Helping A Child Cope With Death

As older moms we’re more likely to expose our children to losses earlier in life.

Since our own parents are advanced in age, we may have to explain why Grandma or Grandpa needs extra care or have discussions about illness and death.

Bereavement isn’t limited to the loss of a beloved human. Children also have to process the loss of a pet. Maybe we already have a dog or cat who’s advanced in age when we finally become parents, or maybe not. Either way, pets lives are short. So the loss of a pet is almost a certainty.

Heather Merrill is something of an expert on loss and bereavement, having spent many years in human hospice care before she transitioned into pet hospice.

I decided to interview Heather and experiment with the new Google Hangout feature. As you watch the video you may have trouble hearing me (not sure what the problem was!) so I’ve transcribed my questions to Heather below:

I’m here with Heather Merrill, the owner of New England Pet Hospice and she deals with elderly pets, pets with cancer, pets with terminal diseases. We’re talking because I’m an older mom, I had a baby at forty six. A lot of the women I interact with had children after thirty five and often after forty.

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And what’s unique about us is because we’re older our parents are older and our children often grow up with elderly grandparents, sick grandparents and grandparents who’ve passed on. We lost my father in law three years ago, my father three months ago and my stepfather before my son was even a year old.

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We lost a beloved pet as well, which is how I met you. His littermate is still going (Heather has provided pet sitting services for him) and when we met we had a long conversation about bereavment and how human beings cope with the loss of
a loved one or a pet — which is also a loved one.

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So, I’m going to turn it over to you, Heather. I’d like to know how we help our children through theses losses that are happening to them so much earlier in life than they did for us.

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So what do you do if a child doesn’t want to talk about it? We lost my father three months ago and took Adam and we said, “You know Grandpa John’s been very sick…” and he said “I KNOW what you’re going to say!”. He got angry. He said, “I know what you’re going to say and I don’t want you to say it!”

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That does make sense and it’s helpful. It’s hard to know, if he’s turning away from it, is that healthy or should I be trying to get him to open up? But you’re right, he has… certain things have prompted him to think about it. Such as a scene in a movie with an old man on his death bed, or a moment when my husband was putting him to bed and he got quiet and said, “I don’t have a grandpa anymore”. But he’s there for a little bit and then he moves away from it.

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I’ve also been told it’s important for us not to hide OUR feelings from our children.

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In my case it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t want to see Mom sad. We all went out to Chuck E Cheese after I had to have my little beloved kittie put down and I was sobbing, I just was so upset, and he said “why is Monmmy crying over nothing?”. Then I think that when my father passed — I was up crying that night– I think he overheard me. So now, if I get hoarse, if my voice cracks or if I make a sound he doesn’t understand…”Are you crying Mommy, are you upset? Is Mommy upset?” He’s very worried about that.

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Good point. He made a comment after I lost my Dad. He said, “Mommy, you got over Houdini (Houdini was the cat that I lost) so you’ll get over Grandpa John too, won’t you?” I thought that was good, that he saw that.

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Anything else you want to add that you think we haven’t covered? I think we’ve got a pretty good overview of things.

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