People who equate truth with fact are missing the point.

Grieving Lessons

Every time we get a new dog, we have the same argument. I want to wait to give the new dog a name. I figure, if we give it a few days, the dog will name itself. My family, on the other hand, is so eager to have something to call the thing (why they can’t call it dog for awhile is beyond me) that they jump all over each other to choose the name within two hours of the new dog coming home. Hence, Blossom was named Blossom instead of the much more appropriate Pig Pen. Blossom enjoyed exactly two things: laps and gross stuff.

That right there is an unfortunate combination. A dog who enjoys eating the birds that the neighborhood cats kill almost as much as she enjoys rolling in everything interesting (the stinkier the better) is unlikely to be welcomed into many laps.

Somehow she managed to get all the lap invitations she wanted, anyway. She’d worm her way in, tail thumping, grinning her damn fool dog-grin, until the person whose lap she wanted into couldn’t say no.

She died a few weeks ago. We were all sad, but Carter was heartbroken. A few days after she died, Carter wailed, “Mommy, will I ever be able to go on with my life?”

Grief is like labor, but in reverse. At first, the pain is constant and concussive, filling the world from horizon to horizon and greedily consuming attention and energy. It crests, and crests, and crests again, leaving little space between contractions for rest.

I told Carter that after awhile, the sadness would start to melt and that he would still feel it, but not all the time, and not so deeply. That’s what I said out loud. In my guts, I was filled with warm gratitude that Carter has had this most appropriate introduction to grief.

My first experience of death* was violent and so shockingly destructive that my family is still grappling with the consequences now, over 30 years later. Jacob, Abbie, and Spencer learned about grief when a friend’s four-month-old was taken from the world by that terrible night-thief of babies, SIDS.

From that perspective, it has been sad yet somehow delightful to guide Carter through his grief, to help him through this most ordinary of human experiences. Virtually everything in Carter’s emotional life has been extraordinary, and Brian and I worried that Blossom’s death would spin him into mania or psychosis, but that hasn’t happened. He has been, simply, sad.

A few days ago, Carter said, “Mommy, you were right! I’m starting to be able to go on with my life! I’m still sad when I think about Blossom, but I don’t think about her all the time anymore, just sometimes. Isn’t that great?”

*My mom’s younger brother David died at age 19, when I was 2 1/2. While I have some vague memories of that time, my first true experience of grief happened when my dad’s younger sister Nadine took her own life when I was 8 years old, the same age that Carter is now.

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13 comments to Grieving Lessons

  • I’m glad Carter is dealing so well.

    And I really, really hope your next dog is named Six.

  • That is so wonderful that Carter is experiencing ordinary, simple sadness, and that he is also exhibiting a wonderful sense of self-awareness about it all, and the grieving process. I am sorry that your dog has died, but completely understand how happy you must be that he is getting a chance to experience loss and grieving first in such a “safe” context. Hopefully setting up positive patterns for the future. (fingers crossed)

  • I’m so sorry about your loss. You’re right, it is a great way for children to learn about grief and loss. We’ve lost two dogs since the kids were born (I always have three or four). We still talk about Snoopy, who we lost four years ago, and periodically we cry together over Lady who died unexpectedly early this year. The kids have learned that its OK to talk about it, that it hurts a lot but it gets better, and that we can always have pictures and memories of the ones we miss.

    Glad to see you posting again. I have MISSED you.

  • Ant Judy

    My Shelly sends ”wag, wag” to Carter and all the other people that Blossom liked to wag for. Shelly hopes that wags are happy things to get in a blog but wonders (sort of) what a blog is. Wag, wag.

  • Beautiful… and sad. You’r such an awesome mom!

  • I’m so sorry! =(

    When our kids hurt it just makes you want to reach in and pluck out your own heart. I hate it. Yet, when they can understand and appreciate loss and pain, that it does not have to consume our lives and they learn to deal with it so wonderfully, well, it is a truly beautiful thing. He’s a marvelously beautiful spirit. =)

  • Oh…

    So sorry about the sweet pooch.

    But you’re right – that’s a very normal first experience, and it’s so much better it happened that way.

    Even though it hurts.

    And watching them hurt hurts.

  • so sorry for your loss! blossom was a cutie! good for carter to be dealing so well with it.

  • losing pets is so hard. not as hard as losing people, but still hard. i’m sorry about blossom, but it makes me glad that you can not just find the silver-lining in this, but present it so beautifully. thoughts and love to your family.

  • I love your description of grief being the same as labor but in the opposite direction, so very true!

    I’m glad your son got to experience loss in a way that can be a life lesson, so sorry you lost your dog though.

  • Kids are amazing, and they can teach us so much about grief! If we allow the feelings to be there, they pass through us. I love your analogy of grief being like labor in reverse. Sounds like you are great at talking to your kids about tough issues.

  • Shawna (momofbug)

    Teaching how to grieve is one of our toughest duties as parents. We started with hamsters. When the first one was discovered dead, Bug cried all the way to the store to get a new one. There was no way that cage was sitting empty for more than an hour.
    When the second one died, he took it better, and we moved up to adopting a very old cat from a friend. He was so sorry to see that poor old guy go, but it was another step in learning.
    None too soon, because not long after, my Dad was diagnosed with brain cancer. Unfortunately for all of us, Bug had to use all his hard-earned grieving skills way too soon.
    Nothing prepares you for that, but baby steps can lay the groundwork of coping.
    How wonderful it is for you that Carter can actually be sad and work it out. It sounds like he has made some huge strides forward lately.
    Love & Martinis!

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