Parents

Don’t Flush the Finned Ones

This article originally appeared on PETA Prime.

_2800_gold_2900_fishWhen I was a kid, I stood in sad attendance at many a goldfish funeral. To their credit, my parents did attempt to acknowledge the passing of each little finned friend. But even as a youngster, I still felt something wasn’t right when we gathered around the toilet. There was an emptiness I was unable to define.The loss of an animal companion is often a child’s first experience with death, and for many, it involves the death of a fish. Some parents hold flush-funerals with the very best of intentions; I remember my Mom saying that flushing was the very best way to send my orange friend back to the river from whence he came. But there are other considerations that may have future ramifications.

I volunteered as a counselor on a pet grief hotline for almost seven years, and in the process I spoke to many genuinely grieving children. Here are a few of the things I heard firsthand, from the mouths of babes:

A young man who was grieving for his pet goldfish said, “If something happens to me, will Mom and Dad flush me too?”

A 10-year-old girl who had just lost her 9-year-old dog—with whom she’d grown up—said, “Mom and Dad aren’t crying, so I should be grown-up too and not cry.”

These humbling examples offered me a sobering perspective on how deeply and personally children experience grief. So what can parents and grandparents do to help?

Right now, before a loss occurs, think about how to bring your child into the process. Death is a natural part of life, and how you guide your child or grandchild through their grief will very likely affect how he or she will deal with similar experiences in the future.

Some ways to involve children are to hold a small family funeral, at which the animal’s life is celebrated with stories, artwork, poetry, or a song. Our next-door neighbors had their children create colorful laminated placemats memorializing their beloved companion. This gave the children a chance to discuss their friend at dinner and initiated some wonderful family dialogue that might otherwise have been missed.

Also, let your children see you cry, if you are moved. Explain to them that your heart hurts too, and bring them into your experience so that they’ll understand that it’s OK to grieve. If you suppress your feelings, your child might come to believe that it’s wrong to express one’s grief.

These are just a few easy steps to ensure that the loss of even the smallest animal friend is treated with honor. The experience becomes an opportunity not only to instill respect and compassion but also to model for our children that grief is a natural and acceptable emotion that’s directly equivalent to the depth of the love we feel for our animal companions. This way we can raise compassionate kids who will carry those life lessons into their own families, and we can recognize that even the tiniest life lost can have a tremendous and lasting impact on the lives of our little human animals.

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  • christine kettunen commented on April 8, 2011 at 11:42 am

    stop killing

  • Shinka Martial Arts commented on April 8, 2011 at 1:01 pm

    great article. Reminded me of my first fishing fiasco in which *I* thought we were catching a pet…

  • kath commented on April 8, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    i remember feeling the same way as we flushed the latest fish when i was a kid. i always felt the need to run bury it in the backyard. cremation is way too expensive…

  • Kat commented on April 8, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    Great post and it’s good for parents to show compassion towards all living beings, so kids emulate this as well when they’re older.

  • Aurora commented on April 8, 2011 at 11:05 pm

    I learned in a psychology class (it focused on the psychology of death and dying) that quite frequently, people are more upset about the death of a pet than they are of the death of a human. This is usually because a pet is perceived as never judging or rejecting us, and because of this people feel much closer to their pets because they genuinely feel as though they are being loved unconditionally (and they are!). For years I felt guilt over crying and being distraught at the death of my pet rabbit when I was eight, and not crying a year later when my grandfather (who I didn’t know very well) died. It’s perfectly normal for this to happen, and it happens to a lot of people.

  • Eryn commented on May 12, 2011 at 11:43 am

    How do you explain that your pets arent going to Heaven? My kids say that they go to be with Jesus but how do i tell them the truth? Any suggestions?

  • Brnn commented on May 30, 2011 at 8:48 am

    What if animals do go to heaven? Isn’t humanity where it is now because we think we’re better than every other living organism on our planet? We share the same water, the same air, and the same earth so why can we not share the same Heaven?

  • Dish commented on June 3, 2011 at 1:15 pm

    Its a beautiful article and it should be forwarded in all ways possible…I am doing my bit… I have had pets all these years and yes I felt this emptiness on my loss for them than I have ever felt for any human….I always wanted to pass on such a msg but never had the right words… Thank u for giving me the opportunity to pass this article to many… 😀

  • Anil Punj commented on June 27, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    very well said article n teaches a lot of things..to kids and to elders as well..nice work.

  • PHOEBE MARIE RAMAS commented on August 11, 2011 at 1:09 am

    it’s a way of letting children know that our animal companions made a beautiful impact on our lives. i was so heartbroken when our pet cat, Tiger, passed away. i miss Tiger. all we have now are his photos and vivid memories. he will never be forgotten.