On dogs, death and children


Ask any parent and they’ll agree. As the years go by, there are seemingly countless opportunities for conversations with children that could be categorized as “tough.”

Disciplinary conversations? Check.

Weird questions about life? Yep.

Puberty-type things? Gulp.

Death …

Death is a tough one on so many levels. For starters, it’s just tough to comprehend. I’m an adult (according to some sources; not all) and even I have trouble understanding and coping with it. Picture a child trying to somehow wrap their tiny, imaginative and otherwise crazy mind around it.

Unfortunately/fortunately, we’ve had the opportunity recently to deal with death in our household. I say “unfortunately” for obvious reasons. I say “fortunately” for the real-life, ultimately-positive impact coping and understanding can have on a child’s life.

In November, we were forced to say goodbye to our family dog. Beckett the boxer was a fixture in our family. He was our watch dog and security system. He was an always-willing play partner for the kid. He was an incredible soccer player.

The end was quick for Beckett — way too fast if you ask me. Thursday morning, he started having issues breathing. Thursday afternoon, he was diagnosed with a “stomach full of cancer.” By Tuesday, he was gone.

At first, our daughter didn’t seem to care. Or, she didn’t understand. She was initially told that Beckett was sick and there wasn’t a medicine that would make him feel better. When we started giving Beckett sausage, eggs and bacon — at the table, no less — she started to understand that something was up. By Sunday, she fully understood that soon Beckett wouldn’t wake up.

When it happened, she was with her grandparents. She said her goodbyes and handled the immediate-after better than all of us. It was the days, weeks and months that followed that showed me how much it really impacted her.

Every so often and on no particular schedule, she’ll say how much she misses him. We have a nice picture collage with images of Beckett in his final few days when we spoiled him with hikes, love and red meat that she’ll look at and maturely say how much she wishes he was still here. All I can do is agree.

Only recently, I’ve learned that she has a simple cut and dry understanding of life and death. Two other dogs in the family — not our household — recently passed. In those situations, she has been incredibly compassionate given her first-hand knowledge and experience with a similar loss. She has also been very clear on what has happened.

The dogs, like Beckett, died. It’s very, very sad but is something that happens to dogs and people. She seems to understand that you can be sad but it’s also okay and necessary to move on and feel better.

Surely, as the years go by, death and similar experiences may not be as easy to cope with given a presumably-improved understanding of the reasons, backstories and collateral damage that typically come with them, but so far, so good with one of life’s toughest lessons.

As with anything — especially child-raising — it appears (mostly) clear communication and a little room to breathe has served our child well in understanding death.


Ben Larsen

Written by: Ben Larsen

Ben is one of the founders here at First Time Father Project. Follow Ben's trial-by-fire parenting here with columns, essays and more. Learn more about him here.

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