Every time the doorbell rings and there is silence in our home instead of barking, I am suddenly slapped with the immense loss we suffered last week when we had to put our sweet dog to sleep.
Pets become a part of the family, woven into every fiber. Our Zinny was about to turn nine and had been with us since he was eight weeks old. He was our first baby and a part of every moment we’ve had as a family.
And as I struggle with my own emotions and how to deal with my sadness and move forward, I am also trying to help my children deal with their emotions and their questions: some of which I can answer and others I can’t.
Our kids attend religious schools and know about heaven from songs and readings and lessons, so they have some frame of reference about death, but this just opened the flood gate of questions. Like, did I see Zinny go to heaven? What does heaven look like? How do you get to Heave? Will he come back from heaven?
The last question proved especially tricky with Easter coming up. My oldest kept asking why our dog couldn’t come back but Jesus could. And wasn’t satisfied even after I explained that you get to do special things when you are the son of God. I finally just said, “Ask your teacher.” (Sorry Mrs. Brown!)
My oldest also asked if we were going to have a funeral for the dog. And when I said no, I realized that we did need to do something.
I was very open with my kids about my own sadness and wanted them to know that it was OK to cry or whatever they needed to do. Honestly, I wouldn’t have been able to hide anything even if I tried because I was a bit of a mess, but I did want them to feel comfortable expressing whatever emotions they were feeling.
Instead of a funeral, we made a memory box. I bought a plain square box and the kids decorated the outside. Inside the box we put the Zinny’s collar, leash, favorite bones, a treat and a special paw print from the vet. It was a therapeutic activity that allowed us to honor him and preserve his memory while finding a little bit of closure in the process.
When they asked where to put the box, I told my kids they could put it anywhere they wanted, and that they could look through it any time they felt the need. Over the past week, I have been surprised at times to hear the jingle of Zinny’s collar, and then comforted to know that the sound means that someone is taking a few minutes to look in the box and have a moment with our sweet boy.
There are still daily reminders of our loss: an empty dog bed, uneaten food on the kitchen floor, no one to greet us at the door and a million other little things that made our little Zinny such an enormous part of our lives.
And even with all this sadness and loss, I wouldn’t change a thing. The only reason it hurts so much is because of how great he made our lives. The unconditional love and immeasurable joy that Zinny shared with us is what we will miss the most, and we were lucky to have that for nine amazing years!
We love you sweet boy!
Cheers – Emiliy