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In a recent Internet discussion a woman said her 18-year old cat had died peacefully behind the couch the night before, and now she wondered if it would be wise to ask her 6 year old daughter to attend a small funeral for the animal. “Or should I just bury my cat in the back yard before my daughter gets home from school,” the woman asked.
Nearly 100 answers came in, and all but one indicated that a funeral would probably be a good thing for the child. Some added that the girl should be given the choice of whether to attend the pet’s funeral, and still others recommended that the girl herself be allowed to design and conduct the service.
The one who dismissed the idea of a funeral was quickly dismissed herself by the other contributors to the discussion. (“If you want your daughter to have a healthy respect for death, then no funeral,” she said. “If you want your daughter to be someone who attends pet funerals, then, yes, give the cat a pet funeral.”) The consensus -- among nearly everyone who has an opinion -- is that pet funerals are a healthy and good thing to do -- especially for children.
Here are a few tips that various experts on the internet have given for staging a meaningful pet funeral that will help your son or daughter (or even yourself) come to terms with the difficult emotions that surround the loss of a beloved pet.
First, as the contributors to the above mentioned discussion said, it’s important that pet funerals be held only if the child likes the idea. (You do not necessarily have to wait for the child to mention it, just be sure that the child is comfortable with the idea before proceeding.) All experts say that forcing a child to attend a pet funeral is never a good thing.
Next, it’s a good idea to let the child (or children) design and run the funeral. This suggestion, of course, varies according to the age of the children, but, in general, it’s important for adults to resist the urge to plan things in this case. Inviting friends and neighbors is a good idea, but care should be exercised in this regard. It’s important to invite only those people who can be counted upon to exercise the proper respect for the service and who will not be tempted to belittle the experience in any way. (If a neighbor is likely to question the need of the funeral to others, then he or she is not likely a good person to invite.)
Older siblings of a child may sometimes show a negative demeanor toward something like a pet funeral. So, experts say, do not force an older child to attend pet funerals. In fact, sometimes their presence can only cause problems.
One ironic thing to keep in mind about pet funerals: do not make them too much of a good experience. An urban legend has circulated for years saying that a young girl was so mesmerized by her experience creating a funeral for her family’s pet parakeet that she ended up killing many more pets (including those of neighbors) over the next few months, simply so she could help arrange more funerals.
That is not the kind of attitude that any parent wants to instill in his or her child about pet funerals.
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