How are you doing TODAY?

How are you doing TODAY?

I had something different planned for today, but whatever.

As you’ve probably heard, Sheryl Sandberg’s (COO of Facebook and author of Lean In) husband died suddenly last month at the age of 47. Sandberg took to Facebook last week to mark the end of sheloshim—the first thirty days—for her husband in a moving tribute.

I highly recommend reading the whole post (grab a tissue first), and saving it to come back to. It’s rich with insights into life and meaning, grief and resiliency.

Sandberg also shared a smattering of practical tips for navigating grief, or comforting those who are in its throes. There’s good stuff there, but one brilliant, instantly applicable tip stood out. Sandberg’s loss made her realize that she never really knew what to say before to others in need, but in the last month, she learned how to do better:

Even a simple “How are you?”—almost always asked with the best of intentions—is better replaced with “How are you today?” When I am asked “How are you?” I stop myself from shouting, My husband died a month ago, how do you think I am? When I hear “How are you today?” I realize the person knows that the best I can do right now is to get through each day.

This makes so much sense to me. When someone puts the question to me—How are you?—my instinct is to get philosophical, to step back and reflect on the big picture, how whatever is rocking my world fits into the grand scheme of things. There’s a time and place for this, of course: it’s healthy to get some perspective, sometimes. But too often how are you? is an invitation to put on a brave face, to turn to platitudes.

When I’m talking to a grieving friend, or if I’m the one who’s grieving, I don’t want platitudes.

Sandberg’s suggestion, “How are you today?” doesn’t invite so much reflection. That’s a good thing, in situations like this. Instead, it’s an invitation to talk about real life, as it stands.

Sometimes I think the question should be “How are you right now?

(I’m about to transition from talking about losing a husband to losing a dog. They are not by any means comparable. But comparing losses doesn’t help anyone, anyway.)

harriet and the boys 2005

Yesterday was the hardest day we’ve had around here in a long time. Our family dog hasn’t been doing well. We started her on meds a couple of weeks ago and they seemed to be helping, but yesterday morning she took a dramatic turn for the worse.

Will was in Seattle (though hopefully his plane will be landing about the time you’re reading this). The kids and I had planned a much-needed peaceful day at home—our first one in a month. Instead, we spent the day watching her decline, rapidly. I decided to tell the kids what the vet told me on the phone: she’s giving up.

If you ask me how I am, I would tell you it’s hard, but she’s been a good dog, and she’s had a long, full life for a lab, and it’s just her time, and that I’m grateful she was part of our family.

But if you ask me how I am today?

I’m not great. This is my second dog, ever, and I don’t want to say goodbye. This is the dog that we brought home when Jack (now twelve) was one. They can’t remember a time before Harriet. Three kids cried themselves to sleep last night.

And if you ask me how I am right now? I’m grieving for myself and grieving for my kids and grieving that my husband will come home to witness the stark difference between Harriet today and Harriet when he left.

And I’m overwhelmed: anyone who gets a pet knows on some level that this day will come, but I have very little idea of the best way to help the kids. (Hit me with tips, please and thank you?) They’ve never experienced a major loss, so we’ve had a crash course in grief: it’s okay to be sad. It’s healthy to cry. Sometimes you’ll want to cry alone, and sometimes you’ll want to cry with someone who loves you. Sometimes I’ll cry. It’s all okay.

I’ve been thinking of Sheryl Sandberg, and asking them: “How are you today? How are you right now?

And I’m trying to give myself the grace to ask myself the same questions, and be honest with myself about the answers.

I’d welcome your thoughts on helping the kids through this. Thank you.  

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  1. Kellie says:

    Anne, I cannot express in any amount of words how sorry I am for your loss. Even a pet can be just as painful as they are a loving member of a family. Prior to this past winter, we had put down the family dog that I had met only after my Mom re-married. I had only known Tigger for five years, but it had felt like a lifetime. I cried for two days knowing that he wasn’t roaming around the house any longer, but I knew it was for the best. Even now when I type this, I get misty-eyed. I am sending many good thoughts, prayers, and hugs to you and your family.

  2. Anne says:

    I’m sorry for you and your family’s loss, Anne. (And your oldest is particularly cute in that picture! I can’t help saying that.) Hope everyone adjusts okay as you go forward. I’m sure you’ll find a good way to honor Harriet!

  3. Liesl says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss!

    I think for grief – especially with kids – it’s important to make sure they know that it is okay to FEEL. Whatever they need to feel. It might be different for each of your kids, but as long as they know that whatever they are feeling is valid and ok. I also think it is helpful to your kids to see YOU feeling whatever you do – I think a lot of times, our instinct as adults is to not let the kids see our emotions, but I think it helps show them that it’s ok to feel grief when they see you feeling too.

