Teaching Kids about Death: Dog Gone

dog

Apparently I can handle the stress of my daughter fighting cancer for a decade, losing my father to cancer in less than 9 months, uncertain financial fate, and relocating to a place we knew nobody, yet my demise is going to be the death of a 20-pound schnauzer mix?

How can it be?

Don’t get me wrong, I loved that dog. Bullitt was his name, after the Steve McQueen movie. My husband picked him out from a neighbor and he was born a week before our daughter made her appearance in this world. He would show up at our door at 6 weeks old covered in fleas and very tiny. For eleven years he would win us over with his old soul, bushy eyebrows, and scruffy mustache. He would eat my shoes, make friends with a squirrel, and always carried a stuffed animal with him. He was special.

We noticed he was having some pain and hurting pretty badly. It took a full pain pill to give him some rest so there was no other choice but to take him to the vet in the morning. We knew what that could mean but we knew his suffering needed to stop. I woke up the next morning and lay in bed refusing to get up, as if it would stop the inevitable from being well, inevitable. Eventually I made myself rise and take care of morning routines. When I could delay no more we loaded the car with the family and our Bullitt. We were in denial.

Bullitt would act like his perky quirky self in the exam room causing the vet to doubt and giving us the hope we desired. Our girls were planning their day and beginning to be annoyed that we brought them for this unnecessary grief. Then in walks the vet with the blood test results. Her look said it all. The girls immediately burst into tears and then without missing a beat, I joined them along with my husband. We sat in the room waiting for them to bring him back to us to say goodbye and we cried together. We were sad.

Sadly, I planned ahead. On the way to the vet I made my husband stop at Sonic. I figured if we were to say good bye today that this dog, the dog that had been diet restricted for four years due to diabetes, was going to get a treat. When they brought him to us so we could spend time with him saying good bye we were sitting on the floor waiting for him. There we sat feeding him 8 pieces of bacon. He gave kisses, wagged his tail, and ate all of the salty cooked pork strips. He went out exactly how my husband says he wants to go. He was happy.

That face

This story isn’t really about losing our beloved family pet though. It is much more a story about how my sadness would make the girls see me as more human and less super hero.

I believe there is a famous comic book quote that discusses how with great powers comes great responsibility. Well for a mom who must mourn before her children there is no more honest of a statement. It is not as if my children have not seen me sad before but it has been a while. When I lost my father the girls were just four and five. At that time they merely saw my exhaustion from the long days at work, home to care for the family, then the longer nights at the hospital. They saw me comfort them in their time of pain and greif. They didn’t see me when I was sad because I had to be strong for them.

For the most part I have created this character, this person that my daughter’s see as always happy and their pillar of strength. I was, in their eyes, a super hero. They said so. “Mom, you are my super hero.” Being a super hero isn’t all that it is cracked up to be. I cried. I was sad. My super powers of happiness just couldn’t make it. Losing my sweet Bullitt was my kryptonite. My girls were confused.

I am not the only mom or parent to do this. In fact this was the first time for any of us to see my husband cry. As parents we feel this need to keep a happy face on even when we are hurting inside. Call it a show of strength or teaching composure but I think, every now and then we need to show our sadness. Our kids need to see their parents as humans and not a deity. In all fairness I don’t do this totally on purpose. Our situation is unique and strength along with positive attitude has been a must not a choice, at least not in my book.

Before you get all preachy and judgmental please understand I am not a “suck it up” kind of mom. I talk with my kids about all the life experiences we live through and I encourage them to express their true emotions. For me though, I have always and will always live by the code — Happiness is a choice. This time my girls got to see their mother choose sadness and a rare instance of me without my cape. I am ok with that, it is good for them. I think all moms and dads need to give the superhero gig up for a night every once in a while. Sadness can be cleansing and remind us that we have love for those we care for. It can also remind those who hold us in such a high regard that we need to be cared for as well.

I am still sad and I was temporarily without my powers of joy but I am in good hands. My girls cared for me by snuggling beside me as we watched a movie. They were my heroes for not only handling this situation with grace, but also by extending concern and displaying sympathy.

Life is full of new beginnings and last good byes. Without a doubt my children will be faced with losing a loved one again in their lifetime and while I can’t guarantee how they will handle the situation I can be confident that they will get through it. I can take comfort in the fact that our past encounters with loss will give them the foundation on where to begin in the coping process.

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