If you've read this blog for any amount of time, you probably know that a year ago this summer, we made the really difficult decision to put our dog, Miss Piggy, to sleep. We put it off as long as was humane, then took her one evening to say good-bye. We also brought her remains home and buried her in a hole in our backyard.
Life's lessons about life and death are never just taught and let go when you have kids. You don't have the conversation about how the dog is dead and gone just once, but many many times in multifarious ways. You explain it on the day you make one of the toughest choices of your (dog loving) life. You explain it the next day as you read a book about saying good bye to a family pet. You talk about the body returning to the earth and enriching the soil with its power, just as the animal once enriched your life with her love.
And, if you have a very literal toddler in the house, you talk about it in practical, measured, real terms.
The dog was ill. No, it's not the kind of illness you can catch from her. She died. When someone or an animal dies, they are gone from the world we can see forever. No, she's not really gone forever. She's in your heart as long as you remember her. Her body will help the flowers and trees grow, so she lives on through them. Where is she? (Shit? Do I believe in heaven for dogs???) Um. In a hole in the ground. Out back.
Ever since she made the connection that "Piggy's in a hole in the backyard." we hear her talk about it ocassionally. There was the time when my mom took both my kids to storytime, and the story was about a dog. When the reader asked the kids who had a dog at home, Luca called out, "I have two. Ruby who is lazy and Piggy who's in the hole." Surprisingly, no visit from CPS, nor animal control, was paid us that week.
My kid is nothing if not linear and literal. She's one of the most sensitive kids I've ever known (take that for what it's worth, since she's also the first kid I've ever know this well) but one thing she is not is sentimental. So talking about her dog in a hole doesn't make her sad or wistful. It's just another fact of life.
Meanwhile, our other dog Ruby is no spring chicken. At 13, she's been having issues off and on with one of her front legs, and other than giving her supplements and managing the pain for her, there's not much we can do about it. Surgery IS an option, strictly speaking, but not a viable one in her case. Her condition took a nosedive about a week ago, and as a result she's now struggling more with things like climbing the stairs to sleep in our room or jumping on the couch. Real first-world dog problems, I realize, but those creature comforts are very much a part of the lifestyle with which she has become accustomed.
Yesterday, she made a leap for the couch and didn't make it, falling back on the new wood floors and doing a roll/flip move that left her righted lying on her belly in the middle of the floor. Once we assessed that she hadn't hurt herself more in the fall (she hadn't) we started talking about how sad it was that she couldn't get on the couch anymore.
Luca was deep in trying to force her brother to play some game she was making up as it went (that no doubt involved her being in charge and him obeying) when she looked up at us and said, with the most deadpan delivery yet, "We should probably just go ahead and put her in a hole now, guys."
And then, she went back to playing.