Last week I faced one of my biggest parenting challenges so far, helping my girls deal with loss and grief for the first time. On Wednesday night we had to say goodbye to our beloved dog Maddy (Monkey). At almost 14 years old with a history of kidney disease and bladder cancer her body just couldn't heal itself anymore. She was terribly sick. She wasn't going to get better.
Doug and I made the decision to say our final goodbye to her at home instead of the vet's office. We wanted her last moments to be in the place she loved most, our home. We wanted the girls to be able to say goodbye to her before they went to sleep that night.
Knowing this might happen I had spent the preceeding days telling Hermione and Portia how sick Monkey was, pointing out that she could no longer walk and that she didn't want to eat anymore. They were concerned for her and kept checking in on her, giving her constant hugs and kisses.
Always wanting to be honest with the girls Doug and I told them the truth about what was going to happen to Monkey. They had to say goodbye because Monkey was going to pass away while they were sleeping that night. She wouldn't be there in the morning. We didn't give details on the vet that was going to come over and put her to sleep, we thought that might be too graphic and scary for them. As soon as we told Hermione she began hysterically crying and screaming, I have never seen her in such genuine emotional pain. At first she didn't understand. She just thought Monkey was moving to a new apartment. She didn't know why we couldn't "be a family" anymore. Then she got it. I kept telling her that "Monkey's body is so sick, she can't make herself better anymore. We have to let her go so her body isn't in anymore pain." She got it. I saw it click in her eyes and her hysteria got worse. It tore my already broken heart in two to see her in so much pain. This was her first experience with death, loss and grief.
Before they went to bed we all gathered around Monkey's bed and the girls hugged and kissed her goodbye. We all cried. Hermione most of all. Portia is a little too little to fully understand but she saw that we were all sad and kept saying "kiss, hug Monkey?"
After many tearful hugs and kisses is was time to get the girls to sleep. Laying in bed with Hermione, holding her as she sobbed we talked about how much we loved Monkey. How lucky we were to have had her in our lives for so long. How much joy and love she had brought us.
"I will be sad about Monkey forever. Even when I am not crying I will still be sad. When you love someone so much you can still be sad about them when you are not crying."
I told her that in a few weeks we would get Monkey's ashes back and we could bury them or scatter them in her favorite place. She asked how Monkey would turn into ashes. Not wanting to frighten her I told her the vet would do it by "magic." The specific details of cremation seemed unnecessary to tell her.
"Let's keep Monkey's ashes here with us so we can talk to her and remember her. This was her favorite place."
We also talked alot about what happens after you die. Doug and I believe in reincarnation to some degree, that your spirit carries on in some form after your body is gone. Hermione seemed to find it comforting that Monkey's spirit would still be around watching her.
"Maybe Monkey's spirit will be a tree."
Hermione also wanted to talk about getting another dog someday. Her realization that she no longer had a pet hit her really hard.
"Caelin doesn't have a pet. Rowan doesn't have a pet. Now we don't have a pet either"
"When the whole family is ready, in a few weeks maybe we can get another dog that looks just like Monkey and name her Monkey?"
I told her Mommy was very very sad and needed time to grieve first. She understood and was empathetic. She reiterated "when the whole family is ready."
The past few days have been hard. Portia looks for Monkey all the time. Before her nap and at bedtime she goes to where Monkey's bed was and says "night night Monkey?" This morning the first thing she said to me was "walk Monkey?"
Hermione is hurting a lot. She hesitates to get out of bed each morning. "I don't want to see that Monkey is gone." The past few nights we have held each other and cried in her bed. She says "I miss Monkey." I say "Me too baby, me too." I am tell her it is ok to cry, ok to feel sad. We talk about Monkey. We tell stories. I remind Hermione that she can feel as sad as long as she needs to. That there is no time limit on grief.
Helping my girls handle this first experience with loss has been hard. I feel the need to be strong for them but also want to make sure they know that I am sad too, that we can be sad together. I try and let them see me cry so they know crying is always ok.
The exquisite pain of loving a dog is you will always outlive them. Their lives are short compared to ours. You have to love knowing one day you will say goodbye. We are so lucky to have had so many years with our sweet girl. She brought me, then me and Doug, then my little family so much love and joy. I know in some way she is still here with us and always will be.