Monday, 13 February 2012

It's Good To Talk – When children need to know about death

Dear Ibiza Counselling

My husband and I were wondering if you could offer us some advice. We have two children seven  and five years old and have been in Ibiza for just over a year. The move is definitely the right decision for us as a family and we are now just about settled in to a routine and are slowly building a circle of friends. Initially it was difficult for the children to get used to a new home, school and way of life but now they almost seem more settled then us!

When we decided to move we also decided to bring our dog who at the time was already 11years old, obviously the children have never known life with out her and she is very much part of the family. However time is taking its toll and in recent weeks she has become very slow, is going blind and is incontinent. We took her to the vet who said she was in kidney failure and does not have long left. He advised that we should give some thought to how we would like to proceed as she will only get worse and the decline could be quick and she may be in pain.

We have talked, and cried about what we should do and have come to the heart wrenching decision that shortly we will have to have her put down. We as adults are devastated, we got her when we first met and spent so many hours having great times with her that it is difficult to imagine walking through the door and not seeing her. So we have our own grief to deal with, some may think it silly as she’s only a dog but to us she has been part of the family.

Aside form ourselves and our beautiful dog we are also concerned about the children, they have never experienced death and we have not really had any discussions around death with them as they have not naturally come up. 

Do you think we should tell them about Molly or would it be kinder to tell them she has gone to stay with some other children? They spent hours with her in the garden and yesterday I walked in to find all three of the snuggled on the sofa watching cartoons and it broke my heart.

Please tell us how to make this as painless as possible for them
Thank you


Dear DP

Thank you for your e-mail and it is good to hear that you and your family have settled in so well and are enjoying your new life on the island. 

It can be difficult for children moving to a new country with a different language, food and way of life but often they are more adaptable then adults and once they are settled in school and have made friends things can often click into place for them more easily then for us.

I am sorry to hear about Molly; dogs really do become part of the family and the decision you have had to make must have been agonising. I feel it is important before you start to tackle the issue of the children that both you and your husband take time to process what Molly’s passing means to both of you, it sounds as if you both care for her a great deal and that she played a big part in the early days of your relationship together. 

It is important not to gloss over your own feelings because you are worried about the children, and it sounds as if even though you have made the decision about her future you still have some time to spend with her, take some photos and say your good byes, maybe this should be something you and your husband do with out the children.

In terms of telling the children I feel there are three key points to bear in mind. 

Firstly choose your moment well, i.e. when you have plenty of time, they are not over excited or too tired, the house is quiet and you know you will not be disturbed. 

Secondly be honest, death is part of life and they will come across it at some point so hiding it or trying to find ways around it will, in my opinion, not serve them well for the future. 

Thirdly keep it simple and clear so they can understand. They do not need to know detail they just need to know that Molly was very old, unwell and died, and they will not see her again. 

They may or may not have questions about death and what happens when a dog or person dies, if this comes up I would also keep your answers as honest and simple as possible. Over the years as they get older then maybe that is the time to go into more details, if they ask and if it seems appropriate.

I hope this has been of some support to you and hope that you and your husband are able to have some time to say your own goodbyes to Molly in the way you would like.

Take care

Warm regards

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