To Lose What Was Loved

Tonight there are torrents of tears at our house.  Zachary had asked for a pet for nearly three years, and finally three weeks ago we were able to bring home two cute little kittens.  They were so tiny–only five weeks old.  They had been rescued by someone else who posted a “Free Kittens” bulletin on an electric pole close to the pool where we swim.

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And so Panther and Snowball joined or family.  Because they were so tiny we fed them with medicine droppers.  By the end of the first week Panther was drinking milk from a dish and Snowball graduated last weekend.  They could not have been more loved [by the boys].


For the first 1.5 days I thought they were the cutest things ever.  Kittens are adorable, but I find ever present fur tickling my feet both startling and annoying.  I will happily put up with the nuisance though for how much the boys love them.

Zachary is a natural nurturer.  He took such great care of them I wasn’t even helping with feedings after the first few days.  Caring for his pets has been perfect for his extra time this summer since he’s not doing school.

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Living close to the street, I knew it was only a matter of time until we would lose one or both of them.  However, I never dreamed that I would kill one of them within weeks.  Yes, I feel like a murderess tonight.

We got back home from swimming for two hours and were tired and maybe just a little grumbly as we loaded our arms with things to carry inside.  I had just finished loading my arms, grabbed the keys, closed the door, and turned to pick up Paxton.

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As the door slammed shut I heard a thump and gasped because I thought I had slammed it against Paxton’s head or hand.  But when I  opened it, Panther tumbled to the ground and he scampered under the van.  I felt terrible! I thought I had probably broken his leg!

Zachary had come back outside and I asked him to check if Panther was okay.  (Why? Why? Why? did I ask him to do it?)  I was halfway up the walk when I heard Zachary’s wail. I turned to see him holding the kitten in his arms and crying from the depths of his soul.

Horrible.  Sickening.

My stomach churned.  “No, no, please don’t tell me I killed it.” As much as I wanted to comfort Zachary I couldn’t even bear to go over and see the kitten with its crushed body.  I ran inside to get Steve.

By the time I had unloaded my armload of things they were sitting on the front porch.  Zachary was holding his kitten and sobbing his heart out.  I was inside the house shaking with sobs, too.  Steve stayed with Zachary a long while praying with him, telling him about losing his kitten when he was a boy, and trying to comfort him.

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Paxton not too happy about taking turns with his brothers

I have cried with Zachary when his bike was stolen–twice.  I’ve cried with him when he was really sick and in pain.  But seeing him face the death of something he loved so much broke my heart like never before.

And I wondered how do we teach our children to grieve? How do we show them that God is good when horrible things happen to us?

After awhile they lay Panther, who was still breathing a little–but in a very sad state–on a soft towel on the porch and came inside.  I held Zachary this time and we cried together and prayed together.

I was sick for the poor kitten.  I felt even more sick for my little, big boy who lives life with his whole heart and feels it just that deeply.  Death is part of life and facing it can be a good growing experience, but as a mom you just never, ever want to see your children hurting in that way.

Ian was sad because he saw Zachary was sad and came in for a cuddle. Paxton was watching all the crying and wanted to be like everyone else.  He came and lay his head on my shoulder and fake whimpered–one cute part of the evening. :)

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Zachary gained his composure and started to go upstairs to change out of his swimming trunks.  But after only a few steps he was just overtaken with sobs. I kept wishing he would want to talk through it, but even before mentioning it I realized that was kind of a girl thing that I needed not him. :)  Sometimes boys just need hugs….and that’s what we did.   I hugged him and held him and we prayed some more.

Zachary was praying that Panther would be healed.  At first I was skeptical, but soon joined him in faith.  But when we went downstairs Steve whispered that the kitten was dead.  A little later he broke the news to Zachary.

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Ian was sad that Panther was hurting and was offering to share Snowball with Zachary, but I was pretty sure he wasn’t grasping death.  He’d say he was sad that Panther was hurt and it was boring that Panther was hurt and he’s tired of Panther being hurt. When I explained that dead meant the kitty could never walk, never purr, never eat….that it was “all gone,” then his whimpering turned to sobs, too.

