The end of last week dealt us with the challenge of nursing a sick pet and finally having to say goodbye. Of course when you get pets you are aware that at some point they will die (unless they are a tortoise, like our other pet Tiggy, who will probably survive us all!). But, I was still not prepared for how to deal with it.
One morning last week I discovered one of our chickens (actually my favourite, Blueberry) collapsed. I showed her the water and food in an attempt to get her to drink and eat but she was extremely weak and not at all interested. I decided to bring her up to the house where we fed her water and yoghurt with a calpol syringe (not calpol though!) for a few days. At times she seemed to be pepping up but on the second morning she was even more lethargic and we decided to take her to the vet. At this point I was pretty sure that she wouldn’t be coming home so I prepared the Ps for this outcome and we headed to the vet. Obviously when you home educate your children it’s impossible to do things like this without them, but it is also an important life lesson (and as Pickle is interested in working with animals when she grows up she was actually quite excited about her first visit to the vets!)
The inevitable happened and the vet and I concluded (with the 3 Ps listening on) that the fairest outcome would be to euthanize Blueberry and say goodbye 😦 The vet left us for a few minutes and we all had a cuddle; Poppet and I both had a little cry while Pickle held it together and Piccalilli just kept kissing Blueberry! Now I know some people will be reading this thinking “It’s just a chicken” and I even said to the vet that I didn’t know why I was getting upset over a chicken, but as she said: she’s a pet with her own personality who became a part of our family.
We returned home where Pickle disappeared off and I realised she’d gone off to have a cry – she is very private about her emotions and when I went to give her a cuddle she initially didn’t want me to see her crying but I explained that it’s ok to be sad because we all loved Blueberry. She then decided that Blueberry had gone to be with Great Gran Audrey because she had loved birds 🙂
I feel that learning to deal with death is an important life lesson and these are my top tips on how to cope with this tricky time:
Don’t hide your own feelings. If you feel sad don’t worry about showing your children. If you don’t feel sad, make sure you respect their grief and help them to express their feelings – they shouldn’t feel ashamed or guilty and should feel proud of themselves for their level of care and compassion.
Involve them. Where possible let them be a part of the process and give them a chance to say goodbye if you decide to euthanize your pet. Obviously not everyone would want to take their children to the vet with them, but it definitely helped the Ps to see the vet trying her best to help Blueberry.
Reassure them that they weren’t responsible in any way. They also might need reassurance about significant others in their lives. The evening after we said goodbye to Blueberry, Pickle had a big wobble at bedtime so we had a long chat about her feelings and worries.
It can also help to think about the developmental stage of the child involved as their comprehension of death changes as they grow up:
Birth to two years
- no real understanding of death
- can sense emotions of those around them
- may show some signs of irritability
- need reassurance and usual routines
Two to five years
- do not understand that death is irreversible and struggle with abstract concepts such as ‘heaven’
- pick up on emotions of those around them
- may show irritability or regression
- will usually ask lots of questions but only capable of showing sadness for short periods of time
- need reassurance, usual routines and concrete words (avoid “Blueberry has gone to sleep”)
Five to ten years
- begin to understand the finality of death
- might be very fearful or fascinated
- could display aggression or somatic symptoms
- will need to talk and be able to ask questions
- stick to concrete words
- more aware of the finality of death
- often less willing to open up
- Somatic symptoms and anger or guilt
- will need to be given time to discuss their concerns
We are all missing Blueberry but I think the Ps have dealt very well with the experience.