Your question shouldn't be, "How do we prepare the kids?" Everyone will be affected. Even if you adopt another pet in the future, everyone's life will change when Barney is gone. Instead, ask, "How do we all get through this? Barney is part of your "pack." And now you must say good bye and mourn him as a family.
I am supposed to be your sister for the duration of our lives. I am not supposed to tell funny stories about when we were kids at your funeral. I am not supposed to sit on the cold ground, peering into a giant hole at a casket we chose for you out of a brochure. On February 19, 2015, our worst-case scenario became a reality.
What happened to our family is part of a larger attack on Black and Brown bodies. To impact change, we must recognize the connection between racism, hate crimes and racialized policing. While the focus for this specific attack was on African-Americans, we all have a responsibility to seek not only justice for the victims, but an end to racial injustice.
I know my father died a hero. Even after being shot multiple times, he courageously fought off the gunman, saving many, including my mother, at the expense of his own life. He defended the temple he founded, and this house of worship is the gift he left to us and his grandchildren. Just like Felicia Sanders. She sacrificed her body to cover and shield her young granddaughter, as her son, Tywanza, tried to talk down the gunman.
You don't necessarily need to hew to tradition, but make sure you've thought it through before you respond to news of a loss so that your offerings, verbal and otherwise, are gracious and of service to another who is suffering. It's OK to even say, "I'm at a loss for words," and give a hug or squeeze a hand.
My mom died of brain cancer when I was in high school, 20 years ago now. And for many years, I missed her vividly. With time, the rawness of her loss faded. Because I lost her so young, I find that I don't miss her as much because of the experiences we shared or the conversations we had. I miss her for those we didn't.