Should I Replace My Child's Deceased Pet?

Should I Replace My Child's Deceased Pet?

When I was growing up, we had several different pets.  We always had a dog: Frisbee, Mandy, and Hannah.  I think there was another one.  (Never cats, though my kids now all love cats.) We had parakeets - even a turtle.  We loved our pets.  Our turtle would cruise around our backyard and sometimes dig burrow itself into the dirt to avoid our dog who liked to flip the little guy over with her nose.

As far as I remember, we were quite fortunate with the health of our pets.  I don’t recall ever taking them to the vet or them having problems.

My Pet Fish

At some point, I was given a 10-gallon aquarium, which I kept in my bedroom.  There was something magical about it.  The sound of the bubbler was quite soothing.  It was really fun going to the store and bringing home a new variety and introducing them to their new environment.  Even the rocks and fake plants in the tank were fun.  We were creating a new world for these fish, and it was so relaxing watching them explore it.  Having just the aquarium light on in an otherwise dark room also created a magical environment.

Of course, unlike a dog, these tiny fish had no resilience.  You could say goodnight one day and wake up to one floating upside down in the morning.  Or say goodbye as you went to school to come home to dead fish.  A couple of times I must have left the cover open and some kamikaze fish jumped out of the tank.  It was funny if you were there to return it to the tank.  If you weren’t, that was another one I had to flush down the toilet.

When one died, we would often go back to the store and get a new one.

It’s kind of surprising now, but each time one of my fish died, it was really hard on me.  (I purposely left out my age because I was not a little kid at this time.). At some point, I just couldn’t take the trauma anymore.  The joy of having the fish was outweighed by the pain of their inevitable death.

This personal story leads me to the question posed in the title.  When my child’s (or my own) pet dies, should I get them a new one?

A natural response would be, why not?  Of course.  To that I would say, there’s nothing wrong with getting a new pet.

Why Wouldn't You Replace a Pet?

But with that replacement, there can also come an expectation, deserved or not, intended or not, that the replacement (the new pet, in this case) will fill those emotional holes in your heart.  Though the new pet will bring new memories and new joys, it cannot fill those emotional holes.

Would this apply to the breakup of a romantic relationship?  What about the (heaven forbid) death of a family member?  Would immediately finding a new love interest heal those emotional wounds?  Would having another child make you forget those pains?  Of course, it wouldn’t.  Again, this is not to say that we shouldn’t find a new romantic partner - or have more children.  Or get a new pet.  

As we have more children we learn that our hearts have infinite capability and capacity to love those special gifts. 

There’s another step that will help us, though, in being more emotionally prepared for that new relationship.  We can “complete” grief from such losses so that our hearts are more ready for the new relationship.

In grief recovery, we talk about the idea of “completing” grief.  We don’t use the word “closure.”  Closure implies the end of a relationship.  Instead, we speak of finding emotional completion - one where we can remember the fullness of the relationship without being debilitated by the pain of a loss.

What is Completion from Grief?

Consider this in light of the loss of a pet, a romantic relationship, or even a deceased loved one.  We don’t forget the joy that they brought into our lives.  But the emotional hold and pain of those losses can instead be lessened so that we can move forward with a new pet, relationship, and surviving loved ones.  Doing so is also much fairer to those new/other relationships.  They don’t feel compared to the previous person or pet.  We’re just creating a new one - not checking on how this one stacks up with the other.

When Children Grieve - another book published by the Grief Recovery Institute - teaches us how to help children, whether our own or others we work with in any way, move through and complete the grief-inducing changes and events in their lives.  Doing so allows them to not hold onto the pain from the losses which will inevitably come into their lives.

Imagine a little kid whose pet hamster dies. You help this child spend some time reflecting on the highs and lows of this experience, formulating powerful statements of emotion (statements of apology, forgiveness, and others), and, after expressing them in the way that is appropriate for their age, they are able to create a new wonderful relationship with a new pet from a place of renewal and joy instead pain and loss.

Such an experience is completely possible.

Then, consider this after the death of a grandparent - or after they break up with their first boy/girlfriend. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they could move forward with renewal and joy instead of pain, resentment, and loss?

I’m hoping this makes sense.  Please let me know if it does or doesn’t - or if you agree or disagree.

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