About two months ago, I had to put both of our 18 year old cats to sleep within a two week period. Needless to say, there was not a lot of Amused Mama or SB (Small Boy) for several days. Along with my sadness at saying good-bye to my old buddies, I had to answer SB’s questions. And guess what? There were a million questions. Zillions, actually.
In preparation for SB’s concerns, my remarkably kind Vet and I came up with a game plan. I’m not a religious person, nor do I believe in heaven or hell, but for SB’s sake we invented Kitty Heaven. (I was also hoping to avoid a philosophical discussion about euthanasia with a four year old, but that’s just me).
So here’s how the conversation went (for clarification, this was not how the conversation was SUPPOSED to go, but I should get a few points for trying…):
Me: “Hey SB, I have some sad news for you (this is when I picked him up after school), George died today”.
Me: “Well, he was very old and sick and that’s what happens. It’s ok to be sad – ask me any questions you want (Here’s where the warning bells should have started going off – Danger, Dumb Idea)”
SB: “Where is he?”
Me (feeling proud of my prepared answer): “He’s in Kitty Heaven. It’s a great place blah blah catnip blah mice to chase blah scratching posts everywhere, lots of shrimp, etc.”
SB: “How did he get there?” (Big, Big Warning Bells now – careful, Mama)
Here’s where I got into trouble. I couldn’t say he “floated” away, because I know my SB – he’d spend days scanning the skies for floating cats. So I brilliantly said:
“I don’t know, he’s just up there now”.
SB: “Did you drive him there?”
REALLY? ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? This was NOWHERE in the prepared script!
Me (trying to recover but clearly disaster is now waiting in the wings): “No sweetie, he just got to kitty heaven and he’s there now having fun – Hey, want to watch Toy Story?” (The distraction method – never fails – crisis averted).
SB: “Hey! Yeah!”
Me: (in my head) – Brilliant! Well done! Time for wine!
Fast Forward to Bedtime – usually a hellish nightmare with exceptionally intricate stalling maneuvers on a good day…
Me: “Ok, what books should we read tonight?”
SB: “Why did George die? Am I going to die too?”
ABORT!!! ABORT!! NO NO!!
After endless reassurances that neither I, nor SB, or Grandma, Grandpa, Papa, his sister, the dog, his teachers, friends, the nice check out lady at Ralph’s, our gardener, everyone we’ve ever met, etc. weren’t going to die for a LONG LONG LONG LONG LONG time, I was able to get SB to sleep.
There were some lingering questions in the following days, some which I answered well and some terribly, but overall I was feeling pretty good about how I handled the Death Stuff.
Then, ten days later, Kitty number two had to go to Kitty Heaven. Bracing for the worst, I told SB that Calvin died and was up in Kitty Heaven with George. This time, I had little stuffed animal cats that looked like our kitties for him to cuddle with. It actually helped him, but every time I saw the little stuffed cats I started blubbering. And then, to comfort me, SB said, “Don’t cry Mama, you’ll be dead someday and you’ll get to see the kitties again.”
Luckily our dog is still fairly young. I’m going to need a lot of time to recover from this.
No one said being a parent would be easy, but no one warned me about this stuff either. And he’s only four. How did you handle the loss of pets, people, etc? Any good tips or horrible warnings out there?