We went ahead and told our 4-year-old that the dog was going to die. Scooter had some sort of event – a heart attack, stroke, organ failure, something catastrophic – on a Monday morning and we knew he wouldn’t recover.
Jack tried to rationalize it with us. “Trust me, Scooter has just learned how to play dead,” he told us.
He tried to fix it. “When he dies, we will take him to the hospital and they will make him alive again,” he said.
Eventually he leaned his head over into his hands and started to cry, “But if Scooter dies, we will never see him again.”
We talked about how Scooter was a good dog and had been a big part of our family for a long time. We told stories about him and decided that these stories would be how we could remember Scooter.
“When Scooter is dead, lets go right then to the pet store and get a new little white dog and name him Scooter so that we don’t have to love the old Scooter anymore,” he said.
That’s when I knew he got it.
Jack, in his own way, knew that the pain of loosing his dog, “the best dog he has ever known,” was going to be so big that he just wanted to wipe him away by replacing him with a new dog. He loved Scooter, and if he found a new dog just like Scooter then he could keep going and pretend nothing had happened. He wouldn’t have to sit with the hard part.
Since Scooter died, Jack has had questions. He got out of bed late one night in a panic. His eyes were bleary when he crashed into me, looking for a hug. “Mommy, when I die, will you be there? Will you take me to the hospital?”
I sure would rather say whatever it takes to make him feel better in those moments. It would be much easier to run out and get another dog to whom we could devote all of our attention. Or in an effort to pave our path with sunshine, we could never have a pet again to keep from ever feeling the loss another time.
Instead, we sit. We sit and cry when we are sad. We sit and rock on the front porch when we miss him. We sit and talk about Scooter at dinner. We sit and truthfully answer Jack’s questions even when they are hard. We will sit and wait until we are ready for whatever is next.
Scooter started our family. Ben and I got him from the shelter when we were dating and this shared responsibility meant the beginning of something more serious for us. Having him leave the family marks the end of an era, but also ushers in a new one that includes a new responsibility and expanded understanding for Jack, and the rest of us too.
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