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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Life Lessons From A Golden Retriever

On Friday morning, I came downstairs dressed in my workout clothes and sneakers, ready to shake my booty at a Zumba class. Upon seeing my attire, Angel, our almost 10-year old golden retriever bounced up, ridiculously excited. Of course she assumed, from my clothing and footwear, that we were going for a W-A-L-K (shhh, don’t say it, dogs can spell.) Much to her disappointment, off I left, without her.

Guess what happened though when I came home, sweaty and exhausted, an hour or so later? Yup. She saw my workout clothes and sneakers and leapt to her feet grinning, assuming once again that we were going out for a W-A-L-K. But, of course, I went upstairs and showered.

I felt bad for giving Angel false hope however, when I came downstairs later on, there she was, happy to see me, eager for a belly rub. And I thought to myself: if we humans modeled our behavior on the character and boundless optimism of a golden retriever, we’d all be a lot happier and chilled. Think about it.

  • Golden retrievers are enthusiastic about almost anything. They perk up at the mere hint of a treat, a trip to the park, grooming or just a good rumpus in the backyard. Every time you come home, they greet you exuberantly, as if you’d been gone for weeks.
  • Their aptitude for forgiveness is endless. So I didn’t take her for a W-A-L-K. No biggie. Maybe she didn’t get that slice of bacon being cooked at breakfast-time. Ah well. She still loves us, ready and eager for the next opportunity.
  • Laziness, one of my favorite characteristics ….. Golden retrievers make it an art form. Lounging on the front porch, car slows down ….. she’ll barely open an eye, flip an ear up an inch to see if it’s really worth bothering getting up for. Snoozing at the bottom of the stairs, she lets out a huge sigh. Ah yes, life is good.
  • Golden retrievers are not picky eaters: children take note. They will cheerfully consume pretty much anything that’s available. If you’ve dropped it or left it within reach, double points.
  • Good manners: Golden retrievers listen to instructions and generally do what they are told. More so than most children I know.
  • Like many other canines, for Angel, exercise is fun, not a chore. To dogs, it’s not about burning calories or getting ripped, it’s about the sheer joy of running, jumping, swimming, rolling in the mud, digging.
  • Exploration is a constant. We humans tend to err on the side of caution and stick to the known, whereas golden retrievers with their big brown sniffy noses will happily check anything out. Maybe give it a little chew. If it’s really smelly, maybe roll in it.
  • They’ll be your BFF. Not just you, their master, but pretty much anyone. The mail man, kids, visitors, vets, strangers, other dogs, even the cat. Golden retrievers love everyone – no matter their race, color, religion, creed or smell.
  • Goldens are humble, never vain. They are blithely unaware of their beauty and general cuteness. They appreciate being groomed but not for the silky coat, rather for the fun and attention. They don’t care how they look or smell, whether they are muddy or even if there are dingleberries hanging from their behinds. They don’t even need fancy, expensive toys. Often, a simple stick is the best-toy-ever.

But I’m not saying that golden retrievers are without fault. Ours is affectionately known as Angel the Kleptomaniac. Yup, she’s a thief. Not only does she pinch stuff – she buries it! Socks, dish towels, toys, sippy cups, shoes, cordless telephones, even the TV remote … the list of things she’s been stealing and burying for the last seven years is fairly extensive. I’d love to know whether she she’s just acting out or if she’s genuinely trying to protect these items.

Check out what I dug up today – three socks, a cutting board, a pair of goggles and some random toy parts.

They say it’s a dog’s life.

I think they are on to something.

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