How do you explain death to children and dogs?
My husband and I didn’t have any children together. So, I did not have to try to explain his death to them. We do have a myriad of nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews some of whom are quite young and with true child honesty, the little ones came up to me and told me they were sad that their uncle was gone and would I be so kind as to tell them when he would return.
That’s when I fell back to the old standby of Heaven and Angels and I could see their thought processes churning as they neatly catalogued what I was saying into images and ideas that fit seamlessly into their little world as they know it.
But my husband and I do have several members of the four footed furry brigade. All of which have grown up with and spent considerable amount of time with my husband. Not to mention the livestock of horses, donkeys, goats and emus that he took care of on a daily basis.
While I worked at my computer during the day, my husband ran our ranch, so he was hands on and present with all of these creatures great and small on a 24/7 basis.
So how do you explain Heaven and Angels to a dog? Or a cat? Or a horse? All of whom have spent the last few months constantly looking for him. When I open the closet to get a shirt, the dogs come sniffing in and burying their heads into my husband’s clothes and shoes and then look at me as if to ask where I am hiding him.
His horse whinnies longingly every time the front screen opens as she rushes to the fence looking for him. Upon seeing me and only me, she gives a disappointed grunt and wanders back to whatever she was doing before. Sometimes allowing me to give her a carrot, other times ignoring me completely.
Someone suggested I contact a pet psychic and let them explain it to them. There’s a slight problem with that. I don’t believe in pet psychics. Mainly because of my experience, many years ago, when a renown psychic was invited to a ranch where I kept one of my horses at the time.
She wandered around a bit, getting the ‘aura’ of the premises. Walked up to a horse and proclaimed, “She has something to say! What is her name?”
Now, I have been known to not keep my inside voice…well…inside. And unfortunately this was one of those times as I blurted out, “First, she is a he and second, shouldn't you ask the horse what his name is?”
I was politely asked to leave the ranch until the psychic was gone.
So the option of pet psychic is out.
I did ask a normal trainer about what I should do, especially since lately the four footed furry brigade seems to be pushing all of my buttons at once.
She told me that their testing me was normal. That since it had been about two months since my husband first left to the hospital, that the pack mentality was telling the dogs that he was not coming back. Their pushing the boundaries was reestablishing their place in the pack since the alpha male, my husband, was gone.
Even though my husband and I didn’t have any kids of our own, between us we have helped raise eight of our nieces, nephews, younger cousins, best friends’ kids, etc. We were the unofficial foster home without all of the government red tape. So I am well aware of kids pushing boundaries, just never equated it to the doggy world of chew toys and drool.
So that made a lot more sense to me than some lady in a wispy, flowery, muumuu prancing around telling me that the pup wants to be a choreographer and needs to listen to more classical music.
I swear, with my hand in the air, that she actually said that about one of the horses. That supposedly the horse was unhappy showing in regular dressage and wanted to go into freestyle where he could dance to steps that he created and that he would prefer to listen to Mozart and Chopin as he was not very keen on Beethoven. And for that, the horse’s owner paid $55 per hour, plus mileage.
I do know that the four legged furry brigade really misses my husband. My service dog will lie on his side of the bed at night. The others cram themselves next to me as if trying to crawl into my skin. Whenever I leave the room all of them have to follow me, or they get upset and start scratching at the doors, which they had never done before. It’s as if they are scared that I too will disappear one day and never return.
How do I explain why, when I cuddle them close, that my attempts to comfort their mute sadness fail because I can’t comfort myself. They sense how devastated I am which adds to their misery until we all end up in a puddle of despair with me trying to hug them all at the same time and sobbing.
I go out and talk to my husband’s horse. Bring her carrots and try to explain why he is not answering her whinneys. But even if she does take a bite of her treat, her head is raised and her eyes scanning behind me, always watching and waiting. Even after two months she is still searching.
When my husband’s border collie puts his head in my lap and stares up at me wondering where my husband is and mutely begging for him to appear, all I can do is say how sorry I am that I can’t bring him back. How I wish with every cell in my body I could make him materialize right now, right here. But I’ll still be here, and love them and take care of them. I tell them over and over that everything will be all right. I get the distinct feeling that they believe that as much as I do.
I noticed that the two dogs that were especially attached to him are looking decidedly older and greyer over the past month. In time, they too will pass on taking away one more link to my husband. I pray that it is a long time from now.
I am ever grateful for the four legged furry brigade. Especially the pup who was my last Christmas gift from my husband. Because, as they take comfort from me, they give me tenfold the amount of comfort back.
I’m just sorry that they have to be on this horrible journey with me.