Connecticut Post (Sunday)
Helping kids deal with death of pets
Annie: Almost a year ago I was sitting on a PTO auction fundraiser webinar when Luca and Tony got home from the eclectic fish and underwater creature store. Luca excitedly snuck up, just out of the camera frame, with a Post-it. “We got a frog.” My eyes widened, I muted myself, covered my mouth and asked, “you got a … what?!” Luca just beamed. I turned more fully toward the kitchen, eyes even wider, which was all that was needed. Tony simply nodded to confirm, yes, they got a frog. But the frog they got was not just any frog. It was an African Albino Clawed Frog. None of us had ever heard of something like this. If you haven’t either, then please, give that one a Google.
Cindy: Since I was an accomplice in acquiring the enormous aquarium which would house this frog, I admit I was surprised that such a creature existed. When I helped Luca put together his pitch for the tank, I envisioned gently swimming fish in soothing colors creating a serene, low-maintenance and reasonable childhood hobby and responsibility. Suddenly, Luca had a whole world of exotic and kind of disturbing little sea monsters darting around the tank, causing trouble. The frog, although honestly kind of icky to look at, was a calming presence in that new little world.
Annie: We left the naming to Luca. The name Bruno was used frequently in our home. And not only because of a certain current catchy song, but also because we would tease Tony when he wore his winter hat that he looked like a character who would be named Bruno and that he would work at the docks on a foggy night. And so we had our name. Bruno wasn’t just a new member of the tank, but an attraction.
Cindy: And it turns out, I didn’t completely hand over the aquarium responsibility to Luca since on occasion I had to house sit. Which meant caring for all the pets — including Bruno. Honestly, he looked like a bloated fish washed ashore or a specimen in a science class dissection lesson. But, he kind of grew on me. One time I was taking care of the animals and I thought he had died — 20 minutes before Luca was expected home! I kind of freaked out! I tapped on the glass, tried to reach him with the net, dropped food into the tank … nothing. He didn’t move. Fortunately, since I texted
Tony about it ahead of time, he ran into the house first and actually reached in and poked Bruno. That got him moving, thank God!
Annie: We should have known that it was the beginning of the end for Bruno. The bloating and floating became more regular, as did the poking to make sure he was alive. I didn’t think to prepare Luca for Bruno’s death but, in retrospect, I should have. A couple of weeks after that text from my mom to Tony, and soon after our move, Bruno passed. The heartwrenching cries and devastation that Luca experienced were so upsetting … for a few reasons. Yes, I felt so bad and sad for him that he lost his beloved frog. But if this is how he responds when he loses Bruno, what would happen, will happen, when we lose something or someone closer. Like our dog … or me.
Cindy: I don’t remember Luca getting this upset when the cat — Cali — died. In fact, his attitude was more like, “Now we can get another dog!” But of course all things having to do with death — and Luca’s reaction to them — take on a much more significant meaning. And when I’m with him, I have to watch my own reaction, too. It’s not like I’m not affected by thinking about how I’m going to react when the cancer starts taking over more of your life. It will start to “show” in ways that it hasn’t yet. Sure, you don’t have any hair, but what happens when your physical health starts mirroring what’s happening in your body? Is he already responding to that and, because he’s just a little kid, we aren’t aware of that? Even if he isn’t aware of it himself. Developmentally — and according to the experts — children as young as 9 understand that they might lose a parent if they have cancer, even if they don’t talk about it.
Annie: I do feel more compelled to have open and honest conversations with him now. I look for kid-friendly books to softly approach these subjects. He’s at that really challenging tween-age where the little kid books might seem too young but he’s not really in the teen section either. We haven’t found the right one for us yet but I’ll keep looking. When he was going to bed the day Bruno died Luca said that he didn’t want to care about pets as much as he does, it was too upsetting. I told him that this sadness is part of loving and caring about someone and that even though it’s incredibly hard, it’s worth it. And then I hugged him until we both fell asleep.