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all cats go to heaven…(part 2)

Oh-joy-lucy-cat

Oh-joy-lucy-cat

Sorry for the radio silence this morning, guys. Last night, our sweet cat Lucy passed away. She laid on the floor next to Bob's feet while we were eating dinner, let out a couple little growls, and went off to cat heaven. It was an unexpected and sad moment, but we were glad that we could be there with her as it happened. She was the cat that turned me into a cat person 14 years ago and allowed me to embrace the joy that animals can bring us.

I didn't really plan to share the news of another cat passing here my blog, since it wasn't too long ago that we said goodbye to our cat Bruce. But the difference this time is that Ruby was aware of Lucy. She knew that Lucy wasn't feeling well, and that I had taken her to the vet earlier that day. And Ruby was happy to see Lucy back at home and kept asking her, "Are you still sick, Lucy? Aw…you'll be okay." So when Lucy passed soon after we brought her home, we decided to tell Ruby about it and acknowledge that Lucy wouldn't be with us anymore. It all happened so fast that we didn't really know what to say except that "Lucy was really old and sick, and she's going to go play up in the clouds in cat heaven." Ruby hasn't heard the word "death" or "heaven" before so anything we said probably didn't make a whole lot of sense. She's been asking me all day, "I'm sad, mama. Where's Lucy? I want to see her…"

Because we've never had to introduce our toddler to this concept, I would love any tips from you guys on what you've told your children and how you explain the passing of a family member (pet or human). How real do you really get when they are so little?

57 comments

  1. I think you get pretty real. Kids don’t really have all the added baggage and sadness that adults have related with death. I’ve been telling my son about how his great-grandparents died, and why (they were sick). He asks questions and I answer them matter-of-factly. And then reinforce that they can ask more questions if they need to. I tend to parent from the assumption that it’s better they hear this stuff from me and then I can know what they know (they will make their own conclusions). Obviously you don’t want to get too detailed at too young of an age. But it is a very good opportunity for you to talk Ruby through what is happening.

  2. I’m so sorry for your loss, Joy. I wish I had any helpful experience with this (explaining loss children), but sadly I don’t. I’m sure there will be some wonderful words of wisdom from parents here before I’m done typing. Just wanted to extend our thoughts and love from the whole DS team. xo

  3. When I was little (5 or 6) my mom had to put her much-loved cat to sleep. She told me that when cats know they are going to die, they go find a special private place to lay down and go to sleep forever. She said it was because he loved us so much that he didn’t want us to have to see him die. I don’t know what I think of this as a parent, but as a child it comforted me to think that our cat loved us so much.

  4. Sorry to hear about your loss. I have really liked the book “Lifetimes – The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children” It is matter of fact, simple, elegant, and explains that different creatures have different lifetimes.

  5. My son’s father passed away unexpectedly in a motor bike accident when my son was 5. He lived 10 hours away from us, so my son didn’t see him a lot, but telling him he no longer had a daddy was very hard. At the age of 5, he also asked if his dad was in heaven and what would happen to his stuff. I decided to approach it gently with him as I just wanted him to be able to deal with it the healthiest way. I let him talk about it and still do, whenever he wants to. I made him a picture book filled with every picture of his daddy or him and his daddy. This way whenever he missed him or wanted to see him, all he had to do was open his book. My son is now 12, I am married to an amazing man who is a fantastic step-father. I think my advice from our experience is to just be open and talk about it. Let them ask whatever they need to in order to understand death and to allow them to grieve…and the most important…love on them!

