Anyone who has had a pet understands how that pet becomes more than an animal running about the house. They know their pet becomes an important member of the family; a member who like all members of the family requires care, love, food, regular doctor visits, and needs to abide by certain rules and expectations. In return, the pet freely gives unsolicited love, attention and comfort to the other members of the family. My granddaughters, May and Eloise learned this life lesson through their beloved pug, Mr. Woo. What they weren’t prepared for was the fact that one day Mr. Woo would leave their world, a fact they sadly faced this past autumn.
Mr. Woo was May’s and Eloise’s “big brother.” He was the fifth member of the family. He was there when May was born and three years later, happily greeted May’s younger sister, Eloise. May, Eloise, and big brother Mr.Woo; three close siblings, sharing good times and bad. The girls couldn’t imagine a world without him, yet that world was rapidly approaching.
My daughter and her husband tried to prepare the girls for Mr. Woo’s impending death, knowing that there was no way to ease the pain that was about to befall the entire family. The news should not have come as a shock. They had all witnessed Mr. Woo’s labored breathing, given him pills that they hoped would miraculously sustain his life and carried him up and down stairs in order to ease his pain of walking. It shouldn’t have come as a shock for with love comes hope, and their hope never waned.
During Mr. Woo’s final days, May and Eloise showered him with attention, treasuring every moment of his last days in the hopes that the time spent hugging, kissing and giving him unlimited treats, would somehow, miraculously cure his many ills, but to no avail. Last autumn, May and Eloise hugged Mr. Woo for the last time.
The death of a pet is a devastating experience for anyone, but most especially for children. Often, it is a child’s first experience with watching a loved one die. Throughout their developmental years, Mr. Woo was always available to offer comfort when needed, laughter at a moment’s notice, a warm body to cuddle, a happy greeting when the girls returned home after a hard day at school, a willing playmate whenever the need arose… The list of services offered by their funny, often smelly, little pug was unending. His departure left a deep chasm in the hearts of these two little girls.
People often say that it’s better to put sick pets out of their misery. While this may be true, it is easier said than done when you are the one making the decision. You doubt yourself every step of the way, wondering if your beloved pet’s pain is excruciating or if you’re prematurely ending her/his life. Once the decision is made, you live with it, often questioning your decision for years to come. I know. I write from experience.
As my daughter sobbed along with my granddaughters, my son-in-law was given the responsibility of taking Mr. Woo to the vet one last time He had to be the brave one, yet he loved Mr. Woo no less than any of the mourners left behind. He was the unsung hero who painfully watched his once-lively buddy take his last shallow breaths. The air was heavy with the weight of tears for this entire family.
As I sit at my computer, recalling Mr. Woo’s final days, I think about how difficult broaching the subject of death can be for young children. I marvel over how my daughter and son-in-law handled this painful time with sensitivity, love, and compassion. As a family they shared funny Mr. Woo stories, told Mr. Woo how much they were all going to miss him, showered Mr. Woo with unending hugs and a plethora of snacks, cradled him as they walked around the house, and cried rivers of tears into his soft fur. They outwardly expressed their sadness and had group hugs with their little ball of fur. They shared joy-filled days with Mr. Woo as a family and now, as a family, they shared in their grief.
I often wonder about the “best way” to prepare for a pet’s death. In my opinion, there is no way. It is a heart-wrenching experience; an experience that draws out and releases the gamut of emotions that make us human beings. When a pet dies our feelings supersede words until such time when words can resurface as happy memories of times shared.