Handling a Pet’s Death, Preschooler-Style
Dec 11, 2012 | Filed Under: Candy's Column, Our Crazy Cats
I dreaded telling Miss Skye that Marcy had passed away. The concept of death is hard for me to wrap my head around, let alone a child who had spent most every day of her three years of life with the cat — with whom she was obsessed — only to wake up and find out she is gone forever. Skye staked her claim on Marcy early on, declaring that she was her “baby” and treating her as such. Despite my initial anxiety about how the kids would treat our cats, Skye never so much as yanked a whisker or pulled a fluffy tail.
To my even greater surprise, Marcy seemed to enjoy Skye’s attention and incessant fussing. Or perhaps she was just so desperate for love at that point — pets really do become second-class citizens once you have kids — that she was willing to take it in any form. Even if that meant having to wear dish towels as a scarf.
In any case, Skye and Marcy were best buds. So when I broached the subject while serving dinner to our other cat, Lucy, on Sunday, I could literally hear my heart pounding in my chest. I had no plan, no script, no crazy suggestions from the perpetually entertaining Yahoo! Answers on how to discuss death with a young child. (Sidebar: I just looked some up because I can’t help myself. One helpful suggestion? “LET THE CHILD BURY THE CAT.” Um, no. Our kids’ shovels are strictly for making sand castles and hitting siblings on the head, thankyouverymuch.) All I was armed with were shaky hands, a cloudy head and a bowl full of Meow Mix.
Our conversation went something like this:
ME: So… Marcy isn’t here anymore.
SKYE: (Startled) Why?
ME: Well, she got really sick and we took her to the doctor last night.
SKYE: Marcy’s sick?
ME: Really sick. (Deep breath, choking back tears) She died, honey.
SKYE: Oh! (A look of sadness, then:) I only have one kitty now!
ME: That’s right. We’re all very sad. It’s okay to be sad…
SKYE: Yeah. (A second later) We feed Lucy now?
THAT WAS IT, PEOPLE. Where were the tears? The confusion? The increasingly distressed and hard-to-answer line of questioning about The Meaning of Death? Heck, a twisted seat belt gets more tears and drama from Skye than our poor Marcy dying. On the one hand, I was relieved Skye appeared to take it so well. But on the other? I have to admit, I was little ticked on Marcy’s behalf.
Oh, she probably just hasn’t fully processed what death means, I told myself. She may just think Marcy is sleeping at the doctor’s office or something.
Not content to let my daughter remain unfazed and well-adjusted — hey, I didn’t want to be the only one with a tear-stained face and red eyes around here — I may nor may not have needled her a bit at breakfast this morning. Because that’s the kind of nurturing mother I am.
ME: (Making the sad eyes) I bet Lucy’s really sad without Marcy around, huh?
SKYE: (Matter-of-factly) Yeah. Marcy died. She’s gone.
And that was that. Five minutes later, Skye proceeded to cry at the top of her lungs because I put M&Ms in her pancakes instead of chocolate chips. Displaced grief or simply the outrage of a chocolate expert’s offended delicate palate? It’s hard to say for certain; I’ll have to look it up on Yahoo! Answers.