Saying Goodbye to a Pet

Posted by on Dec 30, 2012 in Loss

Saying Goodbye to a Pet

“I was hoping Penny wouldn’t die in the night, but I thought she might.  I wanted two days with her. Today wasn’t very fun because we couldn’t pat Penny.”  Rachel, age 4

“I imagine her in a house sort of like ours, with colorful flowers all around.”  Clara, age 6

Yesterday morning as the snow began to fall, we buried our beloved cat, Penny, a 16-year-old tabby who was rescued from a dumpster as a newborn kitten and was adopted by my husband long before we even met each other.  Our two daughters, Clara and Rachel, helped to line her grave with some of Jeff’s old white undershirts, warm and fresh from the dryer just the way Penny loved them.  We also covered her with the shirts, but Rachel asked that we not cover her head.  Both girls chose to come inside with me while Daddy finished burying Penny.

Saying goodbye to a pet can be hard for any of us, but young children struggle uniquely.  Clara, who cried freely by the grave, took a moment alone to gather herself and then settled on the living room floor to make up stories with her LEGO emergency vehicles. Clara has spent these last couple of days coming to terms with the end of Penny’s life through words and tears and motherly attention to Penny.  During cuddle time before bed, she commented, “This is different than losing a fish,” and she went on to tell me all of the things that made this loss so much more painful.  In the most heart-breaking moments, Clara simply said, “I want my Penny back.  I want my Penny back the way she’s supposed to be.”  She understood, really for the first time, that her heart could hurt, just as her body hurts when she is physically injured.

Rachel, only four, has coped in her own way.  Yesterday morning, she said simply, “I’m sad Penny died in the night,” which she followed immediately with a funny comment meant to make us all laugh.  When others have cried, she has looked on quietly, often with a smile, and we have had to explain to Clara that this is okay,– that sometimes Rachel smiles and makes jokes in order to handle sad, nervous, and confused feelings.  In the kitchen this afternoon, Rachel went back and forth between Jeff and me several times, hugging our legs and saying “I love you.”  In the tub, she asked, “Penny is buried, right?” but when I invited her to talk more, she showed me that she was finished by changing the subject.  Tonight, she asked, “We don’t have a cat in the house any more, right?” and she lay against me for a hug.

Both girls wanted to imagine what Penny would have with her in heaven,– a house similar to ours, surrounded by flowers; heaps of warm clean laundry in which to snuggle; her food bowl, blueberry muffins, carrot bags, and plenty of deli turkey; a Christmas tree that would be lit always, with soft blankets under its branches; toys, birds to watch, leather shoes, and boxes; an endless supply of water to splash and to scoop up with her paw.  God would give Penny chin scratches and gentle pats all day long.

We spent time looking at pictures and videos, laughing most about Penny’s efforts to “be the baby” after Clara was born; Jeff and I would find her curled up in the pack-n-play, the infant car seat, the bouncer, and the bassinet, gazing up at us with paws curled in the air as if to say, “I’m the cutest.”  There are pictures of the girls as babies, reaching for Penny’s tail while she sits unaware on a windowsill.  The look on her face when being made to pose with the abandoned guinea pig I brought home can only be described as one of total disdain.  Many photos show her cuddled up with the girls’ baby dolls, stuffed animals, or shoes after they have gone to bed.

In these last couple of days as we have said goodbye to Penny, I am more grateful than ever before that we are a family who can talk openly about the hard things and who can cry together.  This morning, Clara was singing, “You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m tellin’ you why, Santa Claus is coming to town.”  When she finished, she said, “Mommy, there’s something I don’t agree with.  I understand about the pouting, but I don’t agree that we shouldn’t cry.  There’s nothing wrong with crying.”  Wisdom from a 6-year-old.

Penny Cat, you’ve been such a sweet and loving companion all of these years.  You’ve taught our girls about patience, gentleness, and loyalty.  You’ve stayed close when they’ve been sick or hurt.  You’ve given us many laughs.  You’ve witnessed all of our changes.  We’ll miss you.


About Lynn Davies

I am a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor with a Master of Science in Pastoral Counseling from Loyola University in Maryland. I have been in private practice for over fourteen years and have experience working with adults and adolescents, addressing a variety of issues: anxiety, depression, relationship problems, past or current trauma, eating disorders, self-mutilation, bereavement, parenting concerns, boundaries, and self-care.

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