death of a pet

This is a letter I sent out after our classroom rat died a few years back. One of the parents requested it again because they have a pet that is dying now.

Hi everyone

Last night, Templeton the rat died. I am surprised it lasted this
long. She has been quite sick and rats do’t live that long. She was
about 2 and a half years old.

We didn’t really talk about how old she was because many of them are
that age. We told them that she was old for a rat and had been sick.

We talked about being dead. It means she won’t move ever again. She
is not going to come back to life. We showed them her dead body and
when we went outside we buried her in the garden. The kids who wanted
to helped to fill in the hole with dirt. They asked if the dirt would
hurt her. Nope, she is dead. She doesn’t feel a thing.

We said goodbye to her even though her ears couldnt hear. “She is
dead. Some people think that animals have spirits and that their
spirits can hear us saying goodbye. But mostly we say goodbye for

We read two books–The Dead Bird, a great story about kids who find a
dead bird and bury it and have a little ceremony and then visit it
everyday and put flowers on the grave until they forget. matter of
fact and sweet.

We also read the “10th good thing about Barney” about a boy whose cat
dies and he thinks of 10 good things to say about the cat. The last
is “now his body is in the dirt and will help the flowers grow. That
is a pretty nice job for a cat.” In this book there is a disagreement
between friends whether Barney is in the ground or in heaven. Nobody
really knows, says the all-knowing dad in the story.

The kids talked about death. Some of them worried because they know
someone who is really really old. She’s not that old, we assured him!
Some of them remembered other experiences they have had with death–a
dog, a great-grandma. It is sad when we someone we know dies because
we can’t be with them anymore.

Kids are usually pretty matter-of-fact about death, and it can also be
scary and something they want to talk about over and over.

This is something you can decide in your family how to deal with. I
personally believe that children don’t need to worry about death and
the message I give them is that usually people live a long long time.
No need for them to know at this age that sometimes children die or
babies or young parents. It isn’t usual and is something to be dealt
with when it affects their lives not arbitrarily just out of “being
honest”. Part of the reason to have pets is to allow them to deal
with death in this way, before it is someone or an animal they are
really close to.

Frankly, the rat was in our classroom, but no one was madly in love
with it in the way we are with cats or dogs or perhaps a small animal
at home. But it is valuable in the way that it brings up the subject.

Last year when I was helping kids put out their mats for naptime, one
of the kids asked if we were all going to die. Not for a long long
time I said. He said “Well you might because you are old” “I’m not
that old.” I told him. I expect to live a really long time too.
Maybe not quite as long as you, but a long time.

Time is such an unusual concept. What I feel children need is
assurance. Let me know if I can be of further help about this or if
it sparks any further discussion.


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