And that was our evening–a story. sobs. trying to eat a little. tears. more stories for distraction. sadness. Not to make things any easier, we soon had a thunderstorm with blitzing lightening and loud cracks of thunder that would scare any child.

Then it was bedtime and Steve lay with Zac and Ian until they fell asleep.  He is such a good dad and at times like this I’m kind of overwhelmed by how well he takes care of them.

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Even though I still feel sad and don’t really know how well we’ll deal with life tomorrow, I’m not sure I really need to teach them how to grieve.  A child doesn’t need to be told that it’s okay to cry when he experiences a loss; he cries with pure sorrow.  And for tonight he cried as much as he needed.

Saying that God is sad about the kitty, too, or that God feels sad that they are feeling sad may sound a little hollow or distant tonight.  But when they have a daddy who will cry with them, love them, comfort them, lay with them at night so they don’t have to fall asleep alone with tears….well, I’m sure that’s a pretty good way to learn what it’s like to be comforted by God.

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This was written in July.  At the time it was all so raw, I didn’t want to publish it.  The following week the boys loved Snowball to bits and changed her name to Polar Bear.  On Saturday a family was looking at the house next door and someone accidentally tripped over her and crushed her. She joined her brother in kitty heaven [we wish].

15 thoughts on “To Lose What Was Loved”

  1. the part where you were describing all three boys huddled around you crying just made me want to burst out crying too. oh, those times like that in parenting where we’re supposed to be so strong and wise and yet we’re bawling too.. but sometimes that’s what comforts most, just crying with them and holding them and reassuring them of our love and God’s love and that He knows best even when we don’t understand.~ we too went through something so similar years ago when the kids got a puppy, and they’re the ones who found it in the back field where something had obviously attacked and eaten it! :( just the other day they were talking about it and i told them again how sorry i was that i had sent them out to look for him and should have went too… it was traumatic at the time for them, of course! but yes, so many life lessons from things like this. and i always can’t help but think if this is how painful it is to lose an animal.. how much more a person we love! HATE that thought!!!

    you’re such a good mommy, christy! and i learn from you.

    also. i so enjoy your writing. TRULY! i was reading this and hanging on every word and thinking, “man! she’s a good writer!!”

    hugs to you and the boys! buy a fish, that’s what we did. a beta to be exact – they live forever!!!! ;)))

    1. Oh, that would be awful to find your pet eaten!!! It happened to my pet rabbit when I was little, but my dad cleaned it up before we found out. The mental picture was bad enough. :(

      And, yes, when we were crying I kept thinking what it would have been like if Paxton’s head had been crushed!!! 10x worse doesn’t even do it justice.

      Oh, and the fish. Yeah, that’s another story. Before we found the kittens I bought them a Beta to hold them over until we could get a more fun pet. A week ago I was changing it’s water. As I was pouring the fish into another cup it leaped out and went down the drain! Mom kills two pets in one summer. Where’s a button with an ugly buzzer sound? :(

      Thanks for the kind words about my writing.

  2. Oh my, so know the feeling. In May we had 2 ducks die that Reagan had brought home from school. I hated those ducks, until they died then I had to love them just because of how much Reagan did! :)

  3. I am so sorry! We have the opposite problem, 9 kittens currently looking for homes. My children wail every time we give a kitten away, but we really can’t feed and love that many! Wish we could share!

  4. So heartbreaking! This is one of the parts of parenting that I don’t often think about (thankfully I haven’t had to yet) so it’s good to hear how others deal with it and the right way to go about it. You are a great writer and an even better mommy! Blessings!

  5. I am so sorry!! It is just so heartbreaking when our pets die. I kind of wanted to never have pets because I didn’t want to deal with this aspect, but I’ve learned that God can use this too. We have dogs, and our first dog ran away. The first time we found him, the second time we did not. The kids, and I, were so, so sad. Our son never wanted another dog ever again, our daughter wanted another one immediately. I realized how important it was to his growth to have another dog join our family, to learn about life and death and sorrow. We take care of them as well as we can but we do not hold their lives in our hands. I can tell you would have never, ever, have allowed this to happen if at all humanly possible. You are a good mommy!

  6. In all tenderness, please think about what I am saying. Keep pets inside. If you must take them outside, do so only on a leash. Please. I have learned this lesson and will never, ever allow my pet (cat) to go outside unless on a leash. Then, there will be no such stories as this one.

  7. I am so sad and sorry for Zac. I cry thinking of the pain. I remember facing it with my kids and you’re right…the boys just needed hugs. I didnt have to say much at all.
    I am so glad they cry and have parents that cry with them. I remember the day I closed my heart off and didn’t allow myself to enjoy pets, friends…whatever..because it hurt to much and I didn’t know how to deal with it.
    We had a snowball and panther too. :) They came from Ivan Swareys.

  8. This just makes me cry.
    As parents we so badly want to protect our children from the big bad world, and keep it as precious and innocent as long as we can. It is so hard to see that ‘happy world’ picture shattered for them, even though we know it’s inevitable, and for them to experience pain and hurt, and loss. I remember losing a dog as child, maybe around ten or so. And I cried for weeks. I don’t think I’ve ever loved a dog since! Crazy how that is. I’m so sorry for Zachary, for all of you. In some ways losing a kitty is a small thing; and in other ways, it’s way huger than what we know. It’s teaching their hearts something, that their pain matters or doesn’t matter, that daddy/mommy/God cares or doesn’t care. I love the picture of you and Steve crying with Zachary, and for him to see a tender God through you…

  9. I am so sorry for your boys. It just isn’t right that all 5 of our kittens survived & both of your kittens died.
    Losing a beloved pet is one of the saddest memories of childhood. I remember that feeling all too well!
    Hoping your week goes well!

  10. Oh, I am so sorry for that your boys had to go through this. This post almost made me cry, especially when Zachary found the dead kitten :( Our girls were given 2 ducks this summer, and one died for no apparent reason, and the other disappeared and is presumed dead. It was hard enough on the girls, but if anything happened to their beloved cats, it would be much worse. Emily, especially, loves animals.

    I often wonder about the “right” way to help children with grief, whether it’s a someone close dying, a favorite pet, or a best friend moving hundreds of miles away. Kierra still misses Lauren, and just the other day, she woke up crying about it again. In some ways, we’re tempted to think we need to help her get past it once and for all, but on the other hand… we still have times that it hits us and we have to grieve all over again, so I guess (I hope) it’s okay to let her grieve when she needs to and just hold her and pray with her and cry with her…

    1. I think you’re right. Children cry their tears. It’s often adults who stifle the grieving process by thinking there’s a time limit for how long it’s okay to cry about something, and decide it’s time to move along. Crying and loving together is pretty healing even if it takes a long time.

      And, yes, with a child sometimes you do need to help them climb out of a miserable place. Sometimes they cry or act out because they don’t know how to process their emotions or because they might not know how to voice their questions. Sometimes talking through it again or in a different way answers their unasked questions.

      You’ve had to face grief with Lauren deeply and in several ways. You probably have ideas for how to comfort them.

      The day after this happened I helped Zachary write a story about Panther, and it seemed to help him find some closure.

      We deal with grieving of a sort all the time. Every time we have guests (often) with children or when we visit somewhere Zac has children to play with he sobs his heart out when they or we leave. It is so hard for him to not have friends his age here and at every good-bye he faces the reality again

      1. I wish I had seen this comment earlier. I think one thing that triggers Kierra’s grief over Lauren is when she loses something else- like her best friend moving away. She’s been better again lately. She is really upset right now though because one of our cats is missing- but that one roams around a lot, so I think he’ll be back. We have two cats that we can’t tell apart by sight, and she is sure that the one that is missing is the one they love,the one that is friendlier, but i am pretty sure that’s the one that stays close by.

        What really caught my interest is that Zac is heartbroken every time he has to leave other children. He sounds so social, like my girls. Kierra is having such a hard time of it with our current situation. Her best friend moved away- and we aren’t at the church she’s been part of her whole life. Both things happened so close together. She doesn’t feel like she gets to be with friends very often, and it bothers her so much. She’s been better since we went to see her best friend last weekend, but when we left, she cried and cried and cried. She craves time with other kids, and I have been trying to help make that happen, but it’s not exactly easy all the time.

        How’s school going by now (regarding another post)?

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