It occurred to me only after my daughter started crying that she’d never known life without Venus.
Before I told them, I found myself with the odd thought that I could just tell the kids Venus was going to stay at the hospital forever, that way they wouldn’t have to grieve. I don’t want my kids to be sad. What mother does? But I didn’t do that. I told them the truth.
We acquired Venus when Kiddo#2 was nine months old. To her, she’s always had the cat around. My four year old is also of an age that he’s always had three cats in the house. That was, in fact, both their responses: Now we only have two cats?
Kiddo#3 doesn’t really get it. He wants Venus to come home, and he isn’t quite sure what it means that she had a disease and that she died. He asked many questions, then told me that he too was sick, and then he talked about what happens when people get sick. We’ve differentiated for him the difference between being sick and having a disease, how when you’re sick the body can fix itself but when you have a disease, it can’t fix itself.
Kiddo#1 took it without reacting at all, and then an hour later had a 90-minute spectacular meltdown that involved incoherent screaming and threats and throwing things and multiple time-outs. This is how he deals with stress. We understand that.
But Kiddo#2 cried. Her face crumpled and she sobbed, and I just held her. I told her it’s good to cry when you’re sad and it’s okay to be sad when someone dies. We talked about maybe how she could talk to her sister Emily Rose in her head, and ask Emily to go find Venus in Heaven. I suggested maybe Emily could take Venus into her house, and then they could stay together. Would she like that?
She said she would. Then Kiddo#3 said he didn’t want Venus to live with Emily: he wanted her here. And he cried. It went back and forth like that for a while.
Later, we looked at pictures and videos I had of Venus, and we were able to laugh while we talked about her.
I can’t protect my children from grief. They have to face it. They have to answer the questions, and they have to learn it’s okay to cry when you’re sad. In the long run, I know that builds compassion. It builds resiliency for them to experience loss now; I can’t shelter them from loss and pain, but I can shelter them while they learn to grieve. They’ll be more honest with their own hearts in the future if they learn now that sorrow isn’t something to fear.
We’re making donations to two kitty rescue groups in Venus’s name. It’s not much. But in the long term, I think maybe her life is teaching my middle two about how to grieve and how to say goodbye, and that grief doesn’t last forever. It’s a hard lesson, but it’s a good one to learn.