Tag Archive | pets

Cycles of life

It’s time yet again to say another sad goodbye to a dear pet. These emotional partings seem to come around so quickly and you’re never really prepared even though you know their time is drawing near. It doesn’t seem two minutes since I was writing about a little furry hollow on a cushion, empty of cat, and here we are again with our faithful dog, years later, who came to us as a puppy at the time that blog was written. Read it here.

Charley snuggled up to her when she first came to us 15 years ago

The only difference really is that the children are grown and you’re telling adults rather than little ones about this ending of life that’s so hard to impart.

It isn’t any easier because they’re older. In fact the younger the children are the more accepting they are of the event, not yet perhaps understanding the consequence of grief if they’ve never experienced it before.

“Why did the cat die?” their young cousin asked on one such occasion. We adults looked at each other not knowing the answer.

“It was her time,” was the only answer I could think of in the moment. But it was an answer that was completely accepted.

Children are very stoic. Especially if they haven’t experienced the sentimentality and drama that some parents attach to the event of a passing. Sadness is inevitable. But my feeling has always been that we must face up to it, allow our sadness, be true and honest about death, and rather than wallow in histrionics give the children the tools they need to deal with their emotions surrounding it. They do that by our example.

I know its difficult to hold yourself together sometimes. I wrote about this in my book ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ when the children’s only grandparent passed away. You can only do the best you can.

Being home educated there is no distraction of school to ease a moment here and there when you’re grieving but, as ever, it’s an opportunity for learning! We had some searing conversations, searingly honest and scientific, that reassured the children that this is what happens and that we do all endure it and recover from loss in time. It’s so important I think to be carefully honest and not use generalisations like ‘they’ve gone to sleep’, for example which might terrify a child into not sleeping themselves. Answer their questions and give them the information they can process according to their age and understanding. (There are some ideas to help here on the Young Minds website).

Meanwhile my grown youngsters are of an age now where they can show empathy for me and the sad hole in the house they’re no longer in, as well as receive it themselves and I find many of my sayings from the past years when we’ve been dealing with loss, coming full circle and being quoted back to me!

One of them is that the horrible gap that is left by the passing of something or someone loved will eventually be filled up again.

Seasons always come and go, such is the season of sadness.

Comforting thoughts.

Using nature to talk about mortality with kids

I wonder how the little Guillemot is? 

I think it was a guillemot anyway. It was standing forlornly at the edge of the water so still I thought it was an upstanding stone when I first caught sight of it in the distance. But as I walked nearer I realised it was a little bird. It was bedraggled and saturated and appeared to be shivering.

I guessed it had probably got exhausted and waterlogged. But had managed to come ashore with the tide.

What to do?

Leave it to recover in calm and solitude, or take it somewhere? The stress of being captured can often create further injury or cause them to die of shock anyway.

It was always a dilemma when we found exhausted or injured wild things. They rarely survived as a result of our attentions but the children always wanted to take them home and cosset and cuddle them back to health as we did them! None of which does wild things any good usually but it’s very hard to explain that to a child.

Nestlings were the worst. The children were adamant that they could save them with human ministrations, not understanding that most of them wouldn’t make it – human comforts are rarely what they need.

Living in the country animal fatalities were regularly witnessed. Another corpse in the tideline or a remnant of a fox’s meal, as well as farming, were opportunities for study and discussion and also conversations about the natural course of life.

These events, and the passing of pets, are a good opportunity to talk to kids about these difficult issues – although not difficult really if you make them a natural part of examining life.

More difficult when they’re not talked about and come as a terrible shock.

Mortality is usually conveniently hidden away like a taboo. But it is far better that it is confronted honestly, that children understand about the cycle of life, that we are sad and bereft for some time after losing someone or something, and that this passes, new aspects of life flood in and make us feel better and we survive and move forward.

Children are very matter-of-fact. They deal far better with honest answers than with cover ups. They see through those. They can only trust us if they know we’re honest. That way they’ll believe us when we say that we can recover from grief and loss, rather than thinking this is just another grown up lie.

The loss of pets or things in the wild and natural world provide good opportunities for us to talk about both the living and the passing of life, not in a morbid way. But in a matter-of-fact way with the children. And we shouldn’t shy away from it.

Had little children been with me when I saw the guillemot they would no doubt have wanted to do something about it. But I thought it best to leave it to find itself somewhere quiet to recover as it looked reasonable robust. After I’d had a good look at it – a rare treat to be so close.

But it popped into my mind occasionally throughout the day as I wondered about its fate.

Amazing shows and guinea pigs!

Well, it was amazing!20150511_122251

Their production sold all tickets which is a pretty incredible achievement for a fist venture, says she with just a teeny bit of pride. I am choked!

I am also choked because the snag with visiting loved ones is you have to leave them again! Tears threaten and throats go constricted and the journey home is beset with gloom.

I console myself that the girl I leave behind not only has the most loving partner to cuddle her now, where once only mum would do, but she also has guinea pigs!

You wouldn’t think guinea pigs would make such a difference. But there’s something in the deep emotive caring part of our being that flourishes through a connection with an animal.

There have been studies done on it apparently.

Studies or not there was something in my grown up girl that made her feel the need for an animal in her life again. She’d always had them when little when I gritted my teeth and got over my aversion to cages and we had a variety of furry things over the years. And seeing the children calm themselves with caressing a pet, put their cheeks to furry bodies as I held my cheek to infant hair, I knew it was worth it. I watched them virtually dissolve into bliss.

Ironically I’ve just seen the same sensation in my twenty four year old. Pets bring something to life that calms stress and ignites that loving side when it gets buried in the business of life.

I recently read the most beautiful book ‘The Gentle Barn’ about a special centre offering animal therapy to lost and troubled children. The connection to, looking after, and physical proximity of warm loving beings connects children to a loving core that may have been imprisoned by traumatic life experiences.

I think putting on a production for the first time ever may almost have felt like a traumatic life experience for my eldest and her partner! But afterwards I watched some of it leech away whilst holding a guinea pig!

I might try it and maybe I can heal some of the trauma a mum inevitably feels at wrenching partings from grown up girls by cuddling the cat!

Bye to an old friend…

 “Listen. I’m sure I can hear a cat meowing.”

“It can’t be a cat out here, miles from anywhere, it must be a bird.”

“I’m sure it’s a cat.” I wandered off the pathway and into the long grass under the trees. I heard it louder than ever. Not so much a cat but a kitteny mew.

“I heard it too,” said my daughter who was six at the time.

“Sounds like a bird to me,” said the others. I know a cat when I hear one, I was thinking, extraordinary though it was for one to be right out on the edge of the marshes, no houses around.

I heard it again, long and strong. I looked around harder and there he was down in the grass. The most vociferous and charming black and white kitten I’d ever seen rushing through the stems to greet us, as happy to see a human being as you’d expect a dog to be. And he had two siblings there with him. Definitely cats!

That’s how Blackie came to us. He’d been dumped in the wild by some thoughtless owner obviously wanting rid, left to a fate by foxes no doubt, or starvation. After a check in at the Cats Protection League for a while I caved in under intense pressure from the children and we adopted him. Well, he adopted us really.

He was a people cat right from the start. He loved company, cuddles and remained as chatty as ever. Whilst the children grew up he tolerated their over zealous attentions and always curled up where they were. He put up with the puppy who was introduced at a later stage. Brought us regular presents – dead things – to show us how much he cared. And the minute anyone ever sat down he was on our knees, a constant hot water bottle.

Fifteen years later, after finding us like that, the poor old boy has gone. There’s suddenly a gap on the settee, on the garden path under the flowers and no cat conversation or greeting when you go in. No fussing round my legs when I open the fridge.

And although I bemoaned him stressing me out when the girls used to fight over holding him, got irritated with him walking across my face purring in the middle of the night when I’d forgotten to close the bedroom door, or sticking his head in my muesli when I wasn’t looking to get at the milk, it’s left a big hole now he isn’t here any more. There’s a little hairy hollow on the cushion that’s heart-rendingly empty.

You learn a lot having animals. The hardest lesson of all is letting go when the cycle of life demands it as we had to do last week. He’s buried in the garden. I shall miss him and his attentions even the ones that sometimes caused me grief. And so too will the children who have become young women whilst he purred a lifetime through our affections.