). She was clearly so unhappy, and had been for years. They both suffered from upper respiratory infection, which they contracted from the Bronx housing project in which they were bred, amongst 15 other cats (at least). We bought them off Craigslist for $50 each. They both had ear mites and kitty aids. We debated calling the ASPCA but instead lied and told them we had called them (after we had our cats in our possession), but never actually did. Our hope was that they would be scared and stop breeding street cats, but we didn’t actually want them to get in trouble because clearly, their lives weren’t awesome if they were breeding stray cats for $50 a piece as a source of income in the projects. So they weren’t technically a rescue, but in some ways they definitely were.
That was when we were 25. When we moved to LA, before we had kids, we treated them like our children. Our friends remember us saying stuff like “we need to go, we miss our cats and want to get home to them.” At one point, I wouldn’t let a friend cat sit for us because I feared that if they let the cats get out and one of them got lost or killed, I could never forgive that person, and our relationship would be forever changed. So I would hire someone, a professional cat sitter (later our nanny) to stay with them.
What I’m about to write next may be asking for some pretty emotional and negative responses, but the truth is a lot of the guilt about Bearcat’s death was also guilt that we hadn’t been the same parents to her since we’d had kids. The first 10 years of her life she (and Mimi) were treated like gold. They received hours of attention a day. After we had Charlie, it diminished a bit, (Mimi actually ran away a few days after his birth and was only found after a week of Brian papering the neighborhood and spreading their litter and our dirty laundry outside our house). But then after we had Elliot, it got worse. We just didn’t have the hours in the day to give them the love that we used to and we felt AWFUL. We would complain about the smell of the litter box, how Mimi had been peeing everywhere, how they destroyed our rug, how they snotted all over our baseboard. Our laundry room was a constant source of disgust and annoyance with daily pee, litter, and often cat poop on the ground in the morning (despite a constantly fresh box). We complained about all of that, but we still loved them, especially Bear, so MUCH. I felt this incredible guilt in so many ways.
Meanwhile, we knew that Mimi was sick with kidney failure. Brian took her to the vet for the 4th time this year and the vet confirmed that she was dying, in pain, and miserable. So a few days after Bear suddenly died, we made the decision to put Mimi down. We had no doubt it was the right thing to do, but it still feels terrible to end the life of your pet, no matter how much you maybe didn’t connect with her.
It was super odd to go from two cats to none. But strangely, the kids didn’t notice. Both cats had become indoor/outdoor which reduces their lifespan by years, but they loved laying in the sun in the backyard all day and always managed to find a way out. They weren’t like dogs, making their presence known all day. They would often sleep in closets for hours or hang out under our bed.
For the first few days, I couldn’t talk about Bear without having to leave the room and immediately start bawling. So I knew that I wasn’t ready to tell the kids. Then I had to go up to Portland and I didn’t want Brian to do it by himself. PLUS the kids hadn’t asked where the cats where! So we kept putting off telling them and had an answer just in case they asked while I was out of town: that they were at the vet because they weren’t feeling well. But it never came up.
We knew that at some point we were going to have to tell them. But our kids are young, at the time not even 3 and 5. We now knew why parents say that family pets left to go live on a farm instead of telling their kids the much sadder truth. And despite my educated parent brain knowing that lying to them would be the wrong way to handle the situation, it just seemed so easy.
But as we grieved and healed, we both decided to tell them the truth. But how?? Obviously, I Googled it, but most of the advice was for “kids” around 7 and up, not small kids like Charlie and Elliot. We weren’t worried about Birdie, she is so young. But Charlie had been asking about death lately and we really didn’t want him to think that being old automatically means dying. He is VERY close to Brian’s parents and he knows that they are technically older than us, so we didn’t want him to think “if Bearcat can die just like that, then can Boba and Sue Sue?” I know that is a natural fear that he should process, but also easier said than done when you’re the one actually doing the parenting (like so much of parenting). We also didn’t want them to think that at any moment one of us could die, even though that is also true. We subscribe to the parenting style of making them feel secure and safe for as long as possible. I’ll go ahead and admit that we shelter our kids from unnecessary negativity all day every day. So talking about death and the fear of death was new and hard for all of us.
But we knew we had to. So in case you are in our same situation here is what we said, our script verbatim. It was Friday night, before family movie night and it was just the four of us.
Hey kids, we need to chat with you about something. We sat them down on the sofa. I don’t remember who said what, but Brian and I took turns and had rehearsed it a few times.
