Dealing with my daughter’s grief is the hardest thing to do, says Saira Khan

My daughter has had a tough week. First she got chicken pox the day she broke up for Easter. Then her beloved hamster Star, given to her by ­Santa, suddenly died, leaving her ­heartbroken.

Amara had wanted a pet for such a long time, but Steve and I were reluctant. The usual parental objections came out: “Who is going to look after it when we’re away? Who will clean up after it? What about cost? How will you feel when it dies?”

But my eight-year-old had an answer for everything, as usual.

So reluctantly, we got our first- ever pet. And that hamster changed our lives for ever.

From the moment we got that small ball of fluff, we got a deeper insight into who our daughter was and what she was capable of.

The first change was her ­dedication – going to see her pet every morning before breakfast. Even though Star was nocturnal so would not even notice.

I thought, this ain’t going to last, it’s a novelty. But I was wrong.

The most joyous thing was watching her win Star’s trust.

Hamsters need time to get used to surroundings and can’t be handled straight away, which for a child, can be torture.

But she showed real patience, first putting her finger to the cage for Star to smell, then putting her hand into the cage, building up to a stroke and eventually getting her out for her first cuddle.

I loved hearing her talk to Star. “Hello, sweetheart, how’s my baby today? Yes, you need a cuddle.”

So now, during National Pet Month, I can say, I’m a convert. The change pets can have on family life is incredible.

Plus, Amara’s screen time halved as she preferred hanging out with Star. And what parent doesn’t want that?

Better still, it helped her stress levels. It didn’t matter what kind of a day she’d had at school, when she saw her pet, her worries went.

And the whole family loved Star, even my hubby, an animal-phobe, warmed to her. He checked on her every night before going to bed, like he did the kids.

So my little girl’s world was turned upside down when she found her tiny friend curled up, not moving, not breathing. Dealing with her grief is the hardest thing I’ve had to do as a parent.

Bedtimes are the worst. I caught her in her PJs, staring at the cage, crying.

She was wondering if she’d killed Star by giving her chicken pox.

We have buried Star at the bottom of the garden, and Amara lays daisies and dandelions on her grave every day. As heartbreaking as it has been, even her death has been a life lesson for Amara.

So this week we broached the subject of getting her a new hamster. And she has jumped at the chance.

This one, she has decided, will be called Pearl.

And we all can’t wait to meet her.

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