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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90 comments

  1. Karen says:

    I’m so sorry, Anne, for your family’s loss. Dog Heaven, by Cynthia Rylant, has been a help to many people I know.

    • Naomi says:

      I completely second “Dog Heaven” by Cynthia Rylant. Her book “Cat Heaven” was perfect to read after our cat of 14 years died last September.

    • judy says:

      That’s the exact book I was going to recommend…Dog Heaven was given to me…for me to read…by a friend who is another animal lover. All positive things about the good things waiting for the dog. Also, for me, the poem The Rainbow Bridge has always been cathartic. We are on dogs number 7 and 8, and lost our first pet, a cat, before them. It’s never easy…hugs.

  2. Kate says:

    I am so sorry to hear this. I am afraid I have no advice, just my sympathies. I can still feel the sadness of when my childhood dog almost 20 years ago. But to hear my kids (who didn’t know him) tell stories about him and compare our puppy to him brings me great happiness. Sending hugs to you all.

  3. Courtney says:

    i am so sorry for your loss. I absolutely understand the loss of a love one (both fur baby and human love). It undeniably hurts at your core. I will pray for comfort and peace for you.

  4. Margo says:

    I’m so sorry to hear about Harriet. Dogs have been such an important part of our family. When we have lost a pet we always try to remember what a good life our dog had. We’ll say “Remember when Maggie did that, that was so cute or so funny. Remember how Alex always slept on your bed? He loved being with you”. Of course we always start crying when we do this but it helps to remember the good things about having a dog – especially at the hardest time.

  5. Kelly says:

    We tend to infuse the practical with the emotional. Our pets, no matter how much we love them, have a shorter life-span than us. The most we can do is to love them and give them the best life possible.

  6. Kris says:

    I am so sorry. The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst helped my daughters. The things that stand out to me in memory, my girls asked questions and needed to be reassured that it was okay to feel happy about things even though they were still sad. They asked the blunt questions that adults wouldn’t ask, and in a manner that could be construed as a bit heartless, but they were just trying to understand their grief and mine. My younger daughter wanted to know details, did the pets hurt, what happened, etc. My older daughter did not. She was wild with grief initially, then processed it quickly. Younger was slower to process but less demonstrative. The hardest part for me is getting used to the new normal. No happy wags at the door when we came in. No barking at the doorbell (that was the worst, because it would bring tears and I had to go see someone who was ringing it.) It just hurts, and I am very sorry your family is going through it.

  7. Jeannie says:

    So sorry for your loss, Anne. It sounds like Harriet is a beloved family member — of course you are going to miss her and grieve her death. It sounds to me like what you have already been telling your kids is perfect advice: “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.”

  8. I am so sorry to hear this! Losing a beloved family dog is so hard. I was 11 months pregnant (with my Silas) when I had to say goodbye to my childhood dog and I was a blubbering mess. I was an adult so I understood but I can’t imagine having to have a conversation with children about it. We left our dog’s toys out for a while before packing them up so don’t feel like you have to rush to remove all of her things right way. And it’s just like you said, give your kids time to grieve and room to cry. Again I am so sorry to hear this. I hope you and your family find comfort in one another during this time.

  9. Kate says:

    I’m so very sorry to hear that you are dealing with this. We had to put our first baby, our 13 year old black lab to sleep last week and our hearts are still aching. I echo the comments above about the book Dog Heaven being a sweet read for all of us… Kids and adults alike. We also used an in home euthanasia vet who I cannot recommend enough (they have vets throughout the country) – Lap of Love. Being in the comfort of our home where we could say our goodbyes and cry freely made the experience much more peaceful. My thoughts are with your family.

  10. Courtney says:

    I read the Facebook post, and it was very poignant (definitely agree on having tissues handy!) There was a lot of great, honest advice in there about how to handle grief.

    Losing a pet is also extremely hard. My first cat, Patches, was with me from 2nd grade all the way up through my sophomore year in college. Her health declined rapidly and suddenly, and she was gone within a week. The worst part was that I wasn’t there when it happened because I’d studied abroad that semester. So, I felt like I never really got to say good-bye. I swore I would never have a cat again. That was almost a decade ago, but I’m still not really over it, and am not sure I ever will be.

    I think you’re doing the right thing by explaining to your kids that it’s OK to be sad, and it’s OK to cry. It also really struck me that you told them sometimes you’ll want to cry alone and sometimes with other people. When I lose someone, I always want to grieve alone, but funerals and memorial services force me to be around others (mourning is so intimate – who wants to do that in front of strangers?) My thoughts are with you this week, and I’m sorry for the pain your family is going through.

