Kids, Imagination, and Coping With Loss of a Pet
Allie was first diagnosed with heart disease when she was three. Her prognosis was three more years. She lived six. In the fall of 2010, my loyal friend, my Brussels Griffon, passed away at age nine. As I write this, I am looking at a photograph I took of her that last morning. I had no clue she would leave us at night. Allie began having difficulty breathing around 11 pm. I took her to the hospital. She barked while being placed in an oxygen chamber designed to ease her labored breathing. "She would be more comfortable there," the vet explained. I felt she just wanted me to hold her. I am an open-minded skeptic who heard many times from dog lovers about the hidden psychic powers dogs possess. At that moment, taking her last breaths, I felt she knew she was leaving us. Her barks became pleading screams for me to lift her, and as I reached into the chamber, Allie's head slowly dropped into my palm. I hope she felt me stroking her head that one last time.
For some reason, until this day, I can't let that thought rest. As I tell my clients, 'often in life, we just have to find comfort in living with questions.'
Informing my kids about the passing of their dog was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. My girls did not know life without Allie. That morning, we sat on a rug in their room drinking milk as I explained that Allie was gone. Tears rolled silently down their cheeks. They tried to be strong, and both kept checking to see if I was crying. Children need parents to be strong, but they also need to see us as emotional beings. My girls put their heads on my shoulders, and we sat in complete silence. There was nothing to be said. Sometimes a family just has to sit together.
The next day my daughters decided to create a list of things they will miss about Allie. After a bit of a debate over if dogs could read in heaven, and concluding that dogs could read and talk in heaven, my kids decided to tie The List to a balloon and send it up into the clouds. One of my twins insisted we also tie a doggy treat to the balloon. "She is new in heaven, and she has to register to get food. She doesn't even know where the food store is in heaven. So we have to send her a treat while she waits." My girl reasoned while her sister nodded in agreement. And, so we did.
(Note: Children see the world in images. Their sense of wonder and creativity is still not dulled by fact-based realities of life. Kids use magical thinking to explain the mysterious world around them. Parents, please nurture this ability. Enjoy it and learn from it. Most importantly, hold on to this time for as long as it lasts.)
We picked the best treat at the pet store. We bought three balloons and fancy paper for our list. And, after two hours of slaving with pencil and paper, my daughters were ready for closure. We drove to the park Allie loved for many years. When Allie was too sick to run, she would just observe younger dogs play. I often wondered if she wished she was them.
"We love you, Allie." My girls whispered, holding back tears, as they let the balloons go. Within seconds, they disappeared beyond the clouds. Driving home, I glanced at my two angels sitting in the back seat. They held hands looking up at the sky. I knew they were thinking of Allie being happy receiving their little letter and treat. "I think she got it by now." My daughter said. "Sure." The other replied. "She is wagging her small tail now."
We love and miss you so much. We will miss you forever. We will never forget you. We will miss:
You going sledding with us.
Watching TV with you.
Feeding you vegetables.
Hearing you snore.
Tripping over you.
Your hair on our pillows.
Your dance when we came home.
Seeing you in the window waiting for us.
Our walks in the park.
You smelling us.
We will miss you, begging for food.
Your funny sneeze.
Making movies with you.
Taking New Years pictures with you.
Trying to guess what you are thinking.
Your funny face.
You reading with us.
You sitting with us when we take baths.
You sleeping in our room every night.
You chasing ducks.
You driving with us.
Playing with you.
You waking us up every morning.
Playing in the snow with you.
Waldo [dog] next door misses you also. He was crying.
Grandpa and Granma miss you too. They both cried. Grandpa cried so much.
We will keep your pink leash in a special place for you. We will keep a picture of you by our door. It will feel like you are waiting for us and protecting us.
Your heart feels better now. So relax and run.
Love you forever
A and L and Papa