Parenting Through the Loss of a Pet
When we found her in the animal shelter, she was the only dog not barking – she just stood there quietly, expectantly – watching us. Like she just knew we’d pick her. Like she had something to share with us (and, as turns out, she really did).
Over her first few years with us, she hiked miles of trails with Adam and I, up mountains big and small, and through the woods – we even brought her camping. She protected us when the doorbell rang; her bark was serious enough to keep the mountain lions and moose away.
When our first baby was born, if she was concerned or jealous, she never let on. It was as if she was expecting a baby; and upon the arrival of said baby was nothing but gentle and protective. She let us know when the baby woke, she responded with concern to her cries, stayed close by as baby was learning to sit and crawl and walk. The same when our second baby arrived. Never harsh and always patient; even when we were less so with her.
Two years ago this month, Haley passed away – after a brave and long battle with lymphosarcoma. We treated her with chemotherapy, steroids, and love, until the end. She was gentle, sweet, and ever-loving, even in the days leading up to her death. It makes me cry to write this; I still miss her so. Now, two years out, we still haven’t gotten another dog. Sometimes I want one so badly – I miss her presence, companionship, protection, and unconditional love. Though, truth be told, I don’t miss the necessary leashed walks with clean up (since we live in a condo), or the requirement to find a gentle caring place to leave a four-legged member of our family when we go on vacation. I do worry sometimes about not having an animal companion for our children to grow up with. I always had pets as a child; as did Adam. I remember them all with such tenderness.
My daughter was 4 when Haley passed, and my son was only 1 ½. For how long will they remember her? Memories fade . . . Having a dog to cuddle and love and care for is a relationship so unique – I don’t want them to miss that. Yet, I’m not sure I can bear to lose another dog like Haley. It was so hard; and so very, very sad.
When we realized Haley’s time had come to leave her body in this world, Adam and I talked over how we’d approach the subject with our children. We knew we’d be honest, and as detailed as possible for their young ages. But from our adult perspective, we’d prepared ourselves for the possibility, even inevitability of grave concern from our children; perhaps lots of crying or worry or anxiety. Before her death, we told our children that Haley was very sick, that she was very sick and very old (two things very unlike Mommy & Daddy – as that was, naturally, the following question), and would likely die soon, and asked them say goodbye to her.
They were so tender with her; caressing her softly, talking with gentle words, wise beyond their years. When she died, we answered their questions as they came up. We talked about death, and what happens when you die. We created a memorial for her, together: made a shadow box with photographs, and stickers, and a clay paw print. It still hangs where the children can see it, and ask about it. I like that – it opens conversation and brings her to mind – which is a nice way to keep her with us.
In spite of our preparation for “the worst”, our children handled her passing so well; they dealt with death simply as a part of life. Life is a cycle: you are born, you live, you grow old, you die, you are reborn. Haley’s death just made sense to them within their understanding of life – of gardens and animals, and the world – it just fit; it was sad, yet, it was okay. Normal. Now, when they still occasionally talk about her, it is always with positivity and light. It lifts my spirits.
Last year, we bought a few fish for the children. They swim around happily in their tank, and the kids enthusiastically feed and watch them swim, yet… fish in a tank, behind glass, just aren’t the same as a warm, furry, wet-nosed, dog. Haley’s still with us in memory. Her pictures still hang on our walls. And she’s in our hearts. But sometimes, I do wish she were still here to . . . pet.
Do you have an animal companion? Have you ever had a beloved animal die? How did you handle talking about it with your children, and did you get another pet? Are pets necessary components of childhood? I’d love to hear your stories.
Kelly Moore, Author of KellyNaturally.com Kelly is an attachment parenting, gentle disciplining, vegetarian, working mom of two Montessori-schooled kids. She’s been a family bed sharer, tandem breastfeeder, and babywearer. Kelly loves to garden, read, help her husband run their business, and find fun places to go adventuring with her family. She blogs at KellyNaturally.com.
Kelly is an attachment parenting, gentle disciplining, vegetarian, working mom of two Montessori-schooled kids. She’s been a family bed sharer, tandem breastfeeder, and babywearer. Kelly loves to garden, read, help her husband run their business, and find fun places to go adventuring with her family. She blogs at KellyNaturally.com.
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