Warning - some of the content of this post might be upsetting to some readers.
Our cat died. Our poor old, eighteen year old cat that was a big part of our family finally left us. We knew it was coming as she was very old and was starting to look a bit frail, however it was still a very sad shock for us all.
As parents, my wife and I knew that there was going to be some difficult discussions and questions coming about our cat Porridge's passing. When Porridge died we jumped headfirst into the honesty and tried not to hide anything about the experience from our children. This included letting them see her (although she was hit by a car there was no blood or visible trauma which was a blessing), letting them touch her and talking about the realities of death. We didn't tell them she'd gone to live on a farm or anything fanciful - just the truth.
We found a place to bury her behind the house and I started digging. The children were keen to be involved and asked for turns with the spade so I let them. I was glad they were asking to be involved in what was a pretty crummy situation.
To see them comfort each other in their grief was both heartbreaking and heartwarming. Loss isn't easy and to see the children hugging each other and talking through their thoughts and feelings made me feel hopeful for any future times of grief they'll go through together.
I have to say that a lot of their tricky or left-of-centre questions were helpfully answered by a book that we already had in the bookcase: 'I Miss You - A First Look At Death' by Pat Thomas (this can be purchased here). It's a great book that talks quite matter-of-factly about the nature of living things dying but also covers the emotions that go with grief quite tenderly.
I personally don't have a great amount of experience with the loss of loved ones so this whole experience was important to me to share with my children. I wanted them to know that feeling sad or asking crazy questions is perfectly normal and OK in our house. That if they wanted to poke and prod their cat's lifeless body that was fine. If they wanted to put flowers in the grave, that wasn't a problem. If they were worried about the soil being thrown on top of their cat's body, that wasn't a silly thing to think. It was also important for them to see their parents crying and feeling sad about saying goodbye to a family member they loved.
In the end, I was pretty thankful to that cat for all that it taught our children while it was alive and finally when she died.