Almost 10 years ago, I lost my father unexpectedly. I was the mother of only one child, who was three and a half years old at the time. He was a bright child, but when we received the news of my father’s passing, he didn’t completely grasp the depth of someone dying. He cried, but when we got to my sister’s house he was happy to see and play with his cousins. He opted out of going to the wake in exchange for hanging out at a friend's house to play with the children, and I was fine with his decision. At the time my father passed away, because my son was young and innocent, I only had to care for myself throughout the grieving process which in hindsight, I realize made that difficult time in my life a little easier.
Fast forward to three years ago, at which time my oldest son was 10, and my two younger boys were four years old and 18 months old. My beloved Beagle, Woody, who would soon turn 16, took a turn for the worse. He had been declining the prior year and his time had come. People always say, “when it’s time, you will know.” I never understood that until the day came when I knew that he was done with his earthly life. I came home to find him still in his bed and when he looked up at me he looked so tired and almost like magic, communicated to me that he was ready.
I called my husband to tell him that our precious puppy was in bad shape and I made arrangements to have my kids looked after while I took our Woody to the veterinarian. For me, the grieving process had begun because I knew the news from the vet would not be good. As I sat in the animal hospital waiting and crying, the grief counselor who walked around the office came over to console me. I thought of all the good times we had with our dog and how special he was in our lives. I also thought of how hard caring for him had become, considering that he was an elderly pet and in addition to having three children to raise, one child was newly-diagnosed with autism. I swear that Woody knew that my plate was too full at that time, and that is why he gave up his fight to live.
The vet came out and thoughtfully delivered the news that Woody was in fact failing. She gave me several options to try to keep him going that involved intrusive medical procedures, but at his age I decided not to try to keep him alive for him only to be in a miserable state, so we both agreed that the best option was to put him to sleep. I phoned my husband to let him know Woody’s condition and he left work immediately. My oldest son had a basketball game, and since my husband would not be home for at least a couple of hours to assess Woody’s situation one more time, he recommended that my son and I attend the game and we did.
On our way back from the game, I spoke to my husband again and he agreed that it was time to say goodbye. As I drove with the kids in the car, I had to break the news to them. I did not anticipate how hard my oldest son would take the news. He was now old enough to grieve and I had to grieve twice as I witnessed his reaction. It only got worse when we all went into the room to say our goodbyes. My 10-year-old said out loud everything a person feels as they grieve, but that they usually keep to themselves, “Why is this happening? I love him so much! I wish I spent more time with him! NO, NO, NO!” Shock, denial, and anger were all clearly present, and my grief had to be put on hold as I tried to help him make sense of the rush of feelings he was experiencing. It was brutal.
My four-year-old was sad, but I think it was mainly because we were all crying, not because he really felt the same pain that the older members of the family felt. The 18-month-old was clueless. As I left the hospital with my boys, I was numb. I held my 10-year-old and we cried as I continued to help him make sense of the grief and the loss of our dog who we considered family. Watching your child grieve is a pain that cannot be measured. As their parent and protector, you are supposed to shield them from pain, yet experiencing grief is an inevitable part of life that renders us as parents completely helpless from stopping their pain. BRUTAL!
As time went on, we stood together when we felt sad, created a memorial in our backyard, and we grieved together. We also loved each other a little harder knowing that every good minute of life is a blessing, and not one second should be taken for granted.