My in-laws' dog died. She was 12 or 13 and went into a fairly rapid decline, and then she was gone. She was a fixture in their house, and my daughter was quite fond of her - even if the feelings were not exactly returned.
Nineteen years ago this month, my dad died after a long, painful illness (Rhuematoid Arthritis) which led to complication after complication.
My daughter is almost 4, which means that a) she notices things like missing dogs, b) she's busy exploring family relationships, and c) she spends her days with many little boys who like to play superhero and kill bad guys. With this combination, I find myself having to deal with questions about death. A lot.
I'm fairly comfortable discussing death - it's the natural order of things - but my husband is not. He tends to change the subject, and was prepared to ignore the death of his parents' dog. His parents had the same intent. But, my daughter asked me where the dog was, and I answered. I told her that the dog got old, got sick, and died, and she wasn't around any more. She was asking questions (why did she get old, why did she get sick, etc.) that were making everyone else uncomfortable, and I finally mumbled something about going to play in heaven, and that was the end of the conversation.
Our vacation this year was a trip to see my family. We had a great time - we went to the pool, to the beach, to the farm...all the things I did when I was a kid. But this led to an exploration of my family, who my daughter doesn't see as often as she sees her father's family. We had a long discussion of why my daddy was dead...which I'm not sure she quite understood. But, it was about the same story as the dog. He got old, he got sick, and then he died.
My girl is not at all traumatized by death. She has asked several times why my daddy is dead. She asks why the dog is dead. She hasn't quite connected that death with the "killing" that she's doing when she's pretending to be a superhero. It will become clear to her eventually, I suppose.
Meanwhile, she also discovered the teddy bear that I've had since I was born. She is a huge lover of stuffed animals, so she desperately covets that bear. I told her she could have it when I was dead. She likes to ask me from time to time - "I can have that bear when you're dead?" It freaks my husband out a little.