Should you talk open and honestly to your kids about death?
I mean really talk to your kids about death? Or should you sugar coat it and pretend that it’s is simply a visit to a nice place and not a permanent end to life? I have always been a firm believer in being open and honest with our two girls about most subjects and now death can be added as one of these.
When it came to making decisions about our beloved dog Bear, a family member for 13 years, it felt natural to include Miss 7 and Miss 5 in the discussions. He had been a big feature in their lives and it seemed unfair to treat their feelings as if they didn’t matter. However this wasn’t just about death, it was also about the choices we had to make and why and that made it a little more complex.
Our dog Bear was sick. He had lost a heap of weight and was getting shaky on his feet,when he could even get to them. He was a regular visitor at the vet in the past few years and we could see no improvement. While the Vet assured us that he didn’t appear to be in pain at this time, letting him go one from this point wasn’t the most humane thing we could do. We finally discussed “arranging” for a peaceful passing.
We had talked to the girls already about how Bear was not well and they’d come with us to the vet on numerous occasions, so they were not shocked when we talked about doggy heaven. And whilst I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes and I struggled to keep the tremor out of my voice, the girls were calm and thoughtful about the whole thing. I wondered if they understood the permanency of the whole thing? Maybe not.
The day came for us to take Bear to the vet and for the final farewell. The girls insisted on going with us, so we arranged to all walk together to the vet surgery. On the way we reminisced about all of the wonderful times that we had as a family. I think he sensed that this would be his final walk, but as always, he was simply happy to be in his customary place beside us as we talked.
Whether it was right or wrong, we offered the girls the chance to be with Bear as he passed and they took us up on it. We all sat on the floor holding various parts of his body and watched as the needle pierced the skin and the liquid slowly entered his veins. He didn’t struggle, cry out or ever make a murmur, instead our beloved Bear closed his eyes for the last time and passed away peacefully.
It was a big moment. I had tears streaming down my cheeks. My husband was doing a poor job at “putting on a strong face” and was clearly forcing back tears too. The girls on the other hand, had no tears. While they were clearly saddened by the event, they didn’t look as affected as either of us. Did they not love him as much as we did? Was it because they had not known him as long? Or was it just we understood the finality of the moment better than them?
I’ve decided it was the latter. I know they loved Bear by the way he’s referred to now. His name is held in high regard when mentioned and his memory is cherished based on the joyous nature of the stories about him being told weeks on from the actual event. While clearly not equipped with the life experience to fully absorb the situation, I don’t think witnessing it will be detrimental to them.
Were we right? I’m not sure there is a right or wrong here. Like every parenting decision we make,we simply might never know. We just have to go on “gut feeling” because we seem to have misplaced both the manuals the hospital gave us when our kids were born (bahahaha). My kids understand life (and death) better than most and now also understand that sometimes death can be a good thing, as is was for our old friend Bear. RIP buddy boy.
Yasmin is an owner and co‐founder of School Hours Pty Ltd. Yasmin’s passion for helping others coupled with her desire to achieve a balance between raising children and earning a living, lead her to create School Hours Pty Ltd with her husband Leigh. School Hours are Australia’s family friendly employment experts ‐ they help parents find it, employers understand and implement it and are champions of those offering it.