  11. Janet says:

    I’m so sorry for you and your family. Losing a beloved pet it so hard and having to make the decision to end their suffering is so hard. They’re a part of our family and it’s hard to let them go.

  12. Rachel says:

    So sorry about your dog. Pets are family without a doubt. We lost our 13-year old cocker spaniel a week before we immigrated to the US. One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do was tell our children – who were already upset from saying goodbye to friends – was that our dog was dying. They had never known life without her. We were lucky in a way, in that we didn’t have to live in our house again without her – but there was so much loss around that time. It took us all a while to process her death but were eventually able to remember the good times (and there were lots – she was quite a character!) Letting children see that adults get sad and cry too is important, I think, for it honors their own complicated feelings.

    Thinking of you and your family.

  13. Hannah says:

    My family and I have lost a dog in the last two years, only she was hit by a car. It was incredible how sad we felt (and still feel, occasionally, when we think about it). I’m sorry you’re going through it.

  14. Holly F says:

    So sorry about your Harriet. When our beloved Kady dog died two years ago, she was ok one day and the next she wouldn’t eat and went potty in the house for the first time ever, so we took her to the vet and found out she had a tumor on her liver. They wanted to put her to sleep right then because she was in pain & dying, but it was just my husband with her at the vet and I was at work and the kids (all 3 young elementary) were at school. So he asked if he could bring her home for one last night with us and they said ok. So we took lots of pictures of her and with her and hugged on her basically all afternoon/evening until it was time to go to bed. LOTS of tears were shed by two of the kids, one didn’t act like it bothered him at all. I took her to the vet the next morning for them to put her to sleep. She had swollen up a lot and they said that meant she was bleeding internally which made me just so sad for her. She was our first baby as a married couple so it was really hard to say goodbye. I think what helped in our grief, (at least for us) was that we already had a second dog, and we started looking for a replacement dog to keep her company just a few weeks after Kady died. The new dog is the same kind as the old dog, and her face looks exactly the same (but her body is totally different). Sometimes I feel like I’m looking at Kady when I look in the new dog’s eyes. It makes me remember happy times with Kady.

  15. Valerie says:

    Anne,
    You’re in my thoughts as you navigate through this loss. I have lost my beloved son and many of my beloved animals. My husband and I grieved differently, he didn’t want to talk about any of our loses. I was told that’s how men deal with it, they don’t want to talk about it. As, women we want to talk, talk. Keep your communication open with your children. My daughter was 3 when our son passed, she talked about him like he was still with us. There was times I couldn’t bear to have her talk like he was there but was told as a 3 year old she doesn’t understand forever. So, allow you children to talk about your beloved Harriett. They don’t know life without her so they are afraid they will forget her, so that’s why they talk. Our daughter is now 18 year old beautiful woman, well rounded and communicates well on all levels. I can send her off to college knowing that our commnication will continue will always be open.

  16. Allison says:

    I’m sorry for your loss.
    THE one thing that ALWAYS got me thru the many pet losses is knowing that I gave that dog or cat a good home and love. With all the animal abuse and abandonment out there, I think this is important to remember. It has helped everytime. Also knowing that the animals’ life span is not as long as ours. And that’s ok – that’s how it is.
    Besides letting the kids know it is ok to cry let them know that it is ok not to cry too. They should remember all the great times with Harriet with a smile. Harriet made them happy and they made Harriet happy.
    I don’t know maybe my kids are strange, but they’ve always accepted the loss of a pet well – they been thru four losses. No tears. But also, they’ve been thru their grandfather’s passing right before they turned 4. He was an everyday fixture in their lives.
    I will leave you with this – I took my father’s death hard. I cried everyday for months, which I didn’t hide from the kids. One day during my cries, from the back of the car, my now 4 yo said, “Mommy, you shouldn’t be sad. Grampa is in heaven and can visit you whenever.”

  17. Lisa M. says:

    Our lab died from cancer when our kids were 10, 7, and 5. We were honest with them about the process as you have been, and I think that helped even though some of the questions were hard to answer. We also ordered a small garden stone with his name and dates on it and put it in his favorite spot in the yard along with spreading his ashes there. I think the ceremony of that helped the kids too. What surprised me was how quickly they started talking about getting a new puppy. The lab who died was our pet before we had children, so the kids had never known life without a dog. We ended up getting a new puppy about three months later, which is earlier than I was ready for but really helped the kids.

  18. Katia says:

    I`m so sorry, Anne! I have no advice to offer, but just wanted to send a big virtual hug! Perhaps, that`s the best thing you and the kids can do at this time: offer comfort to one another, and if someone feels moved to speak, to offer them the space to do so.