Remember how Bearcat and Mimi were really old? They nodded. For cats, they were the oldest they can be (a lie, but it felt okay). And you know how they were sneezing all the time and Mimi was really unhappy and skinny? They nodded. Well, we took them to the vet and they said that they were really sick and that it was their time, so they passed away.
Charlie got it immediately and started bawling and asked, Bearcat is dead?? and Elliot, hearing Charlie’s question and our answer, started crying, too. We said yes, buddy. Then I grabbed my “prop” (a glove), and put it on my hand. My mom had given me the idea for this analogy.
I put on a positive voice.
Listen guys, every person or cat is made out of a body and a soul, like my hand. Your body is like the glove and when it’s time for you to die, your body gets discarded (I took off the glove) and what lives forever is your soul (I happily wiggled my gloveless hand). I was even prepped for the oncoming questions. Where do souls go?
We don’t know, but we know that they are so happy, they are together as best friends, and their souls will always be with us. I kept reiterating that they were together and so much happier because they didn’t feel old and sick anymore. Which, in the end, made the kids super happy.
We related that we were also so sad and we missed them too, but without crying. Then I gave them a little stuffed animal that they could reach for, squeeze, and snuggle every time they missed the cats. Birdie was immediately fine and happy, having a new toy, and said I’m going to name her Bearcat. Internally, I was like hmm…uh, well, I’m not totally sure that’s what should happen, but I didn’t say anything and by the next day, she had already renamed her Alice.
That night, we all cuddled and watched a movie and the kids went to bed like normal.
The next day we got a call from their preschool teacher that Charlie was talking about his dead cats and really sad, so we walked her through what we had told him so that she could reiterate the same ideas. We picked him up from school and talked a bit more about it, sharing in his sadness. When we got home, we looked at a bunch of old photos of the cats, specifically Bear which made them both happy/sad.
So far, so good. We felt like we had helped them through this process in a way that taught them a bit about the process of life, while supporting their emotions and giving them some vocabulary to their feelings.
Then we had a parenting fail. A week later, we took them to get beta fish because they had wanted them forever. We honestly didn’t make the correlation that we were somehow replacing the cats with new pets. The kids were both asking for a dog but neither Brian nor I were or are ready for another real pet. I suppose we were trying to distract our kids from experiencing the pangs of missing the cats and putting off the impending dog situation. We wanted to give them some responsibility and help them understand how to care for something else, blah blah. They took to it all immediately, excited to feed them, telling them they were their “mommy and daddy” and saying good morning and goodnight to them. It was incredibly sweet. But a few days later, I overheard Charlie telling his friend my cats died so I got a fish, wanna come see? And I again thought uh, well, ok, but eek, I feel weird, he’s not wrong but it doesn’t feel right…
So that is where we are now. We try to bring the cats up in a way that feels positive so that we aren’t just shoving their feelings under the rug. We don’t want them to think that the fish replace the cats, so we try to separate the two but I think we probably should have waited a little bit longer between the two situations.
Meanwhile, the fish are now two weeks old and well, the kids are totally over them (SHOCKING). And now I have to change fish bowls every week. Our kids weren’t old enough to care for fish and let’s face it, a single beta fish in a glass bowl is a VERY boring pet. But these are the types of parenting tropes you don’t fully understand until you’re committing them yourself.
They both beg for a dog or cat, but we aren’t ready and they aren’t either. I miss Bear so much. I miss her snuggles, her soft fur. Her purr that was so loud you could hear her in my Insta stories. She was the sweetest, happiest, best cat in the world and even though Mimi didn’t want much to do with people, they were our first babies and it’s just odd to live without them.
Anyway, I guess I just needed to tell you all. Bearcat specifically had a big presence here, on the blog, and I couldn’t NOT tell you. Plus, I felt my mom’s advice was perfect for younger kids, and I hadn’t been able to find that kind of advice online. So if anyone has any other suggestions to share for anyone dealing with this situation, please leave in the comments.
Thanks for listening to my long journal entry about my cats.
So sorry, Emily! We had a huge parenting fail facing the same thing a few years ago when our beloved cat, CJ, died. We kept meaning to tell our two year old, but he never noticed… Seriously, SIX MONTHS later he said “Where’s the cat?” and by then were were like, “Oh, she died.” Worst parents ever. I still miss our girl all the time, but I do NOT miss cat hair and litter pans, so there’s that at least.
I know!! it took us 9 days before we brought it up to THEM. so odd. and yes, no litter is a huge plus.
