Good Grief or Bad Grief?

Caryn: WARNING! DEPRESSING POST AHEAD! Our dog died on Friday. He was old (for a rottweiler) and ended up dying the way I’d been dreading. Well, I actually don’t know the way he died because I didn’t see it, but he died in the place I’d been dreading: on our kichen floor. Sprawled out stiff. Right in the middle of everything.

I don’t share this to depress any dog lovers or to gross anyone out (I actually left out the grossest details!), but because I think his death has some Revolutionary “application.” Obviously (at least to you dog-loving people), having a dog die rocks a family. We’ve lost a member, someone who’s normally here with us, ready to eat our pizza crusts, to nose our balloons, to (sometimes) greet us when we get home, to bark at us when he’s hungry. He went camping with us, he tromped in the backyard with the kids, and we walked together. All over the neighborhood. So now that he’s gone, life feels a bit wrong. We all get that.

But one of the things I know we don’t all “get” or agree on is the way we cope and deal with death and grief. When I got up on Friday morning, and saw Bladey lying still, at first I told my kids to stay where they were. If he were dying, I didn’t want them to come near. A sick dog—no matter how good a dog—can be a bitey thing.

But as soon as I realized he was already dead, I invited them over and broke the news. We woke up Rafi (my husband) and then all knelt around Blade’s body, petting him, kissing him, talking about death and what it means.

We cried together an talked about the role of spirit—and how our bodies aren’t really “us” as much we think. Then, hours later when the vet opened, we laughed together through some tears as Rafi and I carried our 100-lb-friend out to the car (if it weren’t so sad and gross, it would’ve been hilarious to see).

All this to say, it was a moment for our preaching the importance of frankness and honesty came into practice. I know a lot of familes who choose to shield their kids from the harshness of death and dead bodies and sorrow, but I don’t think it’s the right way to go. I’m not saying I take my kids on field trips to the morgue or have the watch gruesome documentaries, but as life happens—and ends—around us, we’ve always chosen to share that with the kids. For good and bad. And I think it helps them understand. At least I hope.

I know I did go overboard when they asked what we did with his body. I probably could’ve fibbed a bit and not gone into the whole cremation thing (now my 2-year-old keeps asking about the “big fire” and wanting to see it). That was a little hard for them to hear. But what else could I say? Lie? Tell them we were burying him? Instead, I told them we cremated dogs so they could become “compost”‘ (my kids are all really green) and that he’d fertilize the pet cemetary lawn and live on that way. Until we see him again in heaven, of course.

So sorry that this was so depressing. I just had to process this bit of family-ness. Comments?

Carla: I have found that my biggest issue when it comes to talking to my kids about these kinds of things is that they react in such different ways–different from me, different from each other, different from what I expect. I never know which one will be weepy and which one will be stoic. I don’t know who will want details and who will chafe at knowing too much. Like everything else in parenthood, it’s a total crapshoot.

Which is why I think dealing with grief is, like everything else in parenthood, a gut instinct. You just know that your kids need to see and touch their dog in order to process his death. You know that they need to hear what happens next so they don’t get lost imagining something terrifying. I think that’s good parenting.

At the same time, there are probably other parents who know their kids can’t handle the image of the stiff dog on the kitchen floor–we had our cat put to sleep when he was dying because we didn’t want the kids to come home from school one day and find him dead in the back of a closet (which is a whole different set of circumstances that you had, of course). So they figure out how to talk about the loss in a way that makes sense for them. At least I sure hope they talk about it.

Caryn: So true—about the crapshoot part. It’s why being in tune with who we are—as individuals, as moms, and as a family—is so important, I think. So we sort of know what to do in those random, unexpected moments. Good and bad. I don’t know. Anybody else?


 

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