QUESTION: Our dog, Randy, just crossed “The Rainbow Bridge.” He had cancer. We adopted him from a shelter and were blessed to have him six years. Now our two children are inconsolable. We even had a little ceremony for him and buried him in the backyard. We told the kids we’ll go to the shelter and adopt another dog, but the kids just keep saying, “And then that dog will die, too!”
We’ve run out of things to say to help their sadness. Any suggestions?
~ Dog Lovers
Dear Dog Lovers,
I share my condolences in this time of grief. Death is always a difficult reality as it reminds us of our own impermanence. It is made even more difficult for children experiencing their first loss of a loved one, whether that one be two-legged or four-legged. Especially in children, it often begins a process of thought toward the impermanence of all that is around them, including you as parents. Fear becomes stronger as the thoughts of loss widen. Be with them in this reality. Your presence will be of more influence than the words you can use.
I remember the Mister Rogers episode where he deals with death. If you are able to find it and sit with your children while you watch, Mr. Rogers does an amazing walk through the reality of how life changes. For children, it is important to let them know that they are safe and surrounded by love and that our hope is found in the gift of resurrection. As Paul writes in the book of Romans, chapter 6, “Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (4, 5).
Walk with your children by being present with them, and let them voice their understanding and fears of what this experience has brought into their lives. And then even so gently remind them that death, although painful and sad, is not the ultimate end but rather a movement from one life to another.
May you find comfort in God’s promise of new life,
Dear Dog Lovers,
I can’t tell how old your children are from your letter; however, I am guessing they are around 7-10 years old from your description. From your euphemism “Rainbow Bridge,” I am guessing you may not be in the habit of speaking frankly.
The inescapable truth of our human existence and every other species on the planet is birth, life and death. We wish it wasn’t true; we want to “save” our children from the trauma of loss. Bad idea. A well-adjusted person is one who understands reality. Of course, one adjusts to fit the understanding of the person being exposed to the information. That is, we want to be age-appropriate in our explanations. However, knowing the truth and accepting its reality is an important tool in understanding and accepting what is true in life.
I wish our time did not run out. I wish my own little dog were still with me as you do yours. We loved our pet deeply and miss her every day.
Help the children mourn the loss of Randy. Have them draw pictures of him and honor his memory. Don’t be afraid to talk about him and all the fun times you had together with him. They might shed a few tears but that is okay. Tell them, when the time is right, you will find another dog that needs your love. Tell them Randy taught them how to love him and the new dog will have his/her own way of loving, too.
Moving forward after mourning is our way of healing and preparing for new and wonderful experiences and opportunities.
Like the song says, “You’ve got to give a little, take a little and let your poor heart break a little. That’s the story of, that’s the glory of, love.” And life.
Wishing you and your family more doggy love in the future.
Rabbi Janet Bieber
QUESTION: I was abused as a child, physically and mentally. Although I’ve forgiven my parents, I’ve found love and friendship in “my family of choice” at my church. They’ve been supportive of me through thick and thin, even during some serious illnesses. For the last eight years, I’ve spent the major holidays with them. The conflict is I received a call from my mother asking me to join her and my father for Christmas. I really don’t want to after all these years and yet maybe I should?
I welcome your guidance.
I am so glad you have been able to forgive your parents. That is vital to your spiritual health. And the invitation from your mother looks like a positive sign of her desire to have a relationship with you. The first thing to ask, have you found healing from your past abuse? In other words, does encountering similar situations throw you into a bad place or are you able to rise above them with Jesus? If the answer is no, or not really, then you really need to seek some form of healing prayer (SOZO, Cleansing Stream, Emmanuel Prayer, etc.). God loves to heal our past traumas so we can live into the freedom for which he has set us free.
The second thing to ask, have you worked through your abuse with your parents? Or will everyone be acting like no abuse ever happened? Or worse, will some of those old abusive patterns continue? My advice is that you find healing first then begin to work through your problems with your parents from a place of greater wholeness and healthy boundaries in gentleness and love.
Then family gatherings at Christmas can be the joyful, loving, full of trust occasions they should be.
Fr. Rob Holman
There are no “shoulds.” There are only choices and you get to make them. I cannot tell you go or stay this holiday season. But I can tell you to set your intention for the holiday season and then make choices that agree with your intention.
How do you want to feel at the close of the season? What specific things can you do to create that feeling for yourself? We are 100% responsible for our memories – the ones we drum up to remember and the ones we create.
When you look back at 2019, what memory do you want to have? Let those questions guide your thought process. You’re not right if you stay with your church family and wrong if you go home to your parents. Or vice versa.
There is simply the choice of what memory you want to create. I bless you to make the choice that your prosper your soul.
Rev. Sherri James