I think we all remember the first goodbye in our lives. Some, like my daughter, are lucky enough that their loss is a beloved pet and not a friend or family member. Whatever level of severity, I think that first true goodbye shapes us for the rest of our lives. Thus, I tried hard to make it as non-horrible as possible for my dearest little person.
Last week, our four-year-old said goodbye to our 12-year-old Great Dane, Tig. The signs were mounting up that all was not well, but we were desperately holding on to hope that we could have him a bit longer. When disaster struck bright and early one morning, we had 24 hours to love on him and feed him every piece of bacon in the house before the end.
As my mother and I roamed the house weeping and trying not to freak out either the dog or the child, I was left with several decisions. What and when should I tell Lillie that Tig was leaving? How should I tell her?
Growing up, my parents knew me well enough to understood that my ability to handle loss was (and still is) almost nonexistent. Thus, all cats, dogs, snakes, or cows in the family were either given to a farm or found new homes. I was more than happy to believe all their stories — and honestly had no idea they were untrue until adulthood. At this point I should note that my name and photo are listed in the dictionary under “gullible.” Hopefully, it is an endearing trait as I doubt it is going anywhere.
I’ve known for a while now that my Lillie doesn’t have a gullible bone in her body, and, though she does exhibit empathy and love and sadness at loss, she doesn’t seem to be affected by her emotions in the same way I have always been. This told me that my approach with her would have to be different. There would be no distant farmyard for Tig.
I decided, when she didn’t seem to notice our family’s general distress, to wait to tell her until Tig made his final visit to the vet. I had her feed him some extra treats and urged her to give him extra hugs and kisses. When my parents took him away, in a very me-like fashion, I collapsed into hysterical tears. My beautiful little girl climbed up into my lap, patted my face, hugged me, and sang the entire Doc McStuffins’, “What’s Going On?” song.
It was at this moment that I realized again just how special Lillie is and how extremely grateful and humbled I am to be her mother. When I calmed down a bit, I told her about Tig — that he was old, very hurt, and wouldn’t be coming home. The next thirty minutes had both my husband and me crying as we snuggled Lillie and tried to help her understand.
Again, she amazed us both in many ways, connecting lessons from church about God and Heaven and Angels with a very old dog who’d led such a wonderful doggy life. She seemed to understand that he had died and gone to a doggy form of heaven, but was hazy on the fact that this place wasn’t somewhere we could go visit when we wanted to.
It was such a difficult discussion to have, but thankfully…hopefully…she processed it pretty well. After the tears, we watched a movie, drank some hot chocolate, and snuggled. The next morning she woke up worrying that Tig wasn’t in his kennel and we had to remind her. She seemed pretty ok and didn’t cry.
In perhaps a kind turn of grace from the universe, our family had a vacation planned that took us all away from home the day after Tig’s loss — a home where we couldn’t help but see our lumbering Dane on every couch or hear his nails clacking on the floor from room to room.
I feel like this week together, removed somewhat from sorrow and canine routine, will help us all process the loss better. However, we all know it will be difficult to go back home and feel again how final his loss was. I can only hope that Lillie will be ok when we get back. I can only pray that her logical little brain will allow what sadness she needs to process to come out when necessary.