QUESTION: Just before our son Danny was born, we adopted a puppy with the idea that that they would grow up together. We named the puppy Pippy. For six years, they enjoyed each other – it seemed like love at first sight when we first introduced Pippy to Danny. Unfortunately, Pippy was diagnosed with cancer and, after a couple of surgeries and watching him in pain, we sent him to the great beyond. We’ve explained to Danny that now Pippy isn’t in pain, as well as offering several other explanations, but he is still inconsolable. We told him we’d get him another puppy and he said he’s afraid that one will die, too.
Any ideas to help move him beyond his grief are appreciated.
Dear Flustered Parents,
I’m so sorry for your loss! Losing a beloved pet can be devastating. It was very traumatic when my son, many years ago, lost his pet white rat. So, first of all, his reaction is very normal and it is important that you explain this to him and allow him to express those feelings and to not stuff them down.
Since children his age don’t always have the language to express grief, you might use art. Have him draw or paint Pippy. He also might enjoy making a scrapbook with family photos and drawings. You could also draw with him and add yours to the booklet. Did you have a ceremony? If not, have one. Say some comforting prayers and lay his dog tags in a sacred spot. I bought a metal garden dog that is by my front door where I have now hung two dog collars and tags in remembrance of my two wonderful dogs that have since passed. Have him pick out a stuffed animal dog that he can name Pippy and maybe can wear the dog collar. Occasionally ask if he’s ready for a new puppy and then take him to the Glendale Humane Society. They are a wonderful organization. Rescue, don’t buy.
Carolyn Young, LCSW
Hello Flustered Parents,
I am sorry to read that Danny is dealing with a significant loss this early in his life. If losing someone that we love is very difficult for adults, I can’t even imagine how difficult it could be for a young boy. Please keep in mind that to grieve a major loss is a process that has no time limit, not one “right” way to do it.
It seems that you have helped Danny to accept the reality that Pippy is no longer with us, and that Danny is embracing the emotion that he feels with the loss, which is expressed in his sadness. In this phase where Danny is he may need additional clarifications of what has happened, reassurance that Pippy is okay, and a lots of expressions of how much you love him.
Maybe it could help Danny to know that when humans and animals die, both go to heaven as it is written in Ecclesiastes 3:18-22: “Humans and animals come to the same end – humans die, animals die. We all breathe the same air. We all end up in the same place” (The Message).
Also it is perfectly understandable that Danny is afraid to have another puppy, to fall in love again, and for that puppy to eventually die. Until Danny is ready to have another puppy, you may try volunteering at the local animal shelter, hanging out with doggies and having a good time with them. Maybe in interacting with other doggies in the shelter Danny will fall in love again.
I also invite you to share with Danny the story of Roman McConn, a 7-year-old boy who was named ASPCA Kid of the Year in 2018 for his work in saving more than 1,400 dogs from living in shelters. Here is one of the links about Roman and his work: https://www.aspca.org/news/seven-year-old-georgia-boy-honored-2018-aspca-kid-year-award.
My prayers are for Danny and the family. May you all find some consolation in the great memories that you built together until the time comes to love another puppy again.
Reverend Antonio Gallardo
QUESTION: I was raised going to church and I have spiritual beliefs that are important to me. I’m now in college and when I’ve been in discussions with classmates, they say things to undermine my strong faith. That will never happen. They say they believe in God, but don’t depend on Him. I don’t feel I should have to explain my commitment to God and my church.
Is there a way to quash these discussions without sounding self-righteous?
A Strong Believer
Dear Strong Believer,
Your steadfast commitment to the Lord is to be commended and encouraged. Unfortunately, many people in today’s world have become unreceptive or even hostile toward people of faith and look to discredit or diminish our effective witness for God. When we go out into that “real world,” especially a college environment, we get confronted with things that test our faith and are challenged by those who are skeptical of our true commitment to the Lord.
Even with that said, be encouraged! Many people are genuinely looking for those of us in the faith community who are authentic. They want to be able to respect and know believers, like you, who live out their convictions. There are others who may ridicule or reject us because someone they know claimed to have a strong relationship with God but compromised his or her beliefs and may have disillusioned them. People want to be assured that we’re people of faith who don’t just “talk the talk, but walk the walk” as the expression goes.
Matthew 5:16 (Amplified), states “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good deeds and moral excellence, so they recognize and honor your Heavenly Father.”
Live out your faith before your classmates rather than getting into debates over it. If we live our lives with integrity, uprightness, graciousness, forgiveness, mercy, loving and serving others, it speaks loudly to those around us. Ask the Lord how you can love and serve them, so that He will get the credit for your love and actions, and they will want to know God the way you do.
Hopefully, you have already surrounded yourself with a group of fellow believers for accountability and support. If you don’t have such partners, ask God to show you who these brothers and sisters are and get connected as soon as possible. We need them for encouragement when we’re struggling or wavering and to prayerfully stand alongside us when our beliefs, values and commitment to God are being maligned.
Standing with you and praying for you, as you stand strong,
Pastor Dabney Beck
Dear Strong Believer,
Though I enjoyed college very much, sometimes I think it was designed by the devil simply as a tool to ruin the faith of as many people as possible. In fact, there are books out about how to survive college while keeping your faith intact! You understand, don’t you, that the devil targets people who believe in order to shipwreck their faith? It’s important to keep your spiritual wits about you at college or you may find yourself having needless doubts and giving intellectual ground that they don’t deserve to skeptics. It’s good to be prepared.
There are no new questions. I recommend the book, “Letters From a Skeptic” by Dr. Greg Boyd. His dad hammered away on his son’s faith. Greg’s answers could come in very handy in college with classmates who try to undermine your faith.
You also might want to consider that college is a place where it’s natural to have those kinds of discussions. Are you saying talking about your faith is off limits? Since I grew up in a Christian home of talkers, in college I sought out faithless people to get their take on why a relationship with God was a bad idea. Those days were far more “live and let live.” The climate today is far more hostile to people of faith. So it’s good to keep one particular comment from the apostle Peter in mind. You’ll find it in 1 Peter 3:15: “If someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.”
This is actually better than quashing discussions about your faith; it is explaining your hope. And hope is something that is in short supply on a college campus. Now you and I both know that college know-it-alls abound and it is somewhat rare to find a genuine seeker after truth. It’s much easier to find a critic and a skeptic of the faith who just wants to rattle you. For these, remember there are lots of conversations Jesus didn’t have and lots of questions He didn’t answer. Skeptics become much less bold after having one particular question or two asked of them repeatedly. They can’t hear it enough. “How do you know this?” And “What evidence do you have for this?” I ask this all the time. The evidence question makes skeptics much quieter.
I recommend you keep this handy. You also might want to keep a list of questions that you haven’t been able to answer, spend some time and answer them on your own or ask your pastor. You might discover that you emerge from college with a stronger faith than when you entered just because of this challenge!
Rev. Jon T. Karn