  19. Maureen says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss. My lab mutt is 13 and starting to decline as well. She is a stinker of a dog but I love her and have loved her for a dozen years. She has taught me so much about life and about myself and has been with me through thick and thin. Our pets are part of our lives. Sure, they aren’t human and I don’t advocate we treat them as peopele- but loss is loss and grief is grief (if you haven’t read Fifty Acres and a Poodle by Jeanmarie Laskas- go read it! One of my faves!). I think walking with your kids on this one is the best possible way to do it. Remember to talk about the great things about Harriet even after she goes so everyone can share fun times and good memories- and not just the heartbreak of losing her. I lost my childhood dog after a wonderful 14 years. I still miss her to this day, although the sadness of losing her has been replaced with our many fond memories growing up with such a terrific dog. Praying for all of you in this time.

  20. liz n. says:

    Very sorry, Anne. Hugs and kisses to your family, and especially the kids.

    Pets aren’t just furry creatures to have around. They become another member of the family. It is natural, right, and understandable to grieve them.

    One thing I strongly suggest is waiting until the acute pain has subsided before having the “let’s get another dog” conversation. The kids loved their friend and four-legged family member and need time to grieve. You can’t replace a beloved pet any more than you can replace a parent, so laugh over funny stories about your dog and then find another to become part of the family. And let everyone cry as much as they need to.

    Today might not be a great day, nor tomorrow, but fewer parts of each coming day will be painful. Prayers with and for you all.

  21. Michelle says:

    My heart breaks for you and your family. We have been through this when our children were young…Talk, cry and remember those awesome times with Harriet. Rainbow Bridge stories, helped my children cope.
    We are currently experiencing this situation with Jack our 4 year old lab, who had cancer last September. Please keep us in your prayers and we will send you healing thoughts and energy!

  22. Moira says:

    Oh Anne, I am so sorry!
    We lost one of our dogs last fall and it was honestly one of the hardest things I have gone through in my adult life. What really helped kids and grownups alike in our family was the Rainbow Bridge poem. If you haven’t read it, it is the story of the place dogs wait for their beloved owners to come to heaven and it was a jumping off point for us to imagine Sandy healthy again and causing all sorts of trouble in her new home. Months later, we will still talk about what would happen to the poor UPS driver who has to deliver packages to the bridge and how happy Sandy would be to chase birds and bark at everything. It gives us a way to remember her free from the pain that marked her final days with us and gave us reasons to smile.
    Our other dog took her loss just as hard as we did, and so we got a second dog much sooner than I thought we would (about 2 months in), and I think that really helped all of us. The new dog doesn’t replace Sandy, but she complements her memory for us, especially for the kids. They like to talk about what Sandy would think of Athena, and do you remember when Sandy did this, or that…they still think of her as part of the family without questioning it and that really helped me process my own grief.

  23. Lisa says:

    So very sorry to hear this. Losing an animal is so hard. My cat is trying to sit on the keyboard as I type this, and I get teary-eyed just thinking about losing him. My thoughts are with your family today.

  24. Michelle Turner says:

    Oh, I am so sorry. We lost both of our dogs in the last year. We had them for 10 and 11 years; our children knew no different. It still hits me at times. As cheesy as it sounds, about a month after we lost our second dog, Tinkerbell and the Legend of the Neverbeast (the straight to DVD movie) came out. It has really helped our older daughter. We have talked about how we hope the dogs will be waiting for us in Heaven. One of the hardest things to come to grips with was the fact that we didn’t have a dog anymore. The little overlooked blessings of having a loyal pet hit hard and for months after… like land mines of grief. Getting home and realizing there was no smoothed faces looking through the door waiting for us to let them in… when the vacuum cleaner stopped picking up hair… washing the dishes without my buddy waiting to lick any spills… those kind of things were hard for a long time (longer than I was prepared for). And they would hit at totally random and unexpected times. Again, I am so sorry you are having to go through this.

    • Bonnie says:

      have you considered getting a new dog (or two)? It sounds like your dogs were so much of your daily life (as mine are) and sometimes the only thing that has healed that hole in my heart is the love of a new pet. Please consider adopting from your local shelter or a rescue group. So many wonderful animals end up there through no fault of their own. There is nothing like knowing you saved a life; sometimes I think the animals know it, too.

  25. Brittany says:

    Adding the “today” is such a great tip when approaching those going through tough times and just conversation in general. It’s so easy to casually ask “how are you” and then not really listen to what the person says and move on.

  26. Dawn says:

    Not sure exactly what you’re going for, but “I’ll Always Love You” by Hans Wilhelm is about a boy and his dog, how they grow up, and how his dog dies. It is simple, straightforward, beautiful, and ends in an uplifting (but not sugary-sweet) way.

