Saying Good-bye To A Part Of The Family
I’ve run through a long list of “what ifs” over the past week. But none of them can bring back my dog.
I never imagined the column I wrote here two weeks ago about Pronto’s emergency surgery (to remove a dislodged macadamia nut he somehow swallowed) would turn out to be an eulogy.
He survived the surgery and was otherwise healthy. I was optimistic he would bounce back and return to his spunky self in no time. It did cross my mind that he may not make it, but I quickly dismissed that possibility while awaiting progress reports from the vet.
I closed my column by writing, “I hope he lives up to his name and recovers Pronto.” Sadly, the exact opposite was true.
He was gone within a week. I did not get to say goodbye. Instead, I got a call that he died in his sleep at the vet’s while I was away on vacation.
It hit me hard, but I was comforted knowing he went peacefully.
On top of profound feelings of loss and guilt, I wondered how I should break the news to my children. Should I shield them or be open about what happened to Pronto?
The loss of a pet is often a child’s first encounter with death.
Looking back on my own childhood, I remember my mom telling me one day that our cat ran away. To this day, I’ve never questioned that explanation. But now that I’m a mom, I believe it was a lie to soften the blow.
Child psychologists say when a pet dies, it’s better to be honest and brief. Parents tend to resort to euphemisms such as “passed away” or “went to sleep” to describe death.
But that may backfire by creating anxiety for a young child, who then may fear going to bed.
Bereavement specialists recommend short explanations that spare kids any details that would traumatize them. In other words, make it sound as peaceful as possible.
Back to my own kids. While on vacation, my son asked if Pronto would still have the “cone” around his neck when we returned home. I answered “no,” with a gulp. It wasn’t a lie, but I wasn’t ready to elaborate yet.
When we got to our house without our daily greeting, my son asked, “Where’s Pronto?”
My husband Alan delicately said Pronto was in doggie heaven. I will never forget my son’s expression and questions, “What now? What are we going to do without Pronto? Can we go to the Humane Society to get another dog?”
For now, we will mourn Pronto’s memory and figure out the best way to say goodbye to a pet who brought us joy for 10 years.