A Mother’s Choice of Allowing Her Young Children to Watch Their Cat Get Euthanized

Let’s see why this mother chose to “expose” her young, from Yahoo!.com…

Two weeks ago, Melvin, my family’s cat of 16 years, walked up from the basement looking like he had lost 10 pounds overnight. We rushed him to the vet where we learned he had acute liver failure, a condition he may have survived for only a few more months. He didn’t.

Two days later, we were back in the vet’s office. I had found Melvin, barely breathing in our basement, his front and back paws splayed out in front of him, so weak he couldn’t even walk into the cat carrier.

All three of my children, 8, 6, and one-year-old, came with me. The vet suggested that we ended Melvin’s suffering right there.

And so we did.

With all four of us stroking his fur and crying, Melvin was given a sedative followed by a lethal injection that stopped his heart. It was sudden and painful and my older children were full of questions. So was I. Was I wrong to let them stay in the room? Are there some life events children are too young to experience?

Historically, children were less shielded from birth and death because they were surrounded by it, especially those who grew up on farms where animals were regularly killed for food. In 1938, only 37 percent of human births were in hospitals — that means the other 63 percent were at home, where older siblings were likely present. But things have changed.

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“We tend to want to protect our children from anything unpleasant or messy,” Darby Fox, LCSW, a child and adolescent family therapist, tells Yahoo Parenting. “But kids should always feel included in family events, as long as parents are monitoring the situation.”

That’s why we decided to allow our children to particulate in the home birth of their youngest sister. We had prepared them with birthing films and books but when my water broke at midnight, my son got scared when labor pains made me scream. My husband escorted them out of the room but they were invited back in as soon as the baby came out.

Watching my children help the midwife weigh their new sister and stroke her hair, I knew we made the right decision by allowing them to be present.

I lost my own mother when I was 16 and my sister was 7. We were both there in every way during the death process and I’m grateful for that. So when my mother-in-law died suddenly two years ago, the kids saw their father on the floor, crying right after he got the call. And when it came time to bring them to the funeral, the decision was a no-brainer.

They sat and cried. They listened to the pastor, held their grandfather’s hand, and my older daughter told him stories about her Nana. She understood that this was forever but my young son was inquisitive. I held my daughter in the funeral home bathroom as she cried. It was tragic and awful. But it was comforting too.

“We don’t prepare kids well for transitions in life,” John Mayer, PhD., a clinical psychologist, tells Yahoo Parenting. “But doing so helps them develop the coping skills to deal with other types of losses such as moving away, changing schools, and losing friends.”

We lie to our children all the time. We tell them things will be fine when we know they won’t. We tell them they won’t die for a long, long time when we really have no idea. It’s our job to keep kids from being afraid. But it’s also our job to help them understand that life is random and finite.

I won’t pretend that allowing my kids watch Melvin die somehow made them better humans. But in the weeks since, my daughter has spoken daily about the “rainbow bridge.” It’s a story about pet loss I shared with her after Melvin’s death. In it, your beloved pet waits for you in a field of grass. He waits years if he has to. And one day, you will join him and then together, you walk over the rainbow bridge.

“Where do you go once you cross it?” she asks. I tell her I don’t know, because I don’t. But she is thinking, as she always does.

“I think you go to heaven,” she says.

“I hope so,” I tell her. But if there is no rainbow bridge or heaven and everything we have is here right before us, then I’m glad we were all together, stroking Melvin’s fur, wishing him safe passage, and telling him we loved him.

“I’m really glad we all got to say goodbye, mommy,” she says.

This, is a mother’s choice, to allowing her children to understand the concepts of life and death, she’d allowed her children to stay close to her, as she gave birth to her youngest child, letting them participate in the process, just like how she’d allowed her children to watch the family cat get euthanized, and, by exposing her children to such matters, her kids would, hopefully, gain a better understanding of life, and know, that death is nothing to be feared, but to be embraced, and this will help them a whole lot later on in life, so, this mother, by “exposing” her kids to death like that, she is actually, preparing them for the future.

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Filed under Early Exposures, Family Matters, Lessons, Observations, On Death & Dying, Parenting/Parenthood, Values

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