“Where Maishe gone?” asked Pip, for the third time. She’s referring to my nan’s dog, Maisey, who sadly died this week.
We’ve lost a few family pets over the years and it never gets any easier. But this time around I had the added task of explaining the death of a pet to a two year old.
Maisey was nearly 16 and had a great life, but had been unwell for some time. I feel so sad for my nan as Maisey was her companion, but we have been supporting her as a family.
Pip loves dogs and was introduced to our dog, Stanley, as a newborn, as soon as we returned home from the hospital. They’ve become the best of friends and her love of dogs (and animals in general) has continued to grow. She absolutely adored Maisey and whenever we visit my nan, the first thing she asks is, “I go see Maishe?”
I’ve been talking to Pip about Maisey being unwell for a few weeks now, as we knew this time was approaching. It’s good to do this, if you have the time. So Pip understands that Maisey was old and that she’d been poorly. She also knew that she’d been to see the vet a lot.
I had experienced talking to young children about death while working as a teacher. I know that you have to choose your words carefully, avoiding confusing phrases such as, “they passed away,” or “they went to sleep,” as young children take things literally and could assume from this that the pet will return or wake up again. It’s important to be open, honest and accurate.
What she doesn’t understand is the meaning of death. This is the difficult part of explaining the loss of a pet to young children. I’ve used words such as ‘died’ in our conversation, but she can only come to understand its true meaning, the permanence of death, as she grows and matures. When I’ve said, “we won’t see Maisey again,” she has responded with, “she might come back?” to which I’ve had to say, “no.”
When Pip and I talk about Maisey’s death, I’ve noticed that she calls upon things that she does understand about dogs, perhaps this is her way of trying to process the information. When I first explained that Maisey had died, she mentioned that, “Maishe needs to get a haircut,” as she knows that dogs go to the groomers. There have been a few random responses too. At one point, while in the bath, Pip said, “Maishe died,” then she held her hands up, with fingers like claws and roared! I wasn’t really sure where to go with that, but it made me chuckle. Toddlers are great at lifting your spirits, even during the saddest of times.
Pip hasn’t cried or shown any signs of being upset, again I think she’s too young to feel the grief, but she understands that, “Great Nan is sad.” It’s good to talk about how everyone is feeling when a pet has died. If children do get upset and struggle with their grief, then holding a memorial could help by providing them with the opportunity to say goodbye. They could also assist with creating a memory box, containing some of their pet’s favourite things. I haven’t felt the need to do this for Pip, but I think older children could find comfort from such things.
I think Pip will to continue to ask, “Where Maishe gone?” for a while yet. I feel a bit saddened by this, for my nan especially. But there’s also something quite sweet about it. Although she may be a bit confused by what’s happened, Pip’s love for Maisey continues to shine.