  6. Well I tweeted it, but I guess I will say it here too. First, I am very sorry about the loss, as adults we get it more worse then kids.
    I lost my dog last year. car accident. I saw how my dog left me. for me it was hard, as I was attached very much. I still feel her under the sheets, even if I got a new dog. it’s not the same. another love.
    But. Our friends have a toddler, little girl 🙂 she was and is loving our mousy very much. at first we told, that was an accident and mousy left us, went into the heaven and that was enough. but later on, she made me a sorry card regarding mousy. and told, that she believes that mousy is happy somewhere in a rainbow world. was so thankful for that simplicity.
    even if she sometimes still asks “would mousy come to my birthday from the rainbow” ?
    in all. kids are smart and they understand everything. You need to speak with them through their language. simply, soft and easy. you will see how thy will help You through their own world.
    one more time, sorry regarding loss.
    Lin from LT

  7. When my granddad passed my niece, Brenna, asked why everyone was sad, my sister explained that Great PopPop had gone to heaven, just like Ivy (their lab who had passed away a few months earlier) Brenna was quiet for awhile and then asked if we were going to bury Great PopPop in Nana and PopPop’s yard- just like Ivy.
    She understood that she wouldn’t see either of them again and out laughter made everyone feel better.

  8. It is so hard to say goodbye to a pet. You and your family have my sympathy. As for advice, my guess is that you will know exactly what is right for your daughter. One thing you might want to be careful of, is to be sure your daughter understands that not everyone who is sick, or even old and sick, will die. If she comes to that sort of conclusion, it could be pretty frightening for her.

  9. I’m sorry for your loss. I highly recommend the book called “Talking to Children About Loss” by Maria Trozzi. I have had the chance to hear her speak a couple of times about the developmental stages with regards to loss ,and she’s wonderful. I purchased the book as a reference for talking with my own daughter. It’s given me so much guidance when having to talk about death- from a pet to a family member.

  10. Please let me recommend the book “Cat Heaven” by Cynthia Rylant. While it is not intended to address the loss factor, it does provide a lovely and wistful world for imagining where your pet is now. My mom bought “Dog Heaven” for my sister and I when our first dog passed away, and now, many years and a few dogs later, it is still the book I go to – and send to friends – when they’ve experienced the loss of a dear pet.

  11. My kitty passed away five years ago and I think about her every single day. When my niece’s kitty passed away, I told her that Ellis loved her very much, but had to go away because he was very ill and although he tried his best to hold on, just wasn’t able to. But, I told her that Ellis loved her very much and he wanted her to always remember the good times they spent together, the snuggles, the laughs, and the hours and hours of silly fun. I told her he would always remember her. We put one of his toys on her bookcase with a photo of him. She really loves having his photo. Hope that helps in some way. I’m so sorry for your family’s loss. I know it’s so difficult. xo

  12. I second Cat Heaven by Cynthia Rylant. Our dog passed away a few months ago and it was the only way our 3 year old was able process it. He still talks about our dog being in heaven.

  13. When I was in college my childhood dog passed away at thirteen years old. At the time, my stepmom would watch her grandson once a week at my parent’s house. Week after week, he would ask where Maggie (the dog) had gone and week after week she tried to explain death in toddler terms. Finally, one week he asked if Maggie had gone to live with me and she complied. He was too young to understand death but being gone somewhere else made sense.
    So very sorry for your loss. Pets are such a part of our lives and families.

  14. I’m sorry for the loss of your sweet cat. My dad’s brother and sister were Bruce and Lucy, so your cat-naming style makes me smile, even though our Lucy passed recently too. It seems to me that so many kids books address death at least cursorily, and after the conversations you’ve had with Ruby, I think she’ll get it and process the loss pretty naturally. xo

  15. At the developmental stage your daughter is in it is important to be clear and upfront by using the terms death, dying or dead. It is difficult for adults, but understandable for young children; as well as they are dead if they cannot “eat, breathe or poop” is also a good term for this age. By using terms as “put to sleep”, “gone away” or “gone to heaven” some young children can become concerned of going to sleep themselves, or going away; will they ever come back?
    Thinking of you in this difficult time