  4. Marian says:

    Anne, thank you for refining Sandberg’s brilliantly applicable tip with such insight: How are you *right now*?
    Comparing losses doesn’t help anyone, anyway, you said. So true. Perhaps that’s why I cringe when others respond to a bereaved person’s pain by describing their own experience. It’s natural, I suppose, but how can we expect someone in mourning to absorb *our* experience? Grief isolates. It convinces you that your pain is unlike anyone else’s. It saps every ounce of strength and demands unwavering attention. Another’s experience is meaningless through grief’s lens. Grief insists, “It can’t compare. It can’t provide support. It can’t help.” It isolates.
    Your children may need to hear that they will probably be sad for quite a bit longer than people expect them to be. They may need to be prepared for others to behave as though Harriet never existed. You can help by speaking her name often and with joy, and by encouraging your children to share funny stories and precious memories of Harriet.
    Grief is endured moment by seemingly endless moment – each as daunting as the one before. Having known the love of a dog (in fact, a Chocolate Lab named Hannah), I have little doubt your beloved Harriet was a constant companion, a trusted confidante, and a devoted friend. I have no doubt she will be missed forever. You have my deepest sympathies.


  5. Jenn says:

    We had one of our dogs die while we were on vacation last year. He died unexpectedly a few hours before we came home (after we extended our trip for one day, so that made me feel a million times worse). My son was very attached to that dog, so we allowed him to take the lead with the grieving process. We buried our dog in our backyard and our son decorated his head stone. We also had him write a letter to his dog and we read it at the funeral we had for the dog (my son asked my parents to come over for the funeral). My son was five at the time, so it was a tremendous loss, and one he still struggles with. He keeps a picture of Buggas in his room and will still tear up thinking about him. Just last week he got really upset that we had extended our trip by one more day. We did get a puppy from the SPCA about five months later, but we wanted to give him enough time to grieve his first dog. So sorry for your loss.

  6. Brandi says:

    I cried with you, Anne, while I read your post. It is such a terrible loss that you and your family are experiencing! When we had our yellow lab, Daisy, put to sleep (she was like our first-born!), someone told me that one’s measure of grief is the same intensity as one’s level of love. This was comforting to me because it explained the terrible sense of loss and pain I was experiencing. My only thought is to consider getting a puppy soon. It seemed like an insensitive idea when we lost Daisy so we waited a long time. I couldn’t bear the idea of getting another lab so we got a golden retriever puppy instead. She is an amazing blessing! I know the path we will have to travel when she is older, however, the love is worth the grief. I will be praying for you and your family… <3

  7. Stephanie O. says:

    I am so sorry for your loss! Losing a beloved dog is so difficult, but watching your children lose a best friend and fellow sibling is even harder.
    We lost our precious pug 4 months ago. It was very sudden, and beyond difficult for the entire family (especially me). My 3 year old did not understand what happened. We talked about LT being in Heaven with Jesus, and that he was very happy (and getting lots of treats!). She kept asking why he was with Jesus or where he was. I ended up having her dictate a letter to me on a piece of paper. She drew a picture, and I wrote a brief story about what happened along with our address in case someone found the letter and wanted to write back. We walked up to a park on a hill, attached balloons, and released the balloons and letter. We were able to watch the balloons float into the sky and up to Heaven. Our daughter really seemed to understand after that, and she started talking fondly of him afterwards, instead of asking where or why he was gone. Seeing something physical helped her to comprehend the situation as much as she could at her age.
    I hope that your family is able to heal quickly and that your children begin to understand what happened. I am so sorry!

  8. Cheri Smith says:

    Dear Anne, I am so sorry to hear about your sweet dog. Our family has a beagle that we have had for 14 years, and I am not looking forward to the day that we lose her. There is a book that I love for children that is a wordless picture book by Chris Raschka…A Ball for Daisy. It is not about a pet dying, but it is about loss, and even young children can understand that. Wishing you comfort tonight.

  9. Jennifer Haddow says:

    Samuel cried for a long while after his fish of 3 years died a couple years ago (long time for a fish, I know). I probably didn’t do the most sensitive parent job of telling him because hey, it was “just” a fish. But a beloved childhood pet is a beloved childhood pet. We had a funeral and Samuel “wrote some words” about what a good pet he was. It helped some. We have asked him if he wants another one, but so far he has not wanted to and we can follow his lead. With 4 kids, you may have more dissention over the right time, if any, to adopt a new pet. Samuel and I are both praying for your family. After reading this post fully this morning, we’ll start praying that “today is a better day than yesterday”.

  10. Michele says:

    I am so sorry for your family’s loss Anne. I remember the grief when my childhood dog passed away, and I was 23 at the time. Sending prayers of comfort to you and your family.

