Sometimes I believe the best times to deal with the muck is when you are smack dab in the middle of the muck. Right now my family is covered knee deep in muck and swimming in a sea of fog. Last week we made the excruciating decision to end our dog’s life peacefully and with as little pain as possible. The question is what does it really mean to choose as little pain as possible? Sure, we helped our dog eliminate pain, but did we do a good job eliminating our family’s pain? Truthfully, the experience has felt like a root canal emotionally. At times, it has also felt like cursive to a kindergartener because you know words are on paper, but none of it makes sense. For our family, we’re having a difficult time having our dog’s death make sense. However, through all of the pain – I have already learned tidbits of wisdom regarding grieving and how to involve a young child in the process:
First, it’s important to not hide from your truth. Take my family for example. I know we continued to be in denial of how quickly our dog’s life and days would decline, but as soon as we knew Mugsy would not live past another month or possibly another week – we could not ignore telling our daughter. Honestly, I don’t think we could have faced the wrath of our daughter if she didn’t have the chance to have closure with who she called her brother. In retrospect, I am so happy we had these sad yet real conversations because I was left with final memories of my daughter with our dog (eg. walking downstairs and seeing Ryley with her comforter lying next to Mugsy and Ryley on her own bringing Mugsy’s dog dish closer to him). I believe these memories were Ryley’s way of saying “Goodbye, My Friend.”
The sad part is there are many parents who won’t create these memories with their children because like the movie, “A Few Good Men”, they believe their child is too young to handle the truth, but what parents don’t think about is children will find out one way or another. In actuality, hiding from “what is known” can bring more scarring then opening the door and shining light on the issue. Personally, I will never forget one of my best friends who lost her mother when she was in middle school. Her father and aunt knew the cancer had metastasized and her mother was losing the battle, but they did not tell my friend or her sister. My friend actually thought her mother was doing better, but instead was in the dying process. When her mother died, my friend went through a lot of initial anger due to being kept in the dark. So my conclusion is turn on the switch, keep children in the light, and allow children to have closure with their dying pets.
Next, you can’t take care of your child if you don’t take care of yourself. With full transparency, I felt like a crazy woman as soon as Mugsy died. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. Every morning I would still yell “Good Morning Mugsy”, I was crying hysterically on a balance beam remembering my dog walking back and forth as Ryley was practicing gymnastics, I made chili one night and felt nauseous at the same time thinking how much Mugsy would have liked the chili. I was feeling guilty life moved on and my friend was not here to be part of it. My husband was dealing with his own demons. He was sad our dog was anxious at the end and sad our dog had to be taken away before he would return home. The part which was extremely tough was being forced into normal when we didn’t feel normal. With my daughter, I knew it would be exhausting if my life turned into theatre, so, we allowed Ryley to experience the roller-coaster of emotions. Of course, there were times she mirrored what we were feeling. However, I feel Ryley had to do what she had to do to process the fact Mugsy was here one day and not here the next. The great part of permitting ourselves to have a circus of emotions is along with not forcing ourselves to feel a certain way we didn’t force emotions onto our daughter. Ryley could ask questions at her heart’s desire, she could cry when she needed to cry, and she could move on more quickly than us. In my opinion, there is no right way to feel. Along the journey, we learned to “just be” because when you’re dealing with the temporary pit of despair – it’s easy to label yourself as insane. If you’ve been through it, you understand. The best gift we could give Ryley and the best gift we could give ourselves was “just to be”. Ryley could grieve like a child and we could grieve like adults. We created our own space. My husband took a couple days off of work, Ryley went back to school, and I spent time in my home cave. The theme – Do what’s right for your family.
Thirdly, I say listen to your gut and not to what other people say. While people genuinely care and are trying to be supportive, you’ll hear things such as you made the right decision, you will get another dog someday, know you gave Mugsy a great home, etc. In reality, you know what people are saying is true, but you’re not feeling it. It doesn’t matter if you made the right decision if you’re still feeling the abyss. My advice is not to be cruel to whoever is trying to help, but to take everything with a grain of salt. Also, give your family permission to breathe. If you’re not ready to talk to the world – give yourself a couple of days. The goal is not to isolate yourself, but do think you need to get your own life in control before you allow others to control how you should think and feel.
Lastly, advice is one thing, but what about when people have opinions on the big stuff like should your child be involved in your dog’s euthanasia? Again, I think this is up to your family. For us, Ryley was not there when our dog was euthanized, but she was brought into all of our discussions. We felt this was the right decision for us because our daughter is easily mistaken as a 48 hours reporter and she would ask a million questions just to cope and we weren’t sure, at the time, we would be the perfect pillars of strength. However, we also don’t believe the vet visit to our house was the end of Mugsy’s story. We recently received our dog’s ashes and we plan on having a celebration ceremony for our buddy. We will spread Mugsy’s ashes in his favorite places and Ryley will be involved in the entire process. We believe this will tell Mugsy’s story.
So in conclusion, yes it is a doggie dog world, but it’s ok when you’re facing grief to tell your own story, to be real, to just be, to give yourself closure, and to concentrate on your own “little voice” instead of listening to what is expected and the little birdie sitting on your shoulder.