  16. I’m so sorry. I’ve lost 2 beloved pets in the past few years. It’s so hard, especially when you’re dealing with little ones. Our son was too young to understand when our Butters passed but he still calls for him from time to time even though we have another dog around. We just say that Butters is in puppy heaven, that he was really sick and old and it was time for him to rest with the other animals. *hugs*

  17. My deepest condolences… I remember when we lost our two cats who my siblings and I had grown up with and still think of them often. I still love looking at photos of them and remembering their personalities.
    Ruby may still be too young for these books but my mom always loved The Tenth Good Thing about Barney which is about the loss of a cat. I remember her giving it to other families with kids when they lost a family member or pet. One of my new favorite books is Grandma’s Gloves about a little girl losing her grandma (which I understand is a whole different topic) but it deals with loss and sadness and memories beautifully and the illustrations are gorgeous and equally comforting.

  18. Though losing a beloved pet is very sad, this has at least given you the chance to start talking about death and the whole life cycle with your little one. I’ve always talked to my kids about death in a down to earth way. The way we see it, everything that ever lives, dies. It is part of life. Flowers, bugs, fish, birds, animals, people. It doesn’t always come in old age, it’s not always because we’re sick. And it is totally OK to feel sad, heart broken and empty when you lose someone or something you love. Children are very accepting of new concepts. But ultimately you know your child best, trust your judgement. Enjoy life while you have it. You seem to be dong a pretty good job there 🙂

  19. So sad for your loss of a dear cat, but at the same time, what a peaceful way for a cat to pass. Making that decision of when to put them down is so difficult, so I think it is a a gift when it happens naturally and at home.
    Friend’s of mine really love Maria Shriver’s book, “What’s Heaven,” after the passing of their great grand father. Again, Ruby may be a bit young to understand all the concepts, but it might help her understand a bit. The visuals of the books are also beautiful, at the very least, she can picture Lucy in a beautiful place.

  20. How I wish I could help. My kid is 5 and she also has no idea of what death or heaven means. No relatives or pets have passed away yet.
    I’m sorry about Lucy. =/

  21. My grandfather died of a stroke rather suddenly when I was four or five. I remember being locked in a room with my brother while the EMTs took him out on a stretcher, and my grandmother screaming and crying – for me, what was upsetting wasn’t so much that Opa had died, because I didn’t really understand what that meant back then, but how sad my mom, aunt, and grandmother were – like I took my cues from them, and since that was the first time I ever saw my mother cry, it was really jarring, to say the least. So I guess maybe being honest with how sad you are, and why, might be helpful, so that your kids don’t get too worried about you? But Calvin & Hobbes is also great.

  22. I’m so sorry for your loss. I’ve never had to explain such a thing to a kid so I don’t have advice there. But I first learned about heaven and death through the loss of a pet, too. When I was about 4 years old, we found a litter of 5 little kittens and their mama. The mama died soon after, along with 4 of the 5 kittens. I didn’t fully understand what it meant or why it happened but I do remember my mom being honest about the situation. She didn’t try to hide it from me or explain it in some way other than what it was. When my grandmother died a year later, it helped that I’d experienced loss before. It didn’t make it any easier to accept, really, but I at least understood what the loss meant and that it was permanent but not necessarily bad.
    I don’t know if that’s helpful or not but I guess what I learned from that experience is this – being honest with kids about the situation and putting it in terms they can understand will help them deal with it and process it in their own way and prepare them for when they will inevitably encounter such loss again in the future.
    Sending lots of love to you and your family. xo

  23. Hi Joy – I love your blog and read it regularly! I also happen to be a web editor at Parents magazine — I thought you might be interested in some pieces we’ve published on explaining death to toddlers and young kids.
    When a Pet Dies
    http://www.parents.com/parenting/pets/kids/pet-death-books-help-kids-cope/
    Helping Kids Deal With the Loss of a Pet
    http://www.parents.com/advice/toddlers-preschoolers/development/how-can-i-help-my-child-deal-with-the-loss-of-pet/
    Helping Kids Cope With Grief
    http://www.parents.com/kids/development/behavioral/helping-kids-cope-grief/
    Hope this helps you with Ruby!

