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C2007-37

Dear Christopher Cat

Teddy, our 15-year-old cat, is nearing the end of his life. How do I explain his death to our children?

Christopher Responds

Start with the truth. Don’t say Teddy ran away, lest the children worry that they did something to trigger his departure and go searching for him.

Begin the discussion now, and avoid euphemisms. Don’t say the veterinarian will put Teddy “to sleep,” because it might make your children fear their own bedtimes or refuse anesthesia if it’s ever needed.

Instead, tell your children the vet will help Teddy die peacefully and without pain or prolonged suffering.

Allow the children to say goodbye to Teddy. Depending on their ages, ask if they want to be with him when he dies or see his body afterward.

Reassure them that it’s normal to feel sad or angry, and that it’s okay to cry.

Reminisce while you make a scrapbook together, filling it with photos and the children’s drawings of Teddy.

Hold a funeral or memorial service. Offer each child a memento, such as a locket with some of Teddy’s hair.

Give your children extra attention and affection during this difficult time.

Let their teachers and friends’ parents know what’s going on, so they will be gentle.

Look for a pet bereavement support group that welcomes children. Many communities have such groups.

My feline siblings and I are holding you and your family in our hearts during this sad time.

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