For most children their first experience of death is usually a family pet. I assume that the death of a pet is a life lesson for them; why else would we buy hamsters? They only live for 2-3 years so it’s inevitable that they will experience this by the time they are 5 years of age.
Children today are also exposed to the fictional deaths of soap characters and of famous people when their death is announced on the TV, radio and in newspapers. As parents though it is our responsibility to restrict and monitor what they are exposed to.
I don’t recall the effect of the death of any family pets, we always had cats, I do remember my Mother spending hours looking for them when they went missing but I was never exposed to the reality of it. My Mother used to tell me that the cattle and sheep in the Lorries on the motorways were on their way on holiday or off to market and I admit I told my children the same rather than deal with the truth.
My exposure to death until I was 24 was my friend’s parents dying, kids from my school in tragic car accidents and people that I had cared for when I worked for SCOPE. My Mothers Mum died aged 93, she had been ill for a long time, I did not have a close relationship with her, but I was very upset of the effect it had on my Mother. Over the following years until I was 34, I dealt with the deaths of many pets with the children. I was upset for the kids; I was also devastated by my lack of ability to console them over it. My youngest child was so upset when his hamster died; he stood by the grave under an umbrella in the rain for around 3 hours until he cried himself to sleep.
As with most things in life you cannot appreciate the effect of something until you experience it and in 2005 my Dad’s Mother, died. My Grandmother was admitted to hospital on the day of her 92nd birthday with a minor heart attack and she died 4 weeks later of lung cancer.
I took the children to visit her in the hospital, she was still walking around, and looking after the other old dears for the first 2 weeks and the hospital staff advised I should bring the children in to visit while my Gran was still as she would want to be remembered.
I couldn’t deal with looking after my youngest then aged 6, so it was agreed he wouldn’t come to the funeral. Two weeks later though he was having nightmares and said Grandma was visiting him in his room at night and he wanted to say goodbye so she could go to heaven with his hamster.
We took him to the Crematorium and walked him through the funeral service and into the garden of remembrance, so he could see for himself where Grandma had gone. The following year the children’s grandfather, on their dad’s side, died. It took place at a crematorium also and the youngest child was able to grieve and say a proper good bye.