I’m so sorry for your loss Emily 🙁 I’ve lost two cats before, and now I have a new kitten, and they were/are the world for me. All the best to you in this time of grief.
I should not have read this at work… damn onions…
I totally get you, on everything in this post. The lost of my first cat ten years ago is still upsetting me. I also felt so guilty because I let him outside and that it is probably why he died. And now that I have a one year old son, I also feel the guilt you were referring to, like I’m abandoning my present cat. I know I do not spend enough time with her and she gets older and crankier and… and, I’m sad and scared, especially for the future. I also fear for when she will be gone as well. My son will probably still be really young and I wonder what I will tell him. So, thank you for this, I will keep it in the back of my mind for when that dreadful time will come.
yep,. same double guilt. it was a month ago and i’m feeling better but man, I was just like ‘she’s gone and its my fault’ for so long … xx
I’m sorry for your loss Emily. Some of those pictures, especially of Charlie and Bearcat, are just so, so sweet. We have an older dog who is in fine health but I know this conversation is inevitable and it pains me to even think about it. I think you found a great balance between honesty and sensitivity. That is tough to navigate while you are also grieving. Thank you for sharing, I hope it can bring you some comfort.
I’m so sorry. Don’t we know those same feels. We are still feeling the loss of our dear cat, Sam. A farm kitten which our daughter brought home. It became her therapy for anxiety and sleeplessness. Poor kitty had kidney failure at a relatively young age of eight. Sam-the-cat died about the same time our little girl grew up and left home. It felt like a double sucker punch to this mamma. I always wonder if I fed him wrong somewhere… did he eat a stray grape? Emily, we cant beat ourselves up about how they died but ultimately we rescued and gave our pets the best life/love we could…. many times better than their beginnings. Our friend walked in our house one day and commented to our rescue kitty and rescue min pin, “When you guy landed here, you hit the lottery.” Your cats hit the lottery too. The bonus is your family also won in a big way.
ah thank you. My friends tell me the same thing. They had GOOD lives, sure they were better before we had kids but still REALLY good. hopefully. x
So sorry to hear what happened.
I’m so sorry, Emily. It’s crushing to lose a special part of your family. And I’m sure it was very difficult to write this post, but i appreciate that you did.
Hi Emily –
I am so sorry for your loss. I am a veterinarian, and we always send home the book CAT HEAVEN by Cynthia Rylant to clients when they lose a pet and have children in their family. I think it’s a nice bridge to help children understand that their pet is no longer suffering and at peace. To be honest, sometimes the book helps adults heal too (be prepared to cry!). I feel for you as you grapple with this loss and I know your immense sadness. It’s obvious that both Bearcat adn Mimi were a big part of your family, and I know he will live on in your heart forever.
My daughter – she’s four – always wants to come to the vet when we bring our cat. So there we were, for a normal wellness visit thankfully, and my daughter saw Cat Heaven on the little bookshelf in the room. She asked me to read it to her, but I could barely make it through the story! It really is a gentle way to introduce the concept of pet death, and what happens to the cats afterward is sweet. I’m tearing up just thinking about it.
Emily, I’m so sorry about your kitties.
I wish I had bought it!!! It’s so funny because Brian doesn’t believe in “heaven” so he was like ‘do we have to use that word?’ so we debated but then I said no, I guess not. but then GUESS WHO USED THAT WORD WHEN OUR KIDS WERE ASKING WHERE THE CAT’S SOULS WERE? Brian Henderson 🙂 He said ‘they are in kitty heaven’ and later he said ‘It just seemed like the right thing to say!’
Thank you. Such a helpful post.
And so funny about Brian’s explanation. My husband also doesn’t believe in heaven or God and wants to explain everything with science. However, my 3 year old twins reached the “why” stage recently and I just over heard my husband answer the 5th of a chain of “why” questions with, “God”. I was like, what!?!?
Oh boy. This one hit so close to home. My cat Olive is 14 and has gotten so thin over the past couple of months. We’ve narrowed down the cause to something GI-related but she will. not. eat. I have to sit with her on the floor and coax her to take a bite. It’s honestly the most time I’ve spent with her in a while because I have a 3.5 year old and a 1 year old and… life. That guilt you wrote about is so heavy for me. Before I had babies, she was my baby. She was the most spoiled cat and there’s a part of me that thinks she’s gotten to this point because I’ve neglected her. Not physically but emotionally. She knows she’s in 3rd place now, and there was no avoiding it but it makes me so, so sad. She’s a wonderful cat and it breaks my heart to think of our family losing her. I’m so sorry you went through this; thank you for sharing the story and making me feel not so alone. Giving insight on how you told your little ones is really helpful too. Sending a hug and sympathy.
