Lilly was the type of dog that movies are made about. My husband rescued her from the Pine County Shelter when she was a few months old. She was a mix of lab, retriever and border collie and had long, shaggy, black fur. We often referred to her as “Lilly bear or momma bear” due to her fur and lumbering gait, plus her inclination to hoover protectively near our children. Lilly adored the kids (Reese, 4 and Whittaker, 2) and they, her. She had the sweetest temperament and the utmost patience. I remember when Whit was 1, he would lie on top of her and hug on her so much that he’d be covered head-to-toe in fur. Lilly also had a strange addiction to licorice—she’d come running the second someone opened a bag of it.
When Lilly started showing signs of kidney failure last fall, we knew the end was near. We made the tough decision to euthanize her this summer. She was 15.5 years old and, while the decision and process of watching her go was heart-wrenching, we also had peace with knowing she was no longer in pain. We created a plan to help our children cope with the loss of Lilly, who was more than just a pet, but another family member. We hope these three tips can help your child cope, as well.
Talk about it early and often
You don’t always have time to prepare kids for the loss of a pet. Often, it can be unexpected. Luckily, we had early indicators and enough time to talk with our kids to prepare them. The conversations consisted of gentle reminders that Lilly was getting old and that she wouldn’t always be with us. Reese would mention other pets that have died (our old dog Max or a chicken we had when she was a toddler.) We would acknowledge that she still missed those other pets and that she would also miss Lilly but that this is part of the normal life cycle.Whittaker had a harder time understanding (which is expected as he just turned two).
The most heart-wrenching part of losing Lilly was when he would sit in the spot where her bed was, pat it with his chubby little hand and say, “Lilly, home.” We talked about how she isn’t coming home and then acknowledged that we missed her. Books help, too. “I’ll Always Love You” by Hans Wilhelm and “Dog Heaven” by Cynthia Rylant are two we read. My hope is that by giving the kids the space and time to talk about her and tell stories about her, we are helping them process their emotions around the loss.
Keep a pet memento
Our veterinarian offered to make a clay paw print and I’m so grateful we made this purchase. The kids have really appreciated the physical reminder of Lilly. When they are feeling sad, we pull the paw print off the shelf, hug it and tell it, “We love you and miss you.”
When my sister’s family lost their black lab, they bought each kid a black lab stuffed animal. My niece Harper still carries around her “Sydney dog”.
We also had the foresight to have Jane Cane Photography take photos with our family, including Lilly. Now, we have quality images of the kids with their sweet Lilly that we will cherish forever.
Continue the caring
One of the things our kids loved to do was help take care of Lilly. They took turns feeding her, brushing her, and filling her water dish. The caring process helped them develop a sense of responsibility and they took pride in their ability to help care for a pet. When she was gone, I wanted them to have something else to care for in her absence. We bought an apple tree and sprinkled some of Lilly’s ashes at the base when we planted it. Now, Reese and Whittaker take turns watering “Lilly’s Tree”.
As parents, we want to protect our child from heartache but it is inevitable. The best thing we can do is help them through it.
Laura Seitz is a wife, mom, author, adrenaline-junky and world-traveler. Laura’s full-time job is advising APi Group’s construction companies on how to create awesome workplace cultures. She can’t function without a good cup of coffee and a daily dose of fresh air. Her mission in life is to instigate fun, embrace adventure, practice gratitude, and never stop learning. Connect with her at lauraseitzdanielsen.com or via Instagram at SightsofSeitz.