Long before kids … even before husband … there was Bailey. This sweet little Beagle that came into my life right after I moved to Charlotte and needed some companionship in my fresh-out-of-college life. She essentially was my first baby and gave me that first dose of motherhood! Through the years our family grew and Bailey was always a special part of it. Even at 12 years old (84 in dog-years) she would still chase a crazy 2-year old Jake around the house; or at 14 she developed a special bond with baby Ryanne, particularly at dinner time when Ryanne would squeal in delight as Bailey licked remnants of dinner off her little baby fingers. I always knew she wouldn’t be around forever, but could never imagine life without her. As Bailey aged and health issues started to crop up, I began to prepare myself for how I would handle the situation with the kids when the time came. What if she passes away in her sleep and Jake finds her? What if we have to make a decision … do I tell him ahead of time and give him the opportunity to say goodbye or do I tell him afterwards that she has gone to doggie heaven? How do I handle all the questions that are sure to come?
That unbelievably sad time finally came this past Labor Day Weekend and no amount of playing it out in my head could have prepared me for it. Bailey was 15 and had such a full and happy life but her time had come where she was really struggling, in a lot of pain and I couldn’t stand to see her that way. We knew we needed to seek medical attention and feared what the outcome would be. The hardest part was telling Jake, now 5. We decided to tell him that we were taking her to the doggie doctor but there was a good chance Bailey wouldn’t be coming home and he needed to say goodbye. I of course was sobbing and I think Jake was more concerned about me than the dog. He didn’t really know how to act since to him, it seemed like it was happening so fast. One minute he’s eating breakfast and the next he’s giving Bailey a goodbye hug and not really understanding what’s going on. In hind sight, I wish I would have prepared him a little more in the weeks leading up.
The rest of the weekend, he was really sweet and kept giving me hugs and telling me how much he loved me … again, WAY more concerned about me than sad about the dog. And then the questions started rolling in: How did you get Bailey to Heaven? Did you have to walk her there or did you drive her? Was she dead when you left her? What happens when you die? Who’s going to die first Mommy, me or you? How do you answer that??
A dear friend recommended a GREAT book “Dog Heaven” that we actually read quite often and I think that helps Jake process things in his own way. Its where dogs sleep on clouds, eat lots of treats and play with the angels and even get to come back down to Earth to visit their families (they’re invisible though). There’s also a version for “Cat Heaven”. I would highly recommend it if you are faced with a similar situation.
I wanted to share this story, not to be sad or sentimental, but as a mom, I really struggled with how to handle this with my kids. It was hard enough for me but I wanted to make sure I handled it the right way with Jake (Ryanne’s too little to understand anything at this point). And because he hasn’t had to experience death in a real way, I knew there would be lots of questions, (however I didn’t expect some of the ones I got). So my personal advice would be – don’t be afraid to talk openly and honestly about things. Kids are more resilient than we might think. Let them process it in their own way; don’t force them to talk, but let them know you’re there if they want to. Jake didn’t talk much about Bailey for the first day or 2, but would ask random questions throughout the day so I knew he was thinking about it. It took me a few days before I could sit down and read the book to him without totally losing it again. So we set aside some quiet time, read the book and then he really opened up — Books are a great tool to get the conversation flowing. And most importantly, celebrate the loved one! We hung up extra pictures of her and renovated the empty space in our mud room where her kennel and food had been by making it a happy, cheery place that we are calling “Bailey’s room”.
I know I’m not alone in this story, and I’m sure everyone has found different ways to cope – we’d love for you to share your story so other moms can benefit as well. And for all our beloved pets, it makes me smile to know they are all up there in doggie/cat heaven smiling down on us. 🙂