  24. I’m so sorry for your loss. I know how hard is to say goodbye to them, they are part of the family as well. And sorry I can’t help with Rubby, I don’t have kids and haven’t been in that situation, but I’m reading great advice here that I’m sure they will help you.

  25. i’ve been advised which i think makes sense to be as real as possible in the words/terms you choose but to be brief cuz as you’ve already mentioned, the concept is too complex for toddlers. definitely stray away from attributing it too much to age cuz you don’t want to necessarily connect old with death cuz then it’ll frighten her about her elderly relatives dying… Sorry to hear of your loss.

  26. I’m so sorry for your loss. We just happen to also have said goodbye to our 17 year old cat on the same day. I think the way you explained things to your daughter is perfect and beautiful. We said something similar to our children-keeping it simple and honest. My 3 year old son was present when we put our cat to sleep and our vet did a great job presenting her to us after things were done. He didn’t seemed too phased by it. I think that it is a protection mechanism that children may seem oblivious. But I do believe he understands a lot more than he’s letting on. Likewise, your daughter may understand more than she’ll let on for now. As she gets older, things may change ask our 6 year old daughter is grieving in a more expected manner. I think you seemed to have expressed things to her wonderfully. I wish you comfort and peace in this time of grief.

  27. Honesty, matter of fact info, being open and answering her questions openly (and saying she can ask them)is so important with young children. We have been touched by death and with young ones this is really hard. Someone once said the following to me when my own mom died and it really stuck. I hope it helps: “the body is a vessel and it was done working. Her body is gone but her soul and spirit are alive and well and with you always”. I have found this to be so true. Sorry for your loss.

  28. Hi Joy, I’m so sorry about Lucy. Totally crying now because I know how you feel. She was definitely a sweet cat and I’m so glad I got to pet and hold her in her and my lifetime! Isn’t it crazy how much our pets are part of our family? They always will be. When Pixel died, we told Lucas right away. He asked us why were were crying and felt sad. I was pretty straightforward with him and I think that is the best way to tell kids at this age. I just told Lucas that Pixel ran into the street where it wasn’t safe and he got hit by a car and died. I said that his body is not here anymore but he is still part of our family and we miss him so much. I know it almost seems harsh, but sugar coating it would probably confuse Ruby more. I also told him that it’s okay to feel sad (or not) and to cry. And also made sure to let him know what if he has any questions that he can always asks us. He’s very matter of fact about it and seems to really get it. If he sees me crying, he automatically knows it’s because of Pixel and he will want to make me a card to make me feel better. Kids are so sweet. Anyway, I hope you guys are okay. I know this just happened but will try calling you soon. Big hugs to you my friend.

  29. So sorry to hear about Lucy. Pets really are a part of our families. When our dog died recently, we got a stuffed animal that looked a little like her and gave it to our 2-yr old. We told her it was from Mia (our dog) who was sick but now is in a place where she feels all better. But she was going to miss Zoe (our daughter) so much that she wanted us to give her the stuffed animal. And anytime Zoe misses Mia, she can give the stuffed animal a hug or talk to her. It has turned out to be really great and there have been such sweet moments where Zoe will want to include “mia” in what we’re doing. We also still talk about her – when we’re at the park with our other dog, we’ll say remember when you used to throw the ball to Mia or things like that.

  30. Run out and get the book “Cat Heaven” by Cynthia Rylant. It’s a great and comforting read for kids and adults alike. My condolences and may Lucy be feasting on salmon cakes and sardines on a fluffy cloud as we speak.

  31. I am so sorry to hear of Lucy’s passing. How nice she could be home with the family that she loved while she passed on to cat heaven. When my sweet Maddie passed away 8 years ago I swore I couldn’t bear the pain of losing another beloved friend. But after 6 years my heart was ready to love again and a year after that I found my sweet Finely. He came right when I needed him most so I hope your family is able to welcome a new kitty when you are ready because they bring so much happiness and love to a home.

  32. My Mum had a fantastic way of dealing with the death of my cat when I was little…She got me to help her to bury her in the garden and we planted a tree on her. She told me even tho’ she wasn’t with us anymore her life and spirit would be taken up by the tree and whenever I wanted to I could go and share her within the tree.

  33. So sorry to hear about your loss. I lost my first cat when I was 11 years old, and it really left a mark. I started brainstorming for my BFA thesis, on the loss of/attachment to pets, but time constraints really put that on pause. I am thinking of revisiting it soon. Near the end of the first semester of my senior year, we had to say goodbye to our cat of 15 years. He had kidney failure, and on top of that an infection, and wouldn’t last more than a few weeks in his condition. We took him home for one last night and the next morning we brought him to the vet. We buried him under a peach tree in our yard. It took a while to get used to him not being there. I’d think I’d see him in places he would usually roam, and our other cat really took it hard. Once I moved out I kind of forced my mom to get another cat, so that our other cat would have some company. I really don’t have any advice on death and explaining to children, but I remember clearly, when my sister was not more than 3, so I was 9 or so, being really upset when my mom told us that we were no longer having a baby brother or sister. I’m not sure whether she understood at that point that my mom had a miscarriage or if she was just upset that she wouldn’t have a younger sibling to play with.

  34. Thank you so much Elizabeth, thats a great idea! I just ordered a little Siamese cat stuffed animal for Ruby. Thank you!
    Joy

  35. Boy, this is hard, isn’t it? We’ve had a few of these incidents, and now that my son is 4, he has asked about death quite a bit. We try to focus on our faith and the fact that people are in heaven with God. Maybe it would be nice to tell her that Lucy’s in heaven with Bruce? I think little kids associate heaven with being away from loved ones, so if you can talk about them being with God and others, that helps a bit. Best of luck with it! And I’m really sorry for your loss.

  36. I have two little ones and we do the “up in the stars”, that way at night (if it comes up) we can guess which star is one of our lovely pets looking down on us. I rescue and we have lost 3 pets.

  37. This is really hard for anyone but acceptance is the best way to move on because that’s life right? It must go on. They’re happy now seeing you from up there. I hope you’re not mourning anymore.

  38. I am so sorry for your loss. Clearly Lucy was lucky to have such a loving family. I don’t yet have a little one, but I hope to in the next two years, and we already have an elderly (12 year old) cat.
    I remember as a child having this wonderful book, The Dead Bird, by Margaret Wise Brown. I don’t know if it is still in print, but I’ve seen vintage editions on ebay. Wise Brown was a poet, and wrote Goodnight Moon and The Little Fur Family. The Dead Bird confronts the death of an animal with very straightforward, direct simplicity that is both poignant and beautiful. I was three when our family cat died, and I don’t remember it, but my mother told me we had been very close. I like to think that The Dead Bird helped me understand.
    We got a black standard poodle puppy when I was 13, who died 15 years later. When I came home for vacation that spring, we buried the ashes in a tea tin in the garden and threw in some black tulip bulbs. Now whenever the bulbs bloom, we think of Elsie. And oddly, my parents’ current black standard poodle really likes to hang out by them in the springtime.
    My heart goes out to you and your family.

  39. I’m so sorry about your kitty. 🙁
    Your sweet girl is still so young, but I think just being real with her about it is the way to go. It is a part of life, so introducing her to it in the way you did is a good (sad) thing. And let her know it’s OK to feel sad. Acknowledging her FEELINGS is important. What ever she is feeling about it is ok. For example, I don’t like it when people say “don’t feel sad”…….because it’s ok to just feel what ever you are feeling.

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