AH, i’m so sorry. Do the glove analogy thing if it feels right. Who knows how much they understand but 1/2 of this battle is also feeling like you did the right thing as a parent and performing an analogy about souls and bodies made me feel like I was at least not phoning it in and just like ‘they are dead and in heaven’. they have a physical and visual way to process what that all means. but who knows 🙂
First, I’m sorry for your loss. Seriously. Second, this reminds me of when we lost one of our cats three years ago. He wasn’t that old. He loved to go outside, and would run past our feet whenever we opened the front door (we could not stop him – if we locked him in a room he would just destroy the room, and if he was not locked away then he would get out either when we entered the home or when we let our dog out; I’d try to wait to feed him dinner until everyone was home / inside but so he’d stick around but even that didn’t work all the time). He had a bum leg so he was not the fastest cat (faster than us, but not faster than a dog). We think the neighbor’s dog got out and attacked our cat for fun, killing him (later, I found out that twilight was the most popular time of the day for animals to hunt, so it probably happened soon after our cat escaped when my husband came home that evening). We didn’t find the result right away because our neighbor’s house had an unkempt yard, but… Read more »
Oh dear. I can’t imagine finding that. I KNOW that allowing them to be indoor/outdoor reduced their life but they LOVED it and they were 14 so I just wanted them to lay in the sun in the grass, which they did. I’m grateful that having two small kids definitely softened the pain because I had to parent and I was just so grateful that my kids were alive. But i’m so sorry for your loss. That sound so traumatic. xx
I’m so sorry about your cats!!! I wish I could give you all hugs!
I am truly sorry. I went through similar issues with my German Shepherd after my daughter was born. I think it’s normal though. I feel I treat our beloved Maine Coon like a King since there is more time in the day to devote to him. My daughter is 14 now, so no more fighting to eat her vegetables, no more bath times, or please put your shoes back on so we can go. In a few years that balance will return. Thanks for sharing.
So 14 is the age that they’ll stop battling? 🙂 JK. I know its earlier, but birdie just entered 3 and I’m like OH RIGHT WE ARE BACK TO THIS??? Charlie has gotten better at almost 5, but her ‘NO! I WON’T’ reaction to say, putting on shoes, is REMARKABLE. Yet again 🙂 Anyway, yes. We need some years to properly care and love a pet again while giving our kids what they need. If we could just let them be indoor/outdoor we would (dogs and cats) but living in a neighborhood with cars we just can’t. (we grew up so far out in the country that our dogs/cats would just wander so we didn’t really have to ‘care’ for them. just snuggle them at night.
i’m SO SORRY. as a person with cats, dogs, frogs, chickens, and sometimes other critters [as well as a 10 year old] i relate to everything here. i hope you don’t carry the guilt over any of it – i am sure you guys were an amazing home for those kitties over 13 years!! they were beautiful, and i know that once it’s not so fresh you will think of them without the pain. [first comment; love your work]
thank you : )
Thank you for sharing this, and I’m so sorry for your loss. Like you, I have two older cats and two little kids. My baby in particular is obsessed with the cats. Last night as I was giving him his bottle to go to sleep, our cat Eva came over and snuggled with us and my son gently pet her fur as he drifted off. It was so incredibly sweet. One day, I’ll hsve to be in your shoes and through my tears I’m sure I’ll be googling for this blog post as I figure out how to tell my kids…
ah, i hope you don’t have to, but i hope this helps. xx
I am so so sorry for your loss, Emily. It is heartbreaking to lose a pet, especially when it feels unexpected.
Your approach seems so appropriate for their ages, and kids say really weird things and process things in ways we can’t control – totally not a parenting fail. Don’t be too hard on yourself for Charlie’s connecting the two – he might not really think of them as replacements, but just close in time. And thank you for sharing the glove technique – that is a really lovely way to help them think about it.
Also – what I learned back when my 2nd grader was 4, is that they often get obsessed with death, full stop. And sometimes it happens for a year or two, or longer. I found the Longest Shortest Time podcast around that time, and Hillary’s daughter was going through the same thing so they did a few shows about it. It’s a really interesting listen, if you don’t already. https://longestshortesttime.com/search?q=death
Hugs all around for you and your family.
OH that is so interesting. we have a friend who’s child is obsessed with death (and she is lovely and normal, too) and we wondered why. It’s like why are boys obsessed with guns (just read about that the other day which made me feel better). Charlie is entering the ‘death’ stage a little bit with his grandparents…asking them when they are going to die, asking us, etc, and that’s why we were so ‘oh no!! now he’s going to worry even more!!!’. I’m going to listen to that. thank you! xx
so sorry!! you’re in my thoughts.
Ugh Emily I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine. They were such lucky cats to have a loving home. Prayers for you and your littles!
Emily – I’m sorry for the family’s loss. We have a mentally challenged 12 year old and have lost a couple of cats over the last 6 years. No matter how you break the news, you can’t control how a child will react or process the loss. We’ve done what we can in the presentation, in much the same way you have, but kids are both unpredictable and have their own ways of moving through grief. You just have to sit with them through all the questions and sadness until they find their own resolution (and hopefully you nudge them in positive/healthy ways). You are good parents.
Or, in our case, in spite of all that, your kid asks their 90 and 100 year old grandparents if they are going to die this year because they are even older than the cats that died. Obviously I did an awesome job…
OMG. 90 and 100! amazing. yes, that is what our kids just started doing – asking when they are going to die because they have said themselves that they are ‘old’.. And by the way we have eliminated the word ‘old’ unless spoken about in a positive way in our house. its up there with the word ‘fat’ and ‘skinny’ – we just emphasize being healthy. See … i told you we are conservative 🙂
I’m so sorry, Emily. A similar thing happened to my perfect, amazing cat, Binky. He was found on my neighbors front lawn and we will never know what happened. I feel guilty that he died outside, but he was so much happier being indoor/outdoor.
We had a little memorial service for him and my brother-in-law, drove almost an hour each way on a school night to bring his kids. They were older, maybe 6 and 9, but he wanted them to experience it since their dog was getting older and he wanted to start preparing them. They got to share their favorite memories of Binky with us. I thought my brother-in-law was crazy, but now that I’m a mom it seems like it was a pretty solid parenting move on his part!
ah, thats so sweet! growing up with did a memorial, too, and buried them but I guess you can’t in a city (we looked it up). Looking through old photos kinda felt like one though … but if they were older I think thats a GREAT thing to do.
Ohhh, Emily. I’m sorry.
We have to put our 9yo Great Dane down in about a week and I can’t thank you enough for sharing all that you did – the grief, the guilt, the mistakes, everything. We have the benefit of knowing and preparing ahead of time; we can give our 2 and 3 year olds a heads up and let them say goodbye (which is going to be the hardest part).
Harley has a great life for the first six or seven years, and then we had our kids and I never loved him any less than before, but there was less time for him and he slept a lot. The vet says he has cancer and dementia and he’s dying/in some pain. We’re giving him lots of cuddles and love and treats in the last week of his life. He’s the best dog I’ve ever known.
ah, i’m so sorry. so so sorry. thinking of you and your kiddos. xx
This breaks my heart. Losing a pet is one of the hardest things to go through, I still remember losing my first dog when I was young. It never gets any easier with any other pet BUT I think the pain is worth all the good memories and happiness that pets bring to our lives. It just comes at such an awful cost. I’m so sorry you had to go through that. Rest in Peace Bearcat and Mimi <3
I’m so sorry for the loss of Bearcat and Mimi. It hurts no matter how long you have them. I know when our cat Possum died my eldest son had to ask to be excused from his science class because he was so upset, and he was a teenager. We lasted a whole 6 days without a cat (we got one from the RSPCA on the Saturday after Possum had died on Monday). When you’re up to looking for another cat, can I suggest you go here: https://www.facebook.com/SarahsKittenCuddleRoom/. Sarah fosters for Kitten Rescue in LA, and raises the most affectionate, snuggly kittens.
oh thats so sweet RE Sara. I will definitely recommend. xx
Thank you for sharing and opening up what is of course a really painful topic to lots and lots of people. I am holding my breath before reading the comments hoping no one is a jerk. But I wanted to tell you that you helped this mom.
I am so sorry for your loss Emily! I lost my cat, Capri, in the Spring and it is always devastating to lose a pet. I struggled with guilt too, I think most people do. Your kiddos are lucky to have two parents so invested in their emotional wellbeing. Take care!
I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your cats, Bear especially. Some relationships we experience are so rare. As for Mimi? Well we can’t always choose our family! But gosh I think you gave her a real gift by releasing her from her pain. And you know what else? I just can’t believe that Bear choked on the chicken. They were lucky to be part of your family. You take good care and please get yourself a copy of Cynthia Rylant’s Cat Heaven. I think it might help you feel better and the kids will like it too. Thank you for sharing this with us.
I’m so sorry, Emily. Truly. I cried as I read this because I’ve been there, and it is so hard. We’ve had two cats pass away, both of whom were our babies. For what it’s worth, I think you and Brian did a wonderful job handling the situation with your kids. You were thoughtful and intentional and focused on their needs and what was right for your family. That’s as much as any parent could hope to do in any situation, and I think you handled it beautifully. ?
ah, thank you very very very very much. xx
I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m glad you found a productive way to talk about the loss of your pets to your children, but my one comment is I hope you can come to feel more comfortable talking about the potential for bad things to happen more easily. I understand you want to protect your children from negativity, but as someone who lost a parent and grandparent young, I really wish someone would have told me what was going on. Everyone tried to shelter me and what I actually needed was honesty. Knowing that something could happen to you or elderly relatives at any time makes it’s possibility less..I don’t know, shocking? It’s obviously not something you need to talk about all the time but discussing death doesn’t have to be a negativity to protect them from. It happens, and being prepared for that makes everything easier to process in my opinion. I hope you find solace in your grief.
Erica, from a different perspective– my family is Italian and I’m not sure if it’s cultural (which I’ve always thought) or just us, but we are slightly obsessed with the idea of dying despite the fact that everyone in my family pretty much reaches 100. I remember the idea that “my grandmother might die any minute, and every holiday might be our last” lasting for literally decades. My grandmother will be celebrating her 100th birthday next month, and while death will happen when it happens, as it does for all of us, I can’t help feeling like this dark guilty cloud hung over the past 3 decades of her life and really feel like worrying about it won’t stop the inevitable from happening. But, maybe this is just one of those situations where there’s really no right answer- death is just a difficult reality of all life, and despite that, there’s not really a great way to prepare for the inevitability of it- especially in an age when we think we can make everything better somehow.
Erica, I’m so sorry for the losses you experienced when you were young, no matter the circumstances, experiencing loss at a young age is incredibly difficult. I worked with pediatric hospice patients and their siblings (in the setting of bereavement). From this I’ve learned the importance of teaching children about death and to use concrete language, “died” rather than “passed away” and NEVER “they’re sleeping.” It’s also important to be honest when prognosis for a loved one isn’t good and not to shield them from all of your own tears. Children can tell when adults are sad/suffering, it’s good to show them that emotions are normal and okay (obviously with sensitivity to their developmental age). Using the death of a pet (or even a bug) is a great way to teach children about the concept of death. It’s much more difficult for us as adults/protectors but it is very helpful when done with sensitivity (as Emily was/is clearly trying to do). For anyone who knows a grieving child or who has a loved one with a serious illness, The Dougy Center is an excellent resource. There’s even a tip sheet on talking to preschoolers about death among many other excellent… Read more »
I love this conversation, it was just hard since it was the first time talking about death at all. I KNOW that when/if someone close to us dies that we won’t shield it from our kids, I promise. Sure we may act stronger in front of them just to make sure that they feel safe and secure (and not watching parenting bawling all day long as they wonder WTF is up with the world) but I totally agree – we shelter against unnecessary negatives, but when a loved one dies its SO important to talk (they just don’t need to hear us talk about the Yemen refugee crisis at the dinner table YET, unless we are doing it in a productive way talking about how to help other kids). But when they are 8 and 10, they’ll get involved 🙂 Meanwhile, they know that tuesday is election day 🙂
i appreciate this post so much. It is hard losing pets. Thinking of you and your family! And thank you for the great advice on how to talk about death with kids.
So sorry for your loss of two beloved kittys. Thank you for sharing the struggle and turmoil of “what ifs” and sharing the truth with your children.
I’m so sorry for your loss!
I know how it feels, truly. The guilt is just part of the process, but I hope with time you’ll be able to move past it and realize that sometimes circumstances just are what they are and life just sucks hard sometimes.
We sure miss our furry babies though. And now I’m crying. Anyway, thank you for sharing with us.
So sorry for your loss. We had to put down our 12 year old dog a few months ago, and it is soooooo hard. The house still feels off. Thank you for sharing.
I’m very sorry for your loss. Very sorry. It is never easy, especially when you have an animal so long and through so many big life experiences. Obviously, you won’t ever know for sure, but please don’t feel guilty about the chicken being left outside. My husband is a veterinarian and chicken is often ‘prescribed’ for sick cats or picky cats b/c cats are naturally carnivorous and chicken is easy on their stomachs. Even if you didn’t cut the pieces small enough, your cat with her sharp teeth could easily have shredded the chicken smaller. Please let go of that guilt! Advice I was given when my mother died (I was pregnant and had a few young children who were really close to her – in fact, we lived with her that summer b/c my husband was doing a veterinary internship in the area.) was to speak of her often to my kids. Force it… “Bearcat would have loved that toy. Bearcat would have layed right there in the sunshine. Mimi would have gobbled up that chicken and then snuggled on dad’s lap.” When you don’t speak of your loved one, it becomes harder and harder to speak about them… Read more »
Yes I totally agree! I tried to not talk about losing my dog this past summer with my 6 year old son. We told him our dog Vader died but I didn’t want to traumatize him with all of my tears. And then after about a week, he started saying things like “remember how soft Vader’s ears were?” or “remember how much he loved to swim in the pool?”. It helped us both move past the sadness and remember what he was like when he wasn’t old and sick. It was wonderful to bring back those memories!
I LOVE THIS. I brought her up the other day and realized I hadn’t in a week or so and felt bad. It does make them and you feel kinda bad for a second but this advice reminds me that its necessary work to process it properly. xx
So sorry to hear this.
The glove analogy is awesome. Also, I’ll never forget how for like the first six months I was reading your blog, I thought Bearcat was your husband. ??
OMG. that seriously made me laugh SO HARD OUT LOUD. just the comic relief I needed. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU. xx
You are such a wonderful person. Thank you for sharing something so personal and meaningful.
Oh Emily Brian and kiddos, I’m so sorry! It’s awful to lose a pet — they are constant sources of unconditional love and they hold a piece of our family story. It’s so hard to create a new normal without them as part of the regular day. But THANK GOD for moms. Brilliant, Emily’s mom, thank you for that glove example. Today is the 8 year anniversary of my dad’s sudden passing and though we talk about him and heaven often, it’s hard to explain to a 3 and a half and 1 year old. At dinner we do a mad/sad/glad game where we each talk about one thing from our day that made us feel each (thank you Jenny Rosenstrach and Dinner: A Love Story for that one). Last night I wanted to be honest about my sad in missing my dad, but want to keep it age appropriate as we too are in the protecting them camp. So our 3 year old was asking a bunch of questions and the glove analogy would come in so handy – pun very much intended. We call this my dads Feast Day (I grew up catholic and all of the saints… Read more »
Such a thoughtful comment. THANK YOU. Yes to mad/sad/glad – we try it but the kids are still a bit young. tHey basically just say the last thing that happened to them (Charlie is getting better). But yes to bearcat and mimi feast day!!! What a great idea. and you KNOW i love any reason to celebrate ANYTHING. So yes, we’ll do that 🙂
Oh Emily, I’m so sorry for your loss. Unfortunately I know how this feels. Exactly one year ago we had to put our cat down, two weeks after bringing our newborn daughter home from the hospital. He was the best boy, and sounds so much like Bear, but had been sick for a long time and his quality of life had diminished considerably. It broke me and I don’t think I’ll ever stop missing him. Sending you hugs. Xo
I’m so sorry Emily! I’ve been through the same loss-2 cats (litter mates) and one died of kidney disease and the other was so sick I couldn’t afford the treatments and had to put him down. I still miss them and think about them and their purring all the time! Don’t be so hard on yourselves! You’re doing a great job and being so caring with your children. And it’s ok to cry and for them to see you cry. It’s only natural-kids cry all the time! My thoughts are with you.
So sorry about the sudden loss of your fur babies. Thanks for sharing and being so honest about your experience. I hope any remaining guilt you have will release its hold on you. ?
I’m sorry Emily. I can’t imagine how hard that was for you to write. I started crying almost immediately while reading it.
We said goodbye to our senior dog a year and a half ago. I never understood until that season how heart wrenching it is to say goodbye to a pet. I sobbed for months. The best thing a friend of mine did for me was getting me a “pet portrait”. I am so glad to have a cool piece of art with our little dog’s face. 🙂 So sorry for your loss. It is the worst. Glad that Bearcat and Mimi spent so many years feeling loved and cared for by your family.
