Parenting: Death of pet is long-distance lesson

News-DemocratJuly 1, 2013 

One of our pets died while my daughter was visiting her grandmother.

It's hard enough to deal with the death of a pet while the child is home, but even harder when she is gone and having fun in a different state.

I didn't tell her right away, wanting to avoid upsetting her on her vacation. I avoided the topic for a couple of weeks, hoping I wouldn't have to upset her over the phone or via text.

Then, she specifically asked about her bunny. I hesitated. For a moment, I thought about letting the question pass and not answering at all. I even considered not being entirely truthful and telling her the rabbit was "resting well."

After a few moments pause, I told her the truth. I felt horrible that I had to pass on such sad information by phone. I would have rather been able to tell her face to face and be there to hug her and console her in her grief.

But, it didn't happen that way. I had to console her over the phone and tell her we had buried the rabbit under the oak tree near the house, next to our old dog and even older cat. I told her we wrapped the rabbit in one of her old baby blankets and buried her. I even told her I cried a bit.

She was a good rabbit, one that tolerated walking on a leash and was super well-behaved in the house. She didn't chew through a single wire and put the cats in their place when they got too close for her comfort.

I think she took some comfort in that, knowing we took the time and effort to bury her pet with the other pets we have lost over the years. We certainly have a growing pet cemetery, but that comes with being an animal-loving household. You love them and live with them and they become part of the family. Then, they die. And we grieve and kids learn about loss and death and sadness and the cycle of life.

Our family is a little bit different than many as we do raise our own meat animals and butcher at home, so, my daughter is familiar with death and accepts it as part of our lives. She separates the animals raised for food from the ones kept as pets. While any death is sad, losing a pet is a whole different level.

Losing an animal designated as a pet that was loved and treated like one of the family more difficult, especially from a distance. She never got the chance to say goodbye and I'm sure she feels bad for not being there when her bunny died. The poor kid harbors as much guilt as I do about some things.

I think she was a bit mad at me for not telling her right away that her rabbit died and I can't really blame her. I'd be mad at me too. I was mad at my mom when she didn't tell me right away my old horse had died. I was an adult then and the mare was living a good, retired life with my mom. I knew her death was coming but I was angry when my mom didn't tell me about it until a couple of weeks after she had died.

I guess, in my own way, I was trying to shield my daughter from the sadness that I knew was inevitable. I knew she'd have to know and grieve eventually, but I wanted to put it off until she was back at home and having a boring summer, instead of off on vacation and having all kinds of fabulous adventures. I didn't want that fun to be shadowed by loss.

Was waiting to tell her the right thing to do? I don't know. Did I save her any sadness by not telling her immediately that her beloved rabbit died? I haven't a clue. But, what's done is done and I can't undo it. If she's mad at me for waiting to tell her, then I deserve her anger and I'll learn from that mistake.

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