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Columbus, OH 43215
Phone: 614-224-0010
Fax: 614-224-2691

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How to Support Children after the Death of a Pet

Often the loss of a pet is a child’s first personal experience of death, and as such, it offers you–the caregiver–a remarkable opportunity to shape the way they will deal with loss far into the future. While there are many resources to drawn from, a review of them results in this short list of the top ten ways to help children:

  • Be available to listen.
  • Offer opportunities to talk about death and loss as they experience it in everyday life.
  • Answer all questions about death and loss as honestly as possible.
  • Do not isolate or insulate child from grief. Remember grief is normal.
  • Include children in rituals whenever possible and appropriate.
  • Share your expressions of sadness and pain.
  • Continue to expect a child to function. Be firm, yet gentle and kind.
  • Pay attention to a child’s behavior and let them know when you notice a change.
  • Find help for children who need it. Refer to support groups of counseling as needed.
  •  Continue to be available long after you think they “should be over it.”

The National Association of School Psychologists offers these additional guidelines in caring for children after a significant personal loss, including the death of a pet:

  • Allow children to be the teachers about their grief experiences.
  • Give children the opportunity to tell their story and be a good listener.
  • Don’t assume that every child in a certain age group understands death in the same way or with the same feelings
  • All children are different and their view of the world is unique and shaped by different experiences.
  • Grieving is a process, not an event
  • Parents and schools need to allow adequate time for each child to grieve in the manner that works for that child. Pressing children to resume “normal” activities without the chance to deal with their emotional pain may prompt additional problems or negative reactions.
  • Don’t lie or tell half-truths to children about the tragic event:
  • Children are often bright and sensitive. They will see through false information and wonder why you do not trust them with the truth.  Lies do not help the child through the healing process or help develop effective coping strategies for life’s future tragedies or losses.
  • Help all children, regardless of age, to understand loss and death
  • Give the child information at the level that he/she can understand.
  • Allow the child to guide adults as to the need for more information or clarification of the information presented.
  • Encourage children to ask questions about loss and death.
  • Adults need to be less anxious about not knowing all the answers. Treat questions with respect and a willingness to help the child find his or her own answers.
  • Let children know that you really want to understand what they are feeling or what they need.

Helpful Pet Grief Resources

Our website is rich with valuable resources to help you and your entire family deal with the loss of your cherished pet–many of which were written especially with children in mind. We invite you to download one (or all) of the following: