Aasma faces the helplessness – and, yes, guilt – every mum feels when a family pet dies

Aasma Day, Lancashire Evening Post
Aasma Day, Lancashire Evening Post
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Aasma faces the helplessness – and, yes, guilt – every mum feels when a family pet dies

As any parent will testify, you are prepared to do anything in your power to protect your children and shield them from the harsh realities of life.

Without the slightest doubt, Hubby and I agree the greatest achievement of our lives has been having our twins and for the last 10 years, they have bought countless moments of joy to our lives.

But from the moment we first saw those two tiny heartbeats on the screen, my body was also hijacked by an uninvited entity in the form of guilt which has since taken up permanent residence like a squatter that just won’t leave.

When your child is hurt, upset or distressed in any way, while you’re applying the literal or metaphorical plaster to make their pain go away, you can’t help guilty thoughts racing through your head wondering if you could have done something to prevent it happening in the first place.

From seeing their face crumple at childhood jabs, to seeing them have their first tumble or break their first bone, you can’t help pondering if it could have been avoided.

Although none of us can prevent bad things happening, you always torture yourself with thoughts of how you could have avoided seeing your child or children upset.

This guilt reared its ugly head this past week when our happy household was not its usual cheerful self.

For many families, half term is a time of anticipation, excitement and family fun.

Hubby and I booked our duo into a holiday club for the week with our son living his dream of playing football all day long and our creative daughter taking part in an activity zone.

It was all going so well … until the smiles were cruelly wiped off their faces when tragedy struck and one of their two pet guinea pigs suddenly died for no apparent reason and without any warning. And my poor children were the ones to make the devastating discovery as I unknowingly handed them a bag of veg and told them to feed the guinea pigs while I got on with cooking tea.

Seconds later, they came running to me distraught telling me Toffee was lying there and not moving.

As I ran to the cage with them, just one glance was enough to see their pet was lifeless and they burst into tears. I wasn’t much better and was in tears myself as I hurriedly shepherded them out of the garage while they sorrowfully brought their remaining guinea pig into the house for cuddles.

Unable to deal with a dead body myself, I resorted to calling Hubby who was at the gym and he abandoned his workout and rushed home and between us we tried to console our distraught pair.

Apart from losing two great-grandmothers when they were too young to really understand, it is their first encounter with death.

For most children, pets are more than just animals who happen to live in the family home – they’re part of their family and their best friends.

Sadly, the joy of owning a pet goes hand-in-hand with the heartbreak of losing one.

Dearly departed Toffee has now been buried in the garden – and days later, our children are still inconsolable.

It breaks my heart my when their eyes suddenly fill with tears and they start sobbing: “I miss Toffee!” and “We’re never going to see her again.”

And that’s where the guilt creeps in. Aside from the remorse I feel at them being the ones to make the gruesome discovery, I wonder if I could have spared them this pain.

But the only way to shelter your kids from the loss of a pet is to never have one. And as Tennyson said: “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

While we all want to spare our children any form of anguish at all, a pet’s death is usually their first time losing a loved one and the grieving process will hopefully help prepare them for the harsh realities of life that unfortunately lie ahead.

Coping with the loss of a beloved pet is an incredibly painful experience – and it doesn’t get any easier when you’re an adult.

One of my colleagues recently went through the heartbreak of having their dog of 16 years put down due to old age and illness.

As it was blind, deaf and had dementia, he knew it was the kindest thing to do – but it was also one of the most difficult and he described his departure as “taking a chunk of me with him.”

And his children, all grown-up, who couldn’t remember a point in their life without the pet were grief-stricken.

People often sneer at those who mourn their pets saying that the grief can’t possibly be as bad as losing a human being. Others insensitively advise “buying another one” as if that will make everything all right.

Most of us share an intense bond with our pets and they become a part of our family so it’s only natural to be hit with profound grief when our companions die.

For those who don’t have children, their pets can be like substitute children who are totally dependent on their owners and offer unconditional love in return.

Some feel a lot closer to them than many of their family and close friends.

Our children may only have had Toffee the guinea pig for two years, but their grief and pain is real and shouldn’t be belittled by those who say: “What’s the big deal? It’s only a pet. Buy another.”

The sudden loss of a pet is harsh and shocking and the holes ripped into a child’s life are not easily healed and there are no easy words to say. All we can do it hug and kiss our children, console them and wait for them to come to terms with their loss.