Processing Grief and Death: Saying Goodbye to Our Family Pet

One year ago, our family pet–our cat, Tommy–died. He got really sick, really quickly, and it was completely unexpected. We had adopted him from the shelter when he was a kitten and our children were six, three, and one. Now he was eight, and they were fourteen, eleven, nine, and five. I naively thought we would deal with his death when the kids were older.

My grandfather and my husband’s grandfather have both passed away, so my children had some notion of death, but I had never prepared any of us for this possibility. It was a first-time milestone as a mom.

Processing Grief and Death: Saying Goodbye to Our Family Pet

The children each processed their grief in various ways.

My girls were both reserved and very introspective. They shed a few tears, but then seemed to move on rather quickly. Our older son was very vocal and cried for days. He took the collar Tommy used to wear and put it on Tommy’s favorite stuffed animal so he could sleep with it. It was eerie to hear that bell jingle at night, knowing Tommy was not here anymore, but it seemed to bring our son comfort. Our youngest asked many questions and would recount the process of what happened (Tommy got sick, we took him to the animal hospital, the doctor gave him medicine, and we said goodbye.) He would come up and hug me and tell me he missed Tommy, and then he would run off and play.

I had my own moments of sadness and tears, and I found it was really helpful for all of us when I showed those. I’ve been on a journey of respectful and peaceful parenting, and part of that includes being honest and truthful in allowing and accepting my feelings and theirs. I never felt like any of us were embarrassed or ashamed of crying, even when that feeling of sadness came on us at random times. We grew closer and stronger in our relationships as we shared our memories of Tommy and listened to each other process our thoughts and feelings. 

I’ve seen parents ask other parents how to process the death of a pet with their children, and I think my best advice would be exactly that: be honest and share your own memories, feelings, and emotions while allowing your children to do exactly the same.

It is ok to feel sad when there is sadness. It is ok to feel happy when there is happiness. It is ok to feel any emotion when things happen and our bodies respond in that way. Sitting with those feelings is important. We were able to process through our grief together, and there was no suppression of those feelings. There was no pressure to “get over it” or “move on, be happier,” because we were all in similar stages.

While I offered comfort to my children, they offered comfort to me. It was a beautiful experience in a difficult time.


Dawn lives life to play! Wife to Bryan and mother of four (ages 17, 14, 12, and 8,) she finds what she most enjoys and does it. Bryan tells people she hates a blank calendar; Dawn says she loves a colorful one. With a BA in Theatre and a certificate in Performing Arts Entrepreneurship from the University of Iowa, Dawn has successfully run two business and volunteered on numerous community theatre Boards of Directors. She currently colors in her calendar with Youngevity confidence consultation appointments, Chamber Singers of Iowa City board meetings, strength training and kickboxing at NLXF-NL, managing the office at BerganKDV, and setting as many dates with friends as she can. Dawn is passionate about respect and intentional choices. She loves coffee with cream, a good wheat beer, seeing someone discover something for the first time, and listening to audio books while driving.


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