My poor little girl has been saying ‘goodbye’ to Frank the cat this weekend. He has a part of her life for her whole life; we have one photo that stays in my mind of her sitting in her inflatable ‘donut’ toy in our house in Walthamstow, while I was still on maternity leave, reaching out to him with absolute fascination in her eyes. His ginger slinkiness and glowing fur fascinated her then, and as she’s got older his grating purr, his insistence on affection, and his ability to infiltrate himself anywhere where warmth and comfort are, has made him something she truly loves.
He is very poorly and it will be a matter of days before nature takes its course, so we have decided to end his suffering tomorrow morning. However, we have decided not to tell the children that we have made this decision, and that we will be actively ending his life, even though beyond doubt it is the kindest choice. I believe that being honest with children about death is incredibly important, and the death of a beloved pet is a watershed moment which they must endure to learn a gentler version of the lesson about the way life is structured, and the way that it ends. However, I also don’t believe that my little girl would be able to rationalise the choice that we are making. She doesn’t want him to die, whatever the implications for him. We don’t want him to die, but we know that this is the kindest call to make. I’m a grown-up, though, and I have many years behind me to lead me to understand, believe and stand by this.
As L1′s mother, I believe it is my job to give her the amount of truth that I believe she can cope with. While she is this small, it is my call to make. So in her reality the poor ginger thing will pass away tomorrow morning snoozing warm by the radiator in M’s office, where he likes to lurk; the end result will be the same, and the grief, but I will have given her a cushion that I believe will make the event more palatable, believable and conceivable. She’s only little; sometimes the truth needs to be carefully defined.