We had to say goodbye to one of our family today, my fur baby, Jazmine.
She was 13 years old, she had a great run and has been part of our family since the beginning. Mr 4 told me she was his first ever best friend, which makes sense as she guarded him sleeping as a baby and their bond only grew as he got older and they would wander round the garden together.
Mr 2 has a limited understanding of what is going on. But for Josh (Mr 4, nearly 5) death has been a topic of conversation from as soon as he was old enough to talk. My dad died not long before he was born, I have never been shy about speaking about my dad, particularly with my kids, because I know my stories are the only way they will know him.
We have experienced several other significant people in our lives die in the short years of his life but none have quite had the significance of this one to this wee dude.
“This is the saddest day of my life” he said to me through tears this morning while we collected flowers from around the garden while my husband dug a grave for her.
Today I was grateful for the way we have talked about death with him so openly before. Today I saw the proof of the benefit of not hiding the sadness, of talking about different ideas of what death means, being open that no one really knows what it truly means, emphasising and explaining these ideas are quite a personal concept-that it can mean many things to different people.
Josh was with me when the vet gave our dog the shot that gave her peace, we were all three of us cuddling as the moment took her. Both Josh and I crying and reassuring her. We talked and cried as we took her body home about how she now can’t feel any pain or get sick anymore, about how much we will miss her and what she meant to all of us.
I believe if we hide or shield our children from these things, we risk the chance we could be robbing them of the opportunity for closure. I think this goes for including children at funerals just as much as I do for putting down a pet and burying them in the yard.
I think we can learn a lot from children about these things actually. Children experience things so intensely, all consumingly, with their whole selves; then sometimes before we as adults have even caught up, they are on to the next thought. Letting them live through that moment, acknowledging it, validating them – it can help them come to grips with it. It can sometimes be faster, and in most cases easier, that trying to fight them on the topic. If this applies for tantrums and general big emotions kids have, it makes sense that letting them experience sadness and grief how they chose to will also help them process.
As we buried our beloved family pet, we talked about how maybe she was going on one of the long daily runs my dad used to do with him or maybe she was chasing pukekos somewhere with no thought for the pain that had plagued her again from her hip in recent months. Then after placing flowers out, we went inside and read two of our favorite books which as so helpful with these conversations; Old Huhu by Kyle Mewburn and Water bugs and dragonflies by Doris Stickney.
We talked about the different concepts of death covered in Old Huhu, we talked about different understandings people have of heaven. We talked about our sadness and the things we will miss, we talked about our dogs favourite things and our favourite memories of her.
Then we played a game and did a few things that made us feel happy. While my husband and I spent the afternoon feeling drained, our son had moments of stillness and deep thought where he looked off into the distance then would say something like,“Jaz was really brave when the vet did all the tests and gave her the shot wasn’t she? This is such a sad day” followed just moments later with, “can I have an ice block?”
If you want more support dealing with trauma, loss and grief with children, Skylight provide an amazing resource, check out their website – http://skylight.org.nz/