Today I buried my dog along with my mom and brother. Angie passed away in July but it took till now to receive her ashes and bury them.
Angie was my family dog for the last 10 years, although she lived with me for the past 4. For my daughter, being 3 ½ years old, having a dog is all she’s ever known. I’m grateful that she has been raised with the beauty and benefits of having a pet despite it’s short stint.
While it was incredibily emotional dealing with the loss of my pet, it made it that much harder helping Ella through the process. Since she’s only three, her understanding is limited. I decided ahead of time the “story” I was going to communicate to Ella, taking into account my personal and religious beliefs about life after death.
The vet suggested a lovely poem to read to Ella called “Rainbow Bridge.” I read it the night before Angie passed away and I was hardly able to contain myself. I personally felt it would be too complex for a 3 year old to understand.
Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.
When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge.
There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together.
There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.
All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by.
The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.
They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent; His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.
You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.
Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together….
Alternatively, I shared with Ella that mommy took Angie to the vet because she was feeling sick. While Angie was at the vet, Jesus came to take Angie to Heaven where she could feel better. Now Angie is in Heaven with her family and having fun with the other doggies. We talk about how Angie is happy while swimming, eating treats and playing with balls. We can talk to her whenever we want because she can see and hear us. Sometimes, we’ll be driving in the car and Ella requests to talk to Angie. So I push the rear fog button to put Angie on speaker phone.
A majority of the time, Ella talks about drawing pictures for Angie and tells fun fairytales about Angie. The odd time she’ll express that she misses Angie. I can appreciate what it must be like for her to suddenly be without someone she’s been used to her whole life.
Last night I made the mistake of bringing up Angie and telling Ella that Nana and Uncle Stefan would be coming over to do something special for Angie (burying her). The result was Ella asking if I could pick up Angie from the vet after her owie was better because she missed her. Even though Ella didn’t seem to have a time frame as to when this would happen, she was expecting it to be over at some point. I was surprised to hear this because I tried hard to help Ella understand that Angie wasn’t coming back. I didn’t want to lead her on to thinking that this was a temporary fix. I wanted to make sure that whatever I shared with Ella wouldn’t come back to bite me in the butt later. For example, some people tell their children that they took the dog to a farm. As a result, the child may ask to go see the dog in the future…then what would you do?
I responded by saying we would see Angie when we go to Heaven. Of course, Ella replies, “But which way do we go to get to Heaven?” (or something to that effect). Ohh how do I answer that? Fortunately, the beauty of a three year old is that they are easily distracted. Instead, I switch the focus to how Angie is having a great time in Heaven playing with the other doggies and asking Ella what else she thinks Angie is doing. This usually puts a more positive spin on the situation and I can get her away from dwelling on the upset of not having Angie around.
I’m sure as time goes on, the story of Angie will continue to unfold as Ella understands more about life and death. My goal through the whole process is to be truthful in a manner that is appropriate for her age. I don’t want her to be decieved into thinking that Angie is still alive but living somewhere else. I also don’t want her to be afraid of death or think that if someone is sick, they aren’t coming back.
One last thing I decided to do was to get Ella a gift from Angie. I took Ella to the toy store and told her that before Angie went to live in Heaven, she asked me to get her a gift. I let Ella pick out a toy and accentuated how loving and kind Angie was for wanting Ella to enjoy a gift.
Some things to keep in mind during the process:
- Plan ahead of time the “story” you will share with your child
- Make sure other family members or caregivers are informed so they can have the same story
- The younger the child, the more simiple the language and explanation. As the child grows, more details can be added
- Celebrate the pet’s life. Focus on the positive, fun memories
- Focus on the animal being free from pain/sickness
- Consider giving the child a gift on behalf of the pet
In the end, you need to do what works for you and your family. I would love to hear other suggestions in order to make this resource more rich for others.