  27. Hallie says:

    Oh Anne…at this moment I am crying. I can still remember where I was the moment I learned when each of our dogs was going to die. Each time, grief was overwhelming, and we all cried. The following quotes honor this love…
    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

  28. Shannon says:

    Animals hold a special place in our family. I have had animals in my life since I was born. My sympathies to you and your family. Some refer to the passing as crossing the rainbow bridge. I know Harriet will meet many new and wonderful friends.
    Each of my children have handled these situations very differently. You will find a way to support each of them.
    Many thoughts are with you.

  29. 'Becca says:

    When my son was 3, we got two gerbils who were brothers. When he was 6, we came home one day to find one gerbil dead and the other very upset. We had a funeral but then turned our attention to comforting the bereaved gerbil, George. We were unsuccessful; George alternated huddling and wringing his paws with running around frantically, refused to eat or drink, and then after about 24 hours went into a catatonic state in a position that looked like prayer. The next day he fell over dead. We had another funeral.

    Trying to soothe George was crucial, and I think this might be a helpful approach for your kids while Harriet is still alive and suffering: Read her a story. Play music she might like. Pet her gently if she seems to like it. I was surprised at how thoughtful my son was about the best stories and music for a gerbil in distress.

    Once George appeared to be praying, we prayed with him. It was a “Thy will be done” situation, asking God to take good care of him and help him to be happy, whether that meant recovery or joining Ralphie in gerbil heaven. We didn’t keep a long vigil with him, but we returned to him every few hours.

    Prayer also was helpful for the funerals. I recalled the words of an Episcopal funeral service as best I could. I also did this when our rabbit died before our son was born–and my partner, who is not religious, was so grateful that I knew some “right words” to say because he was upset that he didn’t. I’ve talked to some people who believe that a funeral service is inappropriate for an animal, but my opinion is that God is not going to fault us for honoring his creation too much.

  30. Allison says:

    I’m sorry as well. I (and my family) have been down this road several times. There’s really no easy way to get through such a painful time, except to go THROUGH IT. You grieve, you cry, you hug one another. It is horrible and life-affirming and miserable and powerful and gut-wrenching all at once. This is what life is.

  31. Nan G says:

    A year or so after my very beloved dog died, I dreamed of her. I refer to certain dreams — ones that are so vivid and seemingly real — as visits. This was a visit. I was so happy to see her! I petted her and fed her delicious little meatballs and told her how much I missed her. She smiled the way doggies smile and wagged her tail. Then I said to her, “I’m so happy you’re here and that you’re okay! I thought you were dead.” She looked at me, and somehow, without exactly speaking, she said to me, “Don’t you know? Love never dies.” So many times I have remembered that dream, often through really bad times when I needed its message. It is one of many gifts I received from her — one of the most loving and selfless and giving beings I have ever known. I hope it is some comfort to you.

  32. SoCalLynn says:

    I am so sorry for your loss and pain. One thing that helped me when my much beloved cat passed of kidney failure was to make a picture album. I gathered all the photos that he was in and put them in a special album that’s the color of his turquoise eyes. After the initial weight of grief passes, it might be helpful for your kids, and you, to see Harriet’s photos and remember the happy times you’ve all had together.

  33. Lee says:

    Sorry for your loss….unconditional love is hard to let go of. There’s a poem called “the Rainbow Bridge” that is helpful. I am sure you won’t have any problem finding it.

  34. Dana says:

    So sorry for your loss. Pets truly are part of the family.
    For all of you I suggest that you each talk about your favorite memories of Harriet, the funny things she did, her habits and remember the good times. It might help to have the kids draw and write about her, what made her such a great dog. Put together a book of photos, drawings and memories of Harriet that you can read together and revisit. It will keep Harriet alive in your hearts and give everyone a constructive way to process their grief and what she meant to your family. Also create a small memorial to her in your yard…a mosaic stepping stone for instance. Kids process and learn about grief by doing and creating, just the way they learn about everything else.

  35. Sarah says:

    This is one of the harder things in this life, especially having to watch your kids go through the pain of grief, and having nothing to take it away. I’m so sorry.

    I’ve lost only a handful of pets in my life, and for only two of them (cats) I was old enough to feel the sting of grief. Some things that were helpful for me to fully experience grief (because grieving anything less than causes problems of its own, I think): We were able to bury our pets. I know not everybody is able to do this because of where they live, but, looking back, it solidified their place in our family and honored their life in a special way. I still remember my dad digging those deep holes in the ground, lovingly and carefully wrapping their bodies and laying them gