How do I explain?

(6 Posts)
igivein Mon 19-Apr-10 10:08:20

First of all, can I apologise if anyone thinks the death of a pet is too trivial for this topic, but i didn't know where else to put it.
We have a 14 year old collie cross dog who has been diagnosed with lymphoma. Her prognosis is bleak, she may live up to a month, but could go within days.
She's recieving palliative care from the vet, and when this isn't helping any more, we have decided that she should be put to sleep rather than suffer further.
I also have a three and a half year old son who loves 'his' dog. How do i go about explaining this to him. He knows she's really poorly, and he has to be kind to her, but how do we explain when the time comes for her to be put to sleep?
I'd thought of saying something along the lines of 'She's very old and very poorly, and she couldn't go on any more so she died. It's like she's gone to sleep and won't ever wake up, so we won't see here any more, but we'll still remember her and love her.'
I thought this was ok until a friend pointed out that he might get scared of going to sleep, in case he didn't wake up again.
Also, is it ok for him to see us upset - I'm welling up just typing this, so goodness knows what I'll be like when the time comes

OP’s posts: |
thirtysomething Mon 19-Apr-10 10:15:35

Really sorry to hear this, it's devestating when a much-loved family pet dies.

DS probably won't really grasp the concept but (as a trained bereavement counsellor) I would recommend using the proper words so he doesn't get confused. We tend to use too many euphemisms and all they do is confuse children and make death seem something shameful that has to be discussed in hushed tones. Handled well this will be an important first experience of bereavement for him.

Yes, it is healthy for him to see you upset if you are - tears are a normal response to a death in the family including pets and if you try to hide it he will internalise an idea that tears/grief are "bad" and have to be hidden away. it will help him think his own feelings are acceptable if you model healthy grief responses.

Most children tend to be very upset for a day or so but bounce back very quickly and forget pets far more quickly than we do. You could create a memory box with him for photos etc of your lovely dog and that way he will learn valuable lessons about it being good to find ways of remembering people and pets after they die.

You could say that it's a different kind of sleep and that only vets can cause it, to take away the anxiety? Or just simply say the vet will given an injection so the dog dies peacefully and without pain.

Good luck it's a very difficult decision to make

throckenholt Mon 19-Apr-10 10:16:00

I would pretty much say what you say - but say it will feel like going to sleep for her. But actually the vet gives her very strong medicine to make her body stop working.

This is the kindest thing for her - because she is so old and sad now.

Kids are very pragmatic and resilient - he will probably happily take it in his stride. You however will probably be floored by it for a while - so don't be afraid to let him see you are sad - it is a good way for him to learn you are allowed to be sad, and it isn't scary.

Will you be burying her in your garden ? If so let him be involved in digging the grave and such like - it all helps with their understanding.

And talk about her a lot, look at photos etc. Treat it as a chance to learn about death in a positive and non scary way.

My oldest was 3 when our next door neighbour (who he was great friends with) died - he really was ok with it - but did asks lots of questions and still talks about him occasionally.

throckenholt Mon 19-Apr-10 10:19:27

by the way - we have also been through the family pet loss - but he youngest child was about 5 then - which is why I mentioned my neighbour, as my child was a similar age then.

igivein Mon 19-Apr-10 10:42:35

Thirtysomething and throcken, thanks for your thoughtful responses.
I will definitely say she has died, it was the explanation of what death is that was difficult - after all, who knows what death is.
I think me being upset might frighten him a little, he's never seen me cry before, but I suppose grief is something he has to learn about, abd as you say it might be better for him to come across it whilst he's young enough to just take it in his stride.

OP’s posts: |
bishboschone Tue 20-Apr-10 20:39:29

can I just add. My beloved horse died when my dd was 3. She was very much part of both our lives and my dd was very fond of her. I had my horse put down but I didn't go into that I just told my dd she was old and ill and died and that we won't be seeing her again. She asked me where she has gone and I told dd that I didn't know but she was somewhere safe and happy . I think honesty is so much better in the long run. My dd saw me cry and it did upset her but she seemed to understand that it was best for horse as she was old.
my dd really seemed to understand and accept it and we talk about horse with fond and happy memories.
I wholeheartedly agree that this situation handled well will help in the future with dealing with death and the whole sleep thing confuses them.

good luck and I am sorry about your dog, losing a much loved pet is rough.

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