Preparing Our Children for the Death of Our Dog: Saying Goodbye to Sam
The Death of a Beloved Pet is Never Easy
We have an amazing dog. All dog owners say that, but in our case I know it’s true. Sadly he is going to die soon. He has way outlived his life expectancy and is in a lot of pain, it is his time to go. Our children are heartbroken by the impending death of our dig. Sam is more then a pet to them, he is a companion, a playmate and a beloved member of our family. We acknowledge that preparing for the death of a pet is not easy, but it is a valuable life lesson that can be dealt with in a loving way. So instead of shielding our children from the pain and sadness that they will experience from the death of our dog we are choosing to be upfront about it.
So now, as we prepare for the death of our dog, our sweet Sam, Here are some of the steps we are taking to prepare our girls for his passing.
Talk About the Death of Your Dog
Rather than pretend it’s not happening we’ve decided to be open about the ticking clock that hangs around Sam’s neck. At twelve he has far outlived the normal life span for a dog his size and we know we are talking months not years left with him. The impending death of our dog is not a secret. Talking about his impending death allows us to address any questions or feelings the girls might have and encourages them to savor their remaining time with him. So when we brush him we talk about how we won't get to do this much longer. And when we go for a slow wander we talk about how this may be one of our last times to do this with him. And when my children see Sam struggle up the stairs with his arthritic hips we give him an extra nudge and explain that he is nearing the end of a long and happy life. We talk about how sad we will be when he’s gone and then we give him an extra snuggle and maybe a treat or two. Seeing Sam at the end of his life and preparing for the death of our dog helps our children understand the seasons of life.
Read Books About Pet Loss
There is a book for everything, even the death of a pet. (Seriously, you name the difficult or uncomfortable situation and I am willing to bet you can track down a book to help you explain it to your child.) In the case of the death of a family pet there are a number of great titles out there. My favorite is “I’ll Always Love You,” by Hans Wilhelm. It is a simple,beautiful story about a boy and his dog who spend their life together until one day the dog doesn't wake up. The pictures are lovely and make it so that even the very young get the gist of what is going on. Another great book is "When a Pet Dies," by Fred Rogers. Yup, that's right the Fred Rogers of "Mr. Roger's Neighborhood." It is especially good for the very young and helps them understand the grieving process in language that they can understand.
Watch Movies That Deal With the Death of a Beloved Pet
Obviously I adore dogs, so the book and movie “Marley and Me,” rated pretty high on my list, despite the inevitable conclusion. Our girls are between the ages of nine and twelve and are moving beyond the fairytale stage so this movie seemed like a really good fit to explain the death of our dog. Despite the fact that it reduced some of us to a bucket of tears, it helped all of us prepare for how we might feel when Sam dies.
Have a Family Portrait Done with Your Dog
Although he’s a little plumper and greyer around the muzzle, Sam is still our handsome boy and we wanted to have something that our girls can look at as a reminder of what an integral part of our family he was. So we are having a family portrait done, nothing fancy or costly, just a friend with a camera and all of us.
We are choosing a humane end for our beloved dog. When we see that his bad days out number his good that will be the end. In some ways it seems cruel to be planning the death of our dog, but it would be far more cruel to let him suffer. Our children understand that now and we are letting our daughters decide whether they feel they need to be with Sam at the very end. It will be hard. I am crying right now as I type this, but I want my children to choose how and when they say goodbye. The death of a loved one is an unavoidable experience in life, allowing my children to fully understand and express their sadness over their dogs death will prepare them future losses and let them move on.
Hold a Memorial Service for Your Dog
Closure is important…even for a dog and especially for children. So we will put on our Sunday best and gather up those who knew and loved our Sam. We will stand around holding hands sharing stories about the dog that made our house a home and made us all feel so loved. We will celebrate his life and we will cry because he will be missed.
I know Sam’s goodbye is not far away, but I am comforted by thinking of the happy life he has lead with us and knowing that my children have been prepared for his passing in the best way possible.