Thank you for sharing about how your relationship with your cats changed after you had kids. This really reasonated with me. I struggle with this guilt DAILY as my pomeranian used to be my furbaby and best furiend but now with a 2 year old it’s just not the same. I know he feels neglected and it pains me to think I’m not giving him the love and attention he deserves. I appreciate you sharing about dead too as I know that conversation is coming as well with aging parents. Sending you big hugs!
the only reason I felt brave enough to write it is because literally every single family I know that was in a similar position felt the same way. so i was like, I KNOW this might have a backlash but more people will relate to it than not. xx
Sending you and your family warm thoughts and internet hugs. Our 4 & 6 year old daughters are also in the phase of being very curious about death and it really feels like a parenting booby-trap sometimes. We are all winging it and doing our best.
Emily – I’m so very sorry. Over the years we have lost many dogs and a couple of cats – most thankfully from old age – but still the pain is real and not easily overcome. When we lost our last dog – he was 16 years old and we’d been taking him to the vet every month as he had multiple health issues. We’d told ourselves that as long as he seemed happy & not in pain, we would not do anything differently and thankfully our vet agreed with this. My greatest fear was that he would pass away when I was alone and somehow I believe he knew this as he passed away when my husband was at home and we could both be with him. We are hoping this gave him comfort as well. Now this dog was very special – our child is grown but we entertain many friends and co-workers that have young children. Several of the children were afraid of dogs and many had never been around dogs before, so it was especially nerve wracking when young children were around. But Shadow was up for the challenge – he allowed all these children to… Read more »
ah, shadow sounds VERY sweet. I’m sorry for your loss. xx
I’m so sorry Emily. This is the worst part of having pets. Bearcat, Mimi, and you were all lucky to have each other.
Our beautiful, awesome, fluffy, 18 year old, Star-kitty died when our son was 5. We read a book that the vet recommended. He had a similar reaction to Charlie with immediate sadness, and talked about it at school right after (we did give the teacher a heads up.) Then, within a couple days he seemed “over it,” much more so than myself & my husband. After all, she had been our baby for a long time before our son arrived. Weeks, months & even years later, my now 13 year old son, out of the blue will get sad and say, “I sure miss Star-kitty.” Think about how you want to respond to that, because surprisingly it may be a similar response to how you respond to the same comment about other loved ones that are lost. Our response is something along the lines of “it’s ok to miss her and be sad, also remember how happy she made us.” Then, it prompts us to recall a funny or sweet memory about her, and we move on, feeling a little bit better. What surprised me is that years later when we lost our beloved sister in-law (kiddo’s Aunt) and we’d… Read more »
I love that. recognize the sadness but shift it to positivity. GREAT. doing that from now on. xx
I’m so sorry for your loss! I held my cat in my arms and cried the whole time while reading this.
Truely the worst part of owning a pet is knowing you will live with them and love them for 10-20 years and then they will die.
I’m so sorry for your loss, Emily. Pets have a way of burrowing (or snuggling) into our hearts so deeply. It hurts so much to lose them. This was a wonderful tribute. Love to you and your family.
Laughing, crying, choking on my coffee. I’m sorry for your loss, Emily, but love that you’re sharing your story here. It sounds like Charlie is processing the situation just like a 5 year old. Maybe a little blunt to our elder ears, but it is what it is. My DIL introduced the concept of the Rainbow Bridge to her children very early. They entered the world over it and the wildlife they’ve found dead returned on the very same bridge. One day the children were playing with a bunch of balloons at my house. I corralled them into a closet for the next day. The five year old opened the closet in the morning, pulled out a deflated balloon and said, “Uh-oh, this one’s going over the Rainbow Bridge.” It makes me happy to know they will be ready to accept my journey when that day comes.
Oh i love that and i’m going to google that and learn more about ‘rainbow bridge’. thank you!
I’m so sorry for your losses 🙁 We lost one of our cats unexpectedly and I was honestly shocked at how much it hurt. You never realize how integrated pets become into the fabric of your life until you lose one.
Your words on pet parenting after baby really, REALLY resonated with me. We have two cats and a toddler, and after a 5am wake up from a cat locked in a closet (yes, of course he peed) I found myself exactly the same way you described. So annoyed with the responsibility of pets, and so guilty for feeling annoyed.
Thanks for sharing. We lost our childhood dog as an adult and I was so, so sad. We recently got a puppy and as I watched my three year old play with him my heart stung for what’s to come – hopefully many, many years down the road. Lucky are those who love.