Our family pet passed away recently. The death was extremely unexpected. She was a bird – a conure – and she was suppose to live 15-25 years, but due to a heart defect, died after 7 months. It was our first pet and our youngest daughter, in particular, had become extremely close to her.
While sad for all of us, it has been extremely interesting seeing how my children responded. The reaction of our 12 year old daughter was pretty predictable. She is a mature, but somewhat aloof child. While she was saddened, she focussed her energy on making sure her sister was ok and, in all honesty, was not overly affected by the ordeal.
Our youngest daughter – 10 – was a different story. She is a very socially-adept, empathetic child. Her relationship with the pet was uncanny. She was an amazing pet owner – loving, responsible, super-attentive. She read the pet bedtime stories every night. Not just for the first few days, but every night for the 7 months we had the pet. She was absolutely grief-stricken when the bird died (a heart attack while sitting on her shoulder). But the way she handled it has been fascinating and, as a parent, makes me very proud and confident in her future ability to enter into relationships. She has been almost a text book case in dealing with grief. Over the past 72 hours, we have seen
– an honest, emotional, gut-wrenching display of grief – she cried for almost 4 hours, first as we drove her to the vet, hoping she was just sick, and then home that evening.
– a really mature acceptance that pets dies and this is part of the circle of life even as she was feeling so badly about it they are studying biodiversity in school and she said she knows animals have to die so they can be food for other animals
– fear of moving on – when we buried the bird and took down the bird cage, she said “we are giving up too easily” and felt we were moving the bird out of our lives too quickly. She was amazing, in knowing we had to do those things but also knowing she wanted to keep her pet close to her as long as she could.
– balancing grief and positive memories – from the first night, she has been sad but also able and keen to talk about all of the good memories and favourite moments they had together.
We will all miss our pet, but none more than our youngest daughter. While I am sad, i could not be more proud of how she is handling this. I am sure I am reading way too much into it, but right now, while I am sad about our loss I feel really, really good about the person my daughter is becoming.