Encouraging Children to “Follow Their Grief” When A Pet Dies

(As many of you know, our golden retriever Angel passed away last December and, for me, one of the hardest parts was observing my kids’ grief and supporting them through it – an ongoing process, for sure. When Lisa reached out to me with a proposal to contribute a post on this very this topic, I said “yes please!”)

Guest post by Lisa Cohn

When our Golden Retriever, Lucy, died suddenly a year ago, I was devastated. I couldn’t sleep or eat. Every part of my daily routine felt empty without her—walking in my neighborhood, shopping in a dog-friendly store, or playing with my son in the park.

For my children, age 4, 14 and 24, Lucy’s passing was their first close experience with death. They looked to me to understand how to cope. My youngest, Michael, didn’t understand what death was.

Again and again, I encouraged them to follow their grief, to avoid pushing it away, and to see where their feelings of sadness and vulnerability took them. I tried to model this philosophy—and hope, in doing so, I didn’t overwhelm them with my own sadness. I cried every day, talked about Lucy to my friends, and engaged in conversations with people on the street about dogs they had lost.

Interestingly, my youngest, Michael, was most open to and accepting of my sadness. He listened to me, held my hand, and reminded me over and over that I had “three other babies,” (my three children). To him, Lucy was another one of my children.

Our family’s efforts to cope with grief over the loss of “my other child” focused on art, writing and communicating with others. First, we gathered photos of Lucy and posted them on Facebook and talked about our loss. It was comforting to hear from all our dog-loving friends.

Next, we created a few collages of Lucy, and hung them up in high-traffic areas of our house.

We also organized a “Remembering Lucy” party. We invited our friends and people who had cared for Lucy over the years. I thought it was especially important for Michael’s preschool friends to attend this event because they had all played every day with her on the playground (She happily went down the slide with them, which endeared her to them).

During the “Remembering Lucy” event, we shared stories about and photos of Lucy. I was touched by our friends’ and neighbors’ passion for dogs, and their comments about how much dogs give to them. Some of Michael’s friends spoke up, sharing stories about playing with her on the playground. And my 24-year-old son’s friends surprised me with their comments. One young man said he was always jealous of the fact that we had such a great dog. Another young man said that whenever he babysat Michael, Lucy guarded the two of them closely.

I believe our “Remembering Lucy” event deepened my kids’ understanding of the gifts our “best friends” give us. It certainly strengthened mine.

Following my grief also led me to write a children’s book, along with Michael, that stars Lucy. This helped us keep her alive in our hearts. Michael and I even started Skyping with classes globally, encouraging them to express their grief through writing and other art forms.

“Follow your grief,” is the message we send over and over. We followed ours, and it led us to Skype with children from all over the world—kids who touch us daily with their emails, letters and enthusiasm for pets.

Writing, organizing a Remembering Lucy party and Skyping with kids globally has impacted Michael the most. There’s only one way to deal with death, in his mind: Share your feelings publicly.

Just the other day, his friend’s dog died. “Let’s help them write a book about their dog,” he said. “That will make them feel better.”

 

Lisa Cohn, along with her son, Michael, are co-authors of the award-winning children’s book, “Bash and Lucy Fetch Confidence,” and were recently featured on the Today Show for Michael’s love of books and his role in writing the book. Visit them at www.BashAndLucy.com

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