The Day We Lost Our Pet: Why Moms Can't Always Make Everything Better

Parents don't always have the right answers. But Heather Jones is learning that sometimes it's okay to let your kids just feel a little sad.

“Get up, something’s wrong with Lacey. She’s dead.”

These were the words that I woke up to two weeks ago. My husband had been petting our three-year-old grey tabby one moment, and the next she was dead. She had not been ill, nor shown signs of anything being wrong even a minute before she died, but for reasons still unknown to us, she suddenly died early that morning.

I leaped out of bed and ran into the hallway, unintentionally ignoring my husband’s pleas to keep it down and not wake our 8-year-old son, in front of whose open door this was all playing out. “What? Are you sure? Are you sure? ARE YOU SURE?” I knew the answer, as I looked at the still, grey ball of fur at his feet.

As I struggled to grasp the reality of this for myself, we saw my son’s eyes open. We couldn’t let him see her. I went into him and made the decision to tell him right away so that he did not draw his own conclusions from the obvious commotion in the hallway. I placed my hand on his forehead. “Honey, Lacey died.” He stared silently at the ceiling for a second or two, then his face scrunched up and big tears began to fall from both of us. “I know, Honey, I know. I know. I know, Honey, I know,” I said through my own tears. He told me he was sad. I told him I was sad too. My husband moved Lacey out of sight.

My son began to say a phrase he has been saying frequently since. “Why did it have to be LACEY?” We have two other cats, but Lacey was his. We didn’t intend to adopt Lacey in the first place. We went to pick up another cat that we were adopting through an agency, and this little grey kitten stood up in her cage when my son approached. She chose him. My husband and I knew we were going home with both cats. From that moment on, they had a very special relationship. She had a meow that she reserved only for him. It wasn’t a nice, affectionate sounding meow, it was a piercing, jarring, screaming meow, but for whatever reason, it was her way of saying she was happy to see him. She only used it for him, and he never got tired of it. She slept next to him on his bed every night and greeted him when he came home from school every day. She was his. His wish that one of the other cats had died instead was a natural thought for an 8-year-old who was so bonded with this cat. But I hope he doesn’t remember having that thought when he gets old enough to realize the significance of it.

No one went to school or work that day. We stayed home and cried and tried to make sense of what had happened. I was shocked by how hard it was hitting me also. I have lost many pets before, but never so suddenly. I was trying to comfort my son through my own emotional breakdown. I decided to let him see me cry. I determined it was okay for him to see me so upset, it let him know it was okay for him to be distraught too. I didn’t try to sugarcoat it, only acknowledge his feelings, and that I shared them too. It was sad, and it was shocking, and it was hard to process that she was gone.

The hardest part in comforting him is that we had no answers for why she was gone. Any books I looked for referenced animals who were very old and had lived a long, full life. It was their time. Most of the time, this is how it happens after all. It is certainly how he thought of death. Someone gets old, sometimes they get sick, and they die, but they lived a long, happy life and are not suffering anymore. Lacey was young, younger than him, and healthy as far as we had known. We could not answer why she had suddenly died. We couldn’t say she was very old and had lived a long, full life. She was just gone. It didn’t feel like we had lost her, it felt like she had been taken from us.

I answered questions about where she was now. He wanted to know where she was physically and where she was spiritually. I answered to the best of my ability. I told him what I believed and told him he could choose to believe what he liked. I learned that he was scared she was somewhere, wondering where he was and worried about him. I tried to put his mind at ease about that.

My friend brought him a small grey stuffed cat that he carried with him everywhere for a week. He took it to school, and mercifully, his amazing teachers allowed him to keep it with him. Having that cat to physically hold onto helped a lot. He placed it next to him on the bed where she used to sleep in an effort to fill the void.

The day of her death happened to also be election day. I watched Trump win and legitimately wondered if the day had been a dream. Lacey was dead, Trump was president-elect, and nothing seemed real. Part of me went to bed expecting to wake up to discover none of it had actually happened. When I woke up the next morning, I watched Hillary give her speech. I understood why she needed to remain strong and stoic during that speech, but I was glad for the brief crack in her voice, and for the tears welling up in Bill’s eyes behind her. It was reassuring to know they were sad, and that it was okay that we were sad too. It validated my decision to allow my son to see me upset.

It’s been two weeks since that awful day, and we have returned to our normal routines, but it still hits us sometimes. We still pause at the top of the stairs expecting her to be blocking our way. My son wakes up sullen nearly every morning when he doesn’t find her beside him in bed. We are still trying to make sense of it, for ourselves, and for him. I have reassured him he will not forget her, another concern of his. That no matter how many cats he has, she will always be that special cat to him. As a mother, there is an ache to make everything better for him and to take away this pain, but I know that it is important for him to feel these emotions and work through them. All I can do is open my ears and my arms for him, and let him know how much I miss her too.

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