The death of a family pet can be devastating. Here are 5 ways to help Catholic families cope.
“Mom. You just can’t give up on an animal who is suffering. We’re Catholic. Euthanasia is morally wrong.”
Her gray eyes flashed. I knew this was coming. I set my tea mug on the counter and sighed.
Eliot stood, or, rather, leaned, in the corner of the dining room. He had just turned 14 years old. That’s roughly 150 when you convert bunny years to human.
His old age was taking a major toll.
Eliot came to live with us 14 years ago when our first bunny, Bean, passed away. We mourned Bean’s loss (heavily — I had to take off from work for a few days), then began canvassing Rabbit Rescue organizations online. We found Eliot, his brother Ted, and his mother Viola at a foster home about 20 miles away. Dan and I went to visit one afternoon and were smitten: We adopted all three the following week.
A presence appeared at my elbow. I turned and saw my seven-year-old daughter, tears in her eyes. “Are you really going to let them kill Eliot? How could you do that, mom?! He’s ours!”
Viola had been put to sleep several years ago but the girls weren’t old enough then to understand. Eliot’s brother Ted had passed away peacefully at home about seven months prior: He had been fine that morning, only to lie down and not get back up. Eliot was the last of the old guard and he was failing. Despite heavy medication, his arthritis was out of control. His back legs had begun to atrophy. He often fell over. He’d developed pressure sores on the sides of his feet.
True, our little El hadn’t stopped eating, nor was he giving the appearance of suffering or pain. But he was losing weight, suffering from anemia, and steadily declining. I knew what the vet was going to say.
The next day we said goodbye to our little Eliot. We stroked his ears and kissed his furry nose. We cried on the way home. The girls asked if animals go to heaven.
I told them I didn’t know.
Animals, Death, and Catholic Teaching
While the Church has no official stance on the subject of eternal life for animals, it is clear our furry companions don’t have an immortal soul. The best we can say with certainty is that we have a loving Father. He created and cares for all of his creatures, and we can surely entrust them to the mercy of the Lord.
For some children this answer is sufficient. For others, it decidedly is not. Grief over the loss of an animal is real and it is heavy — especially when you’re dealing with highly sensitive kids. The question for us became a matter of helping my children work through it. It’s true they’d suffered the loss twice previously, but I think the finality of Eliot’s death, our last bunny, hit them very hard.
5 Ideas for Honoring Your Pet’s Memory, Perfect for Catholic Moms and their Kids
Read From Scripture
God’s loving care for His creatures is evident throughout Scripture. Sit down with your children and read the following:
Then God said: Let the earth bring forth every kind of living creature: tame animals, crawling things, and every kind of wild animal. And so it happened. God made every kind of wild animal, every kind of tame animal, and every kind of thing that crawls on the ground. God saw that it was good. –Genesis 1:24-25
Of all living creatures, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, one male, and one female, to keep them alive along with you. Of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal, and of every kind of thing that crawls on the ground, two of each will come to you, that you may keep them alive. –Genesis 6:19-20
Turn to the Saints
St. Francis, of course, is a favorite; legend tells of his relationship with a wolf. But there’s also St. John Paul II (often pictured holding animals) and St. Jerome, who legend says remove a thorn from the paw of a lion. These saints are a great example of the beautiful relationship we have with God’s creation, and the great gift he has given us in our animal friends. For us, reading about saints who loved animals and looking at their pictures have been quite the balm for their wounded hearts.
Make a Memorial Stone
Memorial stones are a lovely way to honor the memory of furry family members. Roll and cut air-dry clay into a circle; decorate with faux gemstones, rocks, or shells. When the stone is dry, paint your animal’s name and any saying you’d like to include. Then seal it with acrylic spray.
Choose a Memory Spot
Is there a place in your home or outside in the garden where your pet used to spend a lot of time? Hang a photo, a picture, or even a set of windchimes in that area. The children can visit that spot when they are sad.
Encourage Journaling or Illustration
Children can have big feelings, especially over the death of a pet. Give them a space to communicate their emotions on paper, either through writing their feelings or creating art.
For many children, the death of a family pet is their first experience with suffering and dying.
It’s a hard thing to wrap your head around, even for adults. Fortunately, though, our loving Father cares for us and for the animals. We can help our children take comfort in that, and in the beauty of our Catholic faith.
Has your family suffered the loss of a pet? How have you commemorated the loss?
Copyright 2018 Ginny Kochis