Children and Grieving – Helping Feelings of Guilt
Coleen Ellis is a Pet Loss Companioning Specialist and founder of Two Heart Pet Loss Center in Southlake, Texas, USA. I’ve learned many things from Coleen in helping others heal from the loss of a loving pet and have received certification training with Pet Loss Grief and Companioning through her.
During my training and certification, I was able to develop my knowledge and understanding of how children handle grief and ways we can support them in a healthy way to promote their healing journey.
One of the main topics I was able to expand my learning knowledge upon was the topic of guilt and most specifically, a child’s expression and internal process of guilt.
It’s important the we as parents, caregivers or support systems give children what they need in order to grieve. You will find helpful and valuable information on this in a previous article and I invite you to review this by clicking HERE.
We as adults have the responsibly to help children heal and be able to support them with any guilt they might be experiencing. Let’s discuss this further in practical steps you can take.
STEP ONE: Communication
Talk with your children. Explain why their pet has died. For example, if the pet was hit by a car, communicate this with them.
Many times, we get angry and want to blame the driver for this. Although it very well could have been the driver’s fault, I’d like to remind you that your child will most likely feel some sort of guilt resulting from this.
Coleen teaches and I thoroughly agree with her that instead of blaming the driver of the car, use this opportunity as a lesson that you can teach your child.
The lesson here could be that your pet was outside, you accept responsibility and can use this experience to learn from for future pets. You can plan together with your child on what you will do next time to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
If the pet died from old age, you may wish to use this time to explain that living beings do not live forever. For many children, the death of a pet is the first time they will experience death and dying. How you help them deal with it will affect how they view death in the future.
I remember my father taking us out as a family to our back field. We lived on a farm and had a special place reserved called our “Pet Cemetery”. We would go out to this place and bury our pets. My father offered the opportunity to say a few words, to cry or to share and then we ended our tribute with a prayer together. This act brought me to realize growing up that although death was frightening to me, as I was working on processing and understanding, I was also able to receive it in a positive way. To this day, I still hold memories of a positive nature when I think of pets and death although it hurts so deep.
STEP TWO: Things that you can do together as a family
1) Perform an act of kindness towards others. Help other animals in need. Our pets come from a place of pure love. Take that as a gift and pay it forward in honour and tribute to your pet.
2) Have a time for memories and honouring your pet’s story. What did they do to make you smile, laugh and what are some of the things you remember to bring positive out of this healing?
3) Write a story. Make this a family experience where you each contribute a piece to writing your memories and things you want to remember about your beloved pet. You can find a printable letter of expression by clicking HERE.
4) Create a tribute table. Coleen Ellis shares an example of what this might look like on her resource page HERE. You will find other healing tools from Coleen on this page as well.
5) Bring letters, your pet’s favourite toy to where your pet is buried or cremated. By doing this, you are honouring your pet’s life and their many gifts they shared with you during your time together.
6) Children express through play and creativity. Have them create a scrapbook or make a frame in which to include pictures in. This will be their masterpiece and a way to release, process and heal.
7) Plant a tree, flower or something that will bring new growth. As it grows, so will the symbolism of your pet’s love. This is truly beautiful to witness over time.
Helpful Books For Children:
Paw Print In The Stars: A Farewell and Journal For A Beloved Pet by Warren Hanson
Saying Goodbye to Your Pet: Children Can Learn To Cope With Pet Loss by Marge Heegaard
The Fall of Freddie The Leaf; A Story of Life For All Ages by Leo Buscaglia
Dog Heaven // Cat Heaven by Cynthia Rylant