Teaching our two-year old son about the death of a pet was not something I was prepared to do this week.
But often, we don’t get to pick when our little furry friends depart our families.
A few nights ago, my husband and I were awakened to the sound of a wicked fight below our bedroom window. We live out in the country so we knew the fight was between our cat and a wild animal. Snapped awake out of deep sleep, we lay frozen until the noises stopped. It all happened so fast. My husband raced downstairs and tried to call our cat inside. She didn’t come.
This is our first summer in our new house and we’ve tried to get our cat Couscous to come inside at night but she refuses and already we’ve heard her fighting two other times. Both of those times she reappeared completely unharmed.
I remember thinking, “I guess cats just make a lot of noise even when they aren’t getting hurt.” So after this particular fight, we went back to sleep assuming we would see her in the morning.
But when I went downstairs the next morning, Couscous was not in her usual place by the kitchen window meowing to be let in.
We haven’t seen her since. Sure, she could still be out there, somewhere in the forest, having some wild cat adventure, but I know she’s not. She’s gone. She’s dead and we don’t even have her body to bury.
I thought explaining this to Wolfy would be difficult.
Couscous was his cat and he really loved her. I considered maybe not telling him anything and just seeing if he noticed she was gone. But that felt dishonest. So, I told him the truth. When the first fight happened, earlier in the summer, I had told him about it. He loved it and made me tell him the story over and over again. Soon he started retelling it himself.
The story went like this: Papa and I were downstairs and you were sleeping and we heard Couscous fighting with another animal. It sounded like this (I would make the sounds of the fight). But then Couscous came inside and she was okay!
I am so glad that I had this story as a reference point when telling Wolfy that his cat had died. It’s almost as though subconsciously I had been preparing him for the inevitable fate of our cat the whole time. So, I started telling Wolfy the story of Couscous’ fight, but this time I changed it. I told him, “You know how last time Couscous was okay? Well, this time she lost the fight. She’s not okay and she’s not coming back to our house. She’s gone.”
I’m not sure why but I didn’t want to use the word death or tell him that Couscous had died. It just seems like such an abstract concept for him. But I knew he could understand that she was gone.
Later in the day, Wolfy mentioned Couscous again. He was naming everyone who lives at our house and she was included. Again, I told him the story and told him that we don’t have a cat anymore because she’s gone. I told him it was okay to feel sad about it. He seemed to accept it and hasn’t mentioned Couscous since.
I don’t know if what I did was right. I don’t know if how I told Wolfy was the best way to handle this situation or not.
So much of parenting is navigating a giant gray area around right and wrong and it takes a lot of practice. I don’t think I’ll ever truly get it right.
The problem is that Wolfy is a little human and I want to do better than just practice on him. But all I can really do is continue to try to do my very best and learn from my mistakes. It is all I have to offer.