Postcards from Mommywood: Learning About Life From Our Dog’s Death
After Sassie passed on, my daughter started thinking about heaven—and me.
Last week, when our beloved family dog died, I was faced with the prospect of having to explain death to my five-year-old daughter and talk to her about losing someone you love.
Let’s just say she dealt with it better than I did.
When our 17-year-old Cairn Terrier had a stroke earlier this year, I thought it was the end. But confounding our vet and delighting my daughter, Sassie miraculously recovered (though she was a tad wobbly) until she lost the use of her back legs a few days ago. And right after that, when I kissed the top of her head and sent her off to the vet with my husband as I prepared to take Madeline on a class trip, I somehow knew this was the end.
When the call came a few hours later from the vet telling me Sassie was suffering with a large bone tumor in her leg and there was nothing more that could be done, I did the best I could to blink back the tears so my daughter couldn’t see them. Two years ago, when I had to put down Fred, my other much loved dog, after 16 years, Madeline was just a baby. This time, I had to consider what would be best for my five-year-old daughter.
Madeline was aware that Sassie was ill and when she periodically asked if the dog would get better, we gently told her that when dogs get “really old” they go to heaven. I asked the vet if she recommended that we come over and say good bye to our dog and the doctor advised that it’s not what most people do with small children. In my case, I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep it together and thought that would probably upset Madeline more than anything else. I called my husband and asked him to go to the vet’s office at lunch time so Sassie would not be alone when they put her to sleep.
That evening, when Madeline asked if I knew how Sassie was feeling, I told her, “The vet says Sassie is really sick and she might have to go to heaven and be with Fred.” I didn’t want to send her off to bed pondering death and dying. My husband and I decided to tell her the following morning so she’d have the whole day to process the news.
I didn’t sleep very well that night. I was trying to come to terms with losing my long-time companion who I had taken in as rescue all those years ago on the eve of my mother’s death. At the time, I naively thought getting a new dog would distract me from my pain over the inevitable loss of my mother. It didn’t. Now, while tossing and turning until dawn, I thought about the death that changed my life.