Losing a Pet as a Parent—Mommy Daze

There is always some new challenge that comes with parenting. Our newest one had to do with the unfortunate loss of our beloved family cat.

This wasn’t my first time losing a pet, nor was it my husband's, but it was the first time doing it as parents. I’m going to be honest, it sucks. It was hard enough dealing with my own rollercoaster of emotions in losing this cat, but seeing how hurt my boys have been has only doubled the heartache.

I don’t believe there is any ‘right’ way to handle losing a pet. Yet, for some reason, there’s this pressure as parents to ease our children through hurtful things in the ‘right’ way. When our 9-year old cat was diagnosed with cancer and the vet shared that it was inoperable, my husband and I sat down and discussed how we wanted to handle this with the kids. We knew our cat didn’t have much time left and we decided that we didn’t want him to suffer, and we certainly didn’t want our children to watch their best furry friend suffering either. We decided that when the cat showed signs of pain, which the vet told us what that might look like, we would peacefully have him put to sleep. It was an agonizing decision that I don’t wish on anyone, but we knew he wasn’t going to get better and we wanted him to have a good quality of life as long as possible.

We watched our cat closely for the next two weeks, making sure he didn’t miss out on his favorite activities like sitting in the window or laying on the kids’ beds during bedtime story book reading, despite being too weak to jump or climb the stairs anymore. Our kids could see their cat wasn’t ‘himself’ and we would tell them that he was sick. One evening, after a couple days of not eating or drinking, we saw him wander off to a far away spot of the house and not come out, despite our coaxing. The vet had told us this was a sign that he might be in pain, so tearfully my husband and I decided to have him put to sleep in the morning, if he didn’t pass away naturally overnight. The next morning, my husband carried the cat to the boys and had them give him a hug goodbye, telling them that he had become very, very sick and needed to go to the vet. I could see it in their little faces, they knew something was wrong. We waited until my husband returned home later before we sat down with them and explained that our cat had been too sick to fix and had died. Our boys understand death, and sadly have had to deal with it a lot in the past year as my husband’s Grandmother passed away last Fall, my Dad’s dog passed away over the winter, and my mother in-law’s cat just passed away a month ago. But of course, this was different for them, this was their own cat, and we all cried together that day, letting the boys feel and say whatever they needed to.

As my husband and I had suspected, our 6-year old son James handled it very matter-of-factly at first, saying that he had a feeling the cat was going to die because of how sick he had been. He then announced optimistically, “well, at least we still have Bert”, referring to our dog. On the other hand, our younger 4-year old Luke sobbed and sobbed, which didn’t surprise me because he is very emotional and still cries often thinking about those that have died. But as the weeks have passed, I’ve seen our kids mourn their cat more and more. Luke said he dreamt about petting him the other night and misses hugging him. James tears up when his cat isn’t there to greet him when we come home from somewhere, or when he isn’t there to jump up on the couch when we all watch a movie together. James asked us one day if we were going to have a funeral for our cat, so we decided to put together a little memorial service. I pulled together all the pictures and videos I could find of our cat over the past 9 years which I put together into a slideshow. As a parent, it was heart-wrenching to see all the sweet memories my children had with this cat over the years. While looking up the pictures, I had a good long cry and decided to write down all the things I would miss about this sweet cat. Writing out my feelings helps me to process, to mourn. For our boys, we got a flower pot they could paint and glue a picture of our cat onto. We then planted forget-me-not flowers in it that a sweet friend had sent us in a sympathy card. Our vet had made a beautiful clay paw-print of our cat’s paw, which we placed in the pot. It helped bring closure I think for our kids, and maybe for me too.

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Mandy Watts is a stay-at-home mom who lives in Crownsville with her husband, Justin, who runs their family business, and their two sons, 5-year-old James and 3-year-old Luke.

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