Explaining Death To A Toddler Was Harder Than I Imagined

By Kimberly Zapata

I’ll never forget the day I had to sit my daughter down and discuss death with her. It was cold and rainy outside, yet warm and toasty inside — i.e. it was stereotypical. It was surreal. It was the type of weather you would expect to see in a movie during a moment like this. The stage was set, all we had to do was speak. All my husband and I had to do was improvise the dialogue and have “The Conversation.” But when it came down to it, though, the only words I could muster seemed so callous and cold. Death seemed far too harsh and too real for a two-year-old child. For our two-year-old baby girl.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Before I jump into “The Conversation,: I should probably share a bit about Shadow — my 14-year-old cat, and my daughter’s best friend.

I adopted Shadow — a.k.a. Kitty, Yosh Cat, Doctor Katz, and Mama Cats — when I was just 18 years old. She was my constant companion through good times, bad times, and really really bad times. She never judged me or hurt me; she only offered me love — and endless snuggles. When my daughter was born, Shadow’s heart only grew: she became my daughter’s snuggle buddy, and her protector. She became an integral part of our family; she became Amelia’s surrogate mom. (Seriously; this cat would lay with my daughter on her breastfeeding pillow almost every time I fed her, every day, for nine months.)

explaining death to a toddler shadow

Unfortunately, their relationship wouldn’t last very long, because Mama Cats wouldn’t make it. You see, shortly after my daughter started talking and walking, Shadow became sick. Nothing bad, just an upset stomach here and — well — loose stools there. But before long, it escalated: She was vomiting multiple times a day. She couldn’t keep anything in her stomach down. She was losing weight. And soon, she was knocking on death’s door. (My husband knew it, and I knew it.)

And then it came: We had to make a decision; i.e. the decision.

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