January 06, 2009,
A.B. asks from Kew Gardens, NY on January 04, 2009
What to Tell 2-Year-olds About Death of Our Cat
My sweet cat, who's been with me for almost 18 years, isn't doing well, and I doubt she has much time left. I'm preparing myself for her death, and I'm also wondering how to handle it with my 2-year-old daughters. They love their kitty though they are also pretty oblivious about things with her (as 2-year-olds are). At this point, they understand -- or at least repeat -- that "Kitty is sick." But I don't know what to tell them when she dies. They are very verbal but I don't get the sense that they have any more emotional depth or understanding than the average 2-year-old. I want to say something simple that they can accept when they notice that kitty is gone and isn't coming back (or perhaps to be more proactive than that). I don't want to freak them out about death (will going with an "all things die eventually" approach make them unnecessarily fearful about my husband and me dying?). I don't have any sense of what a 2-year-old "gets" about this stuff, so any experience or advice you folks can share would be really appreciated.
So What Happened?™
Thanks to everybody for your responses. Sadly, the cat died less than 24 hours after I posted the request. My husband came home and found her and was able to bury her and remove her food dish and litter box before he picked the girls (who just turned 2 in October) up from daycare. We decided that would probably be the best way to handle it, and then to follow their lead. The girls didn't notice at first, but the next day they asked, "Where'd kitty go?" I told them that she was old and her body stopped working and she wasn't with us any more, which I don't think they fully got, but it seemed to satisfy them. It was good advice to move away from the "Kitty was sick" language, so thank you all for that. Since then, they have asked from time to time, but they don't dwell on it. It's much more my sadness that I have to deal with than anything from them.
M.T. answers from New York on January 05, 2009
I am so sorry to hear that your cat isn't doing well, I'm sure that you all love her so much. Two year olds dont' and can't really understand what dead is. I would not suggest telling them that the cat is going to die. They won't understand that. When the cat does pass away, I would keep the explanation simple, kitty was very old and her body stopped working, she will not be with us anymore. I wouldn't go further than that, unless you have a religious explanation that you wish to give them or if they ask questions. I would not discuss death having to do with kitty being sick or that it's like going to sleep - it can make kids think that if they get sick or go to sleep, they will die. I would be honest and keep it simple.
My heart goes out to you, we've gone through that with our cats too.
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K.H. answers from Utica on January 05, 2009
Congrats on your twins.
Would love to hear all about them if you want to talk someday. I have twin girls and they are now 18yo. Remember those days of 2's and 3's very well.
I would not say that they cat is sick and therefore not with us. Change the verbage from sick to old. Otherwise you are going to have a lot of questions when they are sick next time especially if they are very sick. Two year olds understand life well, what they don't have is vocab.
When our animals died we just said God wanted them home. Since God made the animals---He could/can/did bring them back to Himself, but I am writing more about changing the idea to old.
God bless you and all you do
God bless your lovely family
K. SAHM married 38 years ---- Adult children 37 coach, 32 lawyer, and 18 yo twin girls going to college after homeschooling. One is majoring in fine art, and the other in journalism.
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S.M. answers from New York on January 05, 2009
When our cat passed, We read Cat Heaven, written by Cynthia Rylant. The story is short and simple, light hearted and easy for young children to understand. I found it at Borders.
G.S. answers from New York on January 05, 2009
Something I learned early on is tell them only what they need to know about this. My mom died 3 wks before the birth of my first daughter & when Sami was old enough to ask where my mommy was I told her that she gave up her place on earth for Sami to be here (that's what my mom always told me). When Sami was about 8 years old we had a big fight and she apologized to me for taking my mom's place so in a way she told me that she kind of felt like my mom died because of her. I realize your girls are young, but something I told our Sami when our one cat died was that Buttons left us to go back with her family. So far so good w/that explanation - Good luck!
R.Y. answers from New York on January 05, 2009
My son is almost 3 and he is fond of our 19 year old cat. She is healthy and doing fine but I know she will not be with us forever. I have been telling my son to be gentle with her because if she were a person she would be older than his great grandma (who is 88 but in good health). I expect to tell him she is old and lived a long life when the time comes.
J.G. answers from New York on January 04, 2009
We put our dog to sleep in May 2007, our daughter had just turned 2 on the 28th of April that year. She was a very sick, old dog. Very sweet, but generally was sort of "whatever" about everything. She was an abused stray when my husband adopted her so she was very wary about jumping and barking and licking and so on, so she and my daughter didn't play much really. Besides the point my daughter adored and loved her. One of our bestfriends is a vet so we had told her that Aunt Alissa is a puppy doctor and Trixie is very sick. She is going to live with Aunt Alissa because she knows how to take care of sick puppies and she will probably not be coming home. She did ask questions for a few days, maybe a week, of where the dog went. Eventually she stopped. She forgot and when she was about 3 and understood what death was she started asking again. It didn't seem to scare her but she more so seemed to have put 2 and 2 together.
We keep a 8X10 picture of Trixie with her collar and tags hanging off the frame on our end table and my daughter now knows she died. At 3 yrs 8 months she has the emotional understanding of death and accepts it pretty well. She has, unfortuneately accompanied my husband and I to a few wakes. When she was 3 months old my best friends mother passed away. And in the summer of 2007 one of my childhood best friends passed. They each lived on either side of me growing up. I would not let her near the casket nor would I go near it myself. But she understood that people were sad and she just tried her very best to make them smile. I though the same way you did but you probably are looking a little too far into it. They probably won't be all that concerned as you think they will be. If I were you, I would tell them that "Kitty is very sick and she may not be around with us much longer." If you are religious, you can tell them the kitty is going to live with god now. I've heard some people do that. You don't need to give them too much information. But try to give them the truth in a way they can understand. I know this is a horrible time and I wish you all the best. Good luck with everything.
J.D. answers from New York on January 05, 2009
my cat had to be put to sleep when I was pregnant and my son had just turned 2, we were all sad but I always said in a happy voice the she had gone to heaven with other animals and even people. His main concern was who will give her treats? that was his Job so we just told him that the angels did and he was fine. he did ask again but it was always are the angels giving Trisket her treats? and we said yes.
he is now 10 and understands more and my almost 8 year old is sad coz he never met her! they both have asthma so we are a pet free family now good luck
K.M. answers from Syracuse on January 06, 2009
You didn't say how close to 2 your daughters are, but it makes a difference in what they will understand. My youngest one just turned 2, and wouldn't really get the whole "kitty died" thing. My next to youngest just turned 3 and would understand a lot more. I think if it were me I would simply say that kitty had to away so she could feel better, and won't be coming back. You add more as they ask questions, but a simple explanation is best at that age. You might want to add something about it being a special place just for kitties. Good luck, and I'm sorry that your precious cat is so sick.