  11. Raquel Costa says:

    Hi Anne, I was so sorry to hear your family is going through such a sorrowful moment. The advices I was going to give were already given. @Lisa M. talked about the garden stone, and that was one of the things that really helped my niece and nephew when they had to go through the loss of their pet family member. @Kris also talked about making room for the kids to both be sad and happy, since children grieve so differently then we do at times, and they often feel guilty about it.
    I just wanted to thank you for sharing such a private moment with us, your readers. I haven’t lost my fur baby yet, even though she is getting old and I catch myself thinking about how desheartening it will be when it happens. I try not to think about it, and just enjoy our time with her as much as I can. But I’m sure you helped a lot of people with your post today, and I’m sure it will continue to do so. So thank you. I’ll pray for your family and for the lovely Harriet.

  12. Heather says:

    Everyone has written such beautiful comments. I am very sorry for your loss, Anne and family. Don’t hesitate to grieve. Every pet is beloved and deserves our tears, whether dog or fish, hamster or horse. We have lost four dogs and six cats and a horse (very difficult), and our children learned to handle grief as a part of love. To deny grief is to deny the love. So we have welcomed the sadness as a way of commemorating the life of the pet, with all the joy and fun and silliness that animals bring.
    I have dreamed that all our past dogs were alive and joyous in the woods behind our house.
    We have two young dogs now, and when we brought them into our home, I did so with the commitment to enjoy their lives and then to someday grieve them when they go to heaven. I commit to the whole experience.
    Yes, of course I am crying as I write this. If we never cry and feel sad, did we ever love and feel joy?

  13. My heart knows, Anne, very well. My sweet kitty Hazel died a year ago, March 5. Eighteen days later, our dog Holly passed. The story was the same for both: fine, then a week later weak and failing, and a week after that, gone. Both died here at home. The cat during the night, I was with her. The dog died on a Sunday evening, and our 17 year old sat with her for five hours, and then we were all with her when she breathed her last. I have never felt so helpless to protect my kids from pain (17 and 14). And there’s nothing to do but get through it. Three months later we adopted Calypso and Luna, and while we still mourn the ones we lost, they bring us joy and love and laughter. Yes, they are “only” animals, but the love and the pain are both real. Prayers for all of you.

  14. Caroline says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss. My husband and I were holding our 13-year old golden retriever when she took her last breath. We were both sobbing, while telling her that it was OK, she could go. The whole family had been with her all evening, but our two young daughters had finally gone up to bed. She died right afterwards, and it was as if she wanted to hold on as long as they were in the room. It was very meaningful for us as a family to share memories of her and stroke her as she lay dying on her bed right in the middle of the kitchen floor–her very favorite spot in the house. In fact, her body was still there the next morning covered (all but her head) with a blanket. It really normalized death for the girls in a way that no experience ever had before or since. She was there and looking beautiful, but somehow not there anymore. They were 10 and 8, and had never seen us sob before. They still remember it vividly, 8 years later. We also read Thank You, Grandpa by Lynn Plourde–a wonderful book–and took turns saying Thank You and Goodbye to the dog. I wish you peace in your grief.

  15. Naomi says:

    Hi Anne,

    I’m not sure if your dog is still with you or not…from the post it seems as if Harriet was still around. If she is still at home with you guys I do suggest that your kids take turns petting her while telling her their favorite memories they have of her. That way they have a chance to share with her how much they love her and what they’ve loved about having her with them. If she’s past, all I can say is I am so very sorry. I got weepy reading your story and had to immediately love on my own dog.

    Your advice on it being okay for the kids to cry and to be sad is incredibly wise. I too liked the part about it being okay to cry alone at times or with others at times. I’m an alone-type-crier (sp?), so I especially value this widsom. I prayed for all of you today.


  16. Kristen says:

    It took me 9 years to get another pet after having to put one to sleep. I get this… I’m so sorry and hope you can find comfort in the joy you had with your sweet pup.
    Hugs to you (and great post).

  17. Hallie says:

    Hi Anne…I am SO sorry about your loss and am wondering how you are now…almost a week later. I know “the missing” never goes away and can come back in waves, unbeckoned. I remember where I was each time one of our family dogs died. We were all overcome with grief losing our sweet family member! I love the quotes below…they validate that love and “the missing”.

    Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring—it was peace.
    ~Milan Kundera

    The dog was created specially for children. He is the god of frolic.
    ~Henry Ward

    My little old dog: a heart-beat at my feet.
    ~Edith Wharton

    Dogs wait for us faithfully.
    ~Marcus Tullius Cicero

  18. Tina says:

    This post is timely for us. My deepest sympathies on your pup, it’s horribly hard. We had to put our dog to sleep yesterday and the pain is awful. I know what you’re going through and I am so sorry.

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