When I was in the 3rd Grade, we got a dog. He was a Lhasa Apso named Rocky. He had a weird under bite and thought he was as large as a Great Dane. The first day we got him, my Mom and I drove to the store to buy him some food and on the ride there he puked in my lap. In spite of that, I loved him. He was my dog, but it was my parents who really took care of him. I grew older, became a teenager and went off the college. It was my Mom and Dad who did the real “caring” for Rocky. One weekend during my junior year of college I went home for a visit. Though he was very old, I found it odd that Rocky didn’t come to greet me as he always did. By this time, my Dad was no longer keeping Rocky in the house. He’d made a home for him on the back porch. I searched but couldn’t find the dog. Finally, I asked my Dad where Rocky was.
Daddy replied, “Oh, I knew there was something I meant to tell you. Rocky died a few days ago. I’ve buried him in the backyard. You can go back there and if you’d like.”
I couldn’t believe he forgot to tell me the dog, MY dog that I’d known and loved for 11 years was dead! Who does that?! I was sad, but surprisingly not devastated. Rocky and I had been apart for quite sometime. I visited the spot where Daddy said he buried the dog said my goodbyes and moved on.
Fast forward to this summer. My family and I had to put, Brooklyn, one of our beloved “girls” down, due to a sudden illness. As a child, if you have a pet, typically, that pet is yours in name only. As an adult, that pet is yours in every way. You are responsible for its life. I take my job as a dog-mom seriously. I’m as in tuned to physical and emotional changes in my dogs as I am to my son. The night Brooklyn got sick, I knew it was different from any other stomach bug she’d had. When I made the 4am phone call from the animal hospital telling Ralph to get there ASAP, I couldn’t believe what was happening. Ralph arrived with RJ and Bailey, our other “girl” and we all said our gut-wrenching goodbyes. We made the decision for all of us to stay in the room as the doctor administered the propofol cocktail that put my sweet furbaby to sleep.
RJ had questions about death and where Brooklyn was that we answered as best we could. When we got her ashes, he was concerned about how they made our 6o+ pound dog fit in a tiny box. I explained that she was cremated and was thankful that sufficed and he didn’t ask what cremated meant. Sometimes, I catch him talking to the box with her ashes. So the other morning, he said he was going to talk to Brooklyn and check on her I didn’t think anything of it. However, when I went to tell him it was time to go out the door to school, I found him with one had on the box an another on the picture of Brooklyn I keep next to the box. His head was down and he was beginning to cry. My heart broke. At first, I told him it was ok and not cry. Then, I told to cry if he wanted/needed to and it was ok if he missed Brooklyn.
In the days after Brooklyn died, my mother-in-law, continuously, asked me, “how is RJ was doing?”. It kind of drove me nuts. Grief comes in waves, even with 4 year olds. I knew he was sad and missed the dog, but he wasn’t sitting in a corner drawing sad faces. However, I’d questioned whether or not having him in the room while the doctor put Brooklyn down was a good idea. Was seeing death first hand too much for a 4 year old? Then, when we were home in the hours after Brooklyn’s death and I was visibly upset RJ said, “Mommy, Brooklyn’s with God and we still have Bailey so it’s going to be ok.” So, I know he will have moments when he cries and is sad, but his understanding of love and loss and how cope with both in a healthy way is growing.
Have you ever had to cope with the loss of family pet? Have you ever had to help your child cope with the loss of a pet?