Those of you who regularly follow this blog know that we have an ailing cat, Ibit, who we are preparing our children, especially our son, for the impending loss of. I keep increasing his insulin and hoping to lengthen his stay with us. Many of you may remember that we’re fortunate enough to live next door to my parents and that we are very close to them. Their animals are like our own. We have five cats, and they have four dogs, and the kids are close to all nine animals between the two houses (my parents also have four birds and two cats but the girls aren’t close to them).
Our animals, with the exception of my parents’ youngest dog who is two, are all the girls’ age and older. They are aging animals and two of my parents’ dogs have (had) health issues. Cookie, pictured above, began to suffer seizures a while back, and was in rapid decline the last couple weeks. My parents euthanized him yesterday, and teaching our children about death came sooner and more abruptly than we were expecting.
Now, this isn’t the first time in our son’s life that we’ve lost an animal, but it’s the first time in many years; we lost a dog seven years ago and a cat eight years ago, and my parents have lost two dogs in the years we’ve lived next door, but those deaths didn’t register personally for Bobby, not like I believe Ibit, his cat, will, so I suppose this was a practice run. Nor, for that matter, how Cookie’s has.
Children are resilient and I think this is a good thing, especially with my kids who have a tendency to hyperfocus on something and dwell on it, so I’ve been relieved that today they’ve not really dwelt on it. The girls held Cookie, hugged him, and told him goodbye on Sunday. They shed tears, hugged their grandma, and asked me questions about Cookie and what happens after. Rosie kept repeating, “Poor Cookie.”
I was honest on Sunday night when we told them what was happening, honest yesterday when they said a last goodbye, and honest again tonight when it registered again for Lil and she came out from her bedroom, asking if Cookie was gone.
I told them that Cookie’s death would be (and was) a painless, instant thing and that he would no longer be suffering. I told them that his death released him from his suffering, that he was no longer poor. I told them that if there were a heaven, Cookie was there, happy and well, and that if there were no heaven, if death was the end, that he was still released from his suffering. It is what I will continue to tell them as they ask.
I told them it’s okay to hurt, to be sad, and to feel that there is hole in their hearts. It’s okay to forget for awhile, to be happy, to not think about it. It’s okay to be and feel how ever they are feeling. And I will keep reminding myself of that as well.
I told them that animals are friends who share our journey but for a short time and that the pain of losing them is worth the joy they bring us while they are here.
I don’t ask them about it, don’t bring it up, don’t wave it like a flag in front of them; we all process things differently. My job is to teach them to cope adaptively, to accept that a life worth living is one that encompasses loss. My job is to teach them that they can live within their emotions and breathe through the harder ones we must all experience.
And I am forever grateful for friends who share the journey with me and help me maintain my irreverence. I can only hope my kids are as lucky as I am to find friends who will bolster them through the hard times and help them to laugh raucously and a tad bit inappropriately.
To Cookie, a dog who would have been one hell of a cat, who growled as a way of greeting and who thought sleeping on the arm of the couch or on the top pillow of the couch was his place and who looked at you like you’d lost your mind when you had the temerity to plop your ass beside him on the couch. He will be missed.