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The Rainbow Bridge: Helping Kids Cope with the Loss of a Pet

Guest Post By Karen Struck

One of the most joyful experiences in life is the unconditional love of our pets. They bring us so much happiness and teach us important lessons in life like responsibility, patience, and love.

For many of us, losing our beloved companions can feel as painful as losing a human family member.  A child’s first experience in dealing with the concept of death may be the loss of their pet.

What is the Rainbow Bridge?

The Rainbow Bridge became a popular poem in the 1980’s and 1990’s as a way of easing the pain of pet owners mourning the loss of their pet.  According to the poem, a deceased pet will immediately go to a beautiful green meadow, in perfect health, with plenty of food, water and sunshine. They are not alone because the meadow is filled with many deceased pets, equally as healthy and happy. They will play with the other animals until their owner’s death.  The pet and their owners will reunite and cross the Rainbow Bridge, together, into heaven. The Rainbow Bridge is a fictional bridge that connects earth to heaven.

It’s a happy ending for pets and their owners.  This belief makes “loss” feel temporary since owners feel they will be reunited with their pets in the afterlife.

We all face loss and grief throughout our lives.  The pain associated with loss can feel unbearable; yet, in our hearts, we know it is an unavoidable experience.

Most importantly, death and loss should not feel like a taboo subject when faced with a fatal diagnosis, impending death, or the emotions experienced after the loss of a loved one.  Talking about death and dying may feel uncomfortable, but it can also help prepare us emotionally for the inevitable.  

Molly: A Special Member of our Family

When my daughter was five years old, we rescued a five-month-old black cat from a shelter.  Her name was Molly.  She lived to be twenty-one years of age. She passed away on Easter morning in 2017.  My daughter’s grief was intense.  Her emotions fluctuated between gentle tears, sobbing, anger, and depression.  As we sat in the quiet room at the veterinarian’s office, we held Molly on our lap, bundled up in a blanket, revealing only her furry head with her eyes closed.  She looked very peaceful.

My daughter and I reminisced about our time with Molly, her favorite toys, her quirky behavior which made us laugh, and her favorite places to curl up on her favorite blanket.  My daughter mentioned a phrase she would repeat to Molly each morning; “I love you more than life itself.”  That phrase is inscribed on Molly’s cremation box.  That first year following her death was difficult, yet my daughter found a way to honor her best friend.  She created a shrine to remember the happiness Molly brought into her life.

She saved her favorite blanket and toys and placed them in a container that sits on her closet shelf.  My daughter created a collage of her favorite photos with Molly. I gave her a “memory candle” signifying the loss of a loved one, which she lights on Molly’s birthday and death day.  Since Molly’s passing, my daughter has adopted another cat from a shelter.  At first, she felt guilty knowing the new cat could not replace the love she felt for Molly.  I reminded her that she rescued Molly from a shelter and loved her to the fullest.  Her new cat, Simba, also needed to be rescued and deserves to be loved as well.  Where one life is taken; another life is saved!

Helping Kids Cope with the Loss of a Pet

Encouraging open communication and sharing feelings is vitally important when dealing with loss of any kind.  Just being present lets the grief-stricken know they are not alone.  To help children cope with loss, it’s always best to be honest with simple explanations about death, loss, and the many emotions of grief. It’s important to reassure children that they are not the cause of their pet’s illness or death. If a pet is gravely ill and euthanasia is an option, ask children if they would like to be present during the process. Offer to read to children to help explain the loss of a loved one as well as the concept of The Rainbow Bridge.  The death experience can be an opportunity for growth.

There are several unique ways to memorialize one who has passed: create a shrine, plant a tree in their memory, create a piece of jewelry or art made of their ashes, dedicate a memorial bench, or turn their clothes into a quilt. Feel the love and loss of your loved one and allow that love to guide you toward your remembrance of them.

“There are no goodbyes for us. Wherever you are, you will always be in my heart.”~ Mahatma Gandhi

Author Karen Struck

Karen Struck is the author of the children’s book series Three Paws.  Her latest release, Three Paws and the Secret Cave, helps children through the loss of a loved one. Outside of being a children’s book author, Karen is a registered nurse and works in the aesthetic industry. For more information visit https://karenstruckauthor.com.

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