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Ode to my Cat: Talking to Kids about Death

If dogs are man’s best friends, then cats are woman’s.

pumpkin rubs lila- resized

I adopted Pumpkin from an animal shelter in Salem, MA right after buying my first house with my first husband. He was a symbol of our growing family, and a darling cat-baby that we both adored and spoiled like crazy. Pumpkin has been my constant companion through two marriages, and two divorces, through graduate school, the birth of my sweet baby girl, and a move to Vermont. He has provided immeasurable love, snuggles, companionship, entertainment, and half-eaten rodents. One time, he even brought a giant, live garter snake into my third floor bedroom, and left it under my laundry basket for me to discover much later, resulting in my loud distress. He was as proud and delighted as any cat could be, strutting his glory around the house, swishing his tail arrogantly.

pumpkin in sink- resized

Since my daughter was born, Pumpkin has been the most patient babysitter, playmate, and friend that anyone could ever ask for. He has tirelessly endured hours and hours of dress up, tea parties, dance parties, and naked sun bathing. My daughter calls him her brother, and, alternately, her baby. According to her, I’m his sister. At dinner time, he sits on her chair, or across from me, and eats treats from our hands. He is pampered, spoiled, and adored. My daughter is gentle and kind to him, and he has rewarded her with very few cat slaps, and more love than I imagined a cat could bestow upon a child. She likes to ruffle the hair on the top of his head, and laughingly calls it his “hairy hat.” They are quite a pair, my old cat and my daughter. Always together. She “helps” when his vet examines him, and the vet tells me that her touch calms his heart rate. Pumpkin and my girl love each other.

Lila lying on pumpkin- resized

And he is sick. Very sick.

It’s not unexpected for an older cat to start to decline. I adopted him as an adult, and he’s probably 15 or 16 years old now. His back and hips have been sore for a while, and he hasn’t been able to jump like he used to. Rodents and snakes fear him no longer.

I just never expected him to be entirely ok one night, and entirely unwell the next morning. He’s seen my compassionate, considerate, wonderful vet four times in the past week. We are waiting to see if the medicine he is taking will help him live a little longer.

Regardless, it is time to start planning our goodbyes.

baby lila with pumpkin- resized

In the meantime, I am spending a lot of time talking to my daughter about our dear Pumpkin, or Poopoo, as she unflatteringly likes to call him. Just like when I talk to her about her dad, and his absence from her life, I feel that “honesty light” is the best policy. I tell her that he is sick, he may die, and that when people and animals are very, very old, or very, very sick, they can die.

That dying is a natural part of life and nothing to be afraid of.

baby lila lying next to pumpkin- resized

It gives me the same fear as when I talk about her dad though. What if what I’m saying is wrong? What if I’m scarring her, and sowing the seeds of trauma and resentment? I know that my words, no matter how carefully thought out, are no substitute for the cat she’s adored since birth.

Purple lila with pumpkin- resized

My daughter and I will spend some time planning an appropriate funeral for our beloved Pumpkin. I am not religious, but it is important to me to honor my cat, and to help my daughter understand and process his death. We will draw pictures of Pumpkin, and talk about how much we miss him. Because when it is time, we will miss him terribly.

If you are interested in adopting a cat locally, please consider the following rescue organizations:

  1. Humane Society of Chittenden County
  2. Green Mountain Animal Defenders

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2 Responses to Ode to my Cat: Talking to Kids about Death

  1. Meredith Bay Tyack
    Meredith Bay Tyack July 16, 2015 at 12:23 pm #

    What sweet pictures! This post made me cry – why do we do this to ourselves with pets?! They are with us such a short time but they bring so much joy. Dang it.

    • Jemima
      Jemima July 16, 2015 at 10:47 pm #

      Thank you, Meredith! My kitty makes me cry too. He is such a character, and so incredibly patient and loving to my daughter. It’s just a cruel joke that I’ve had him for most of my adult life and he won’t be able to be my companion for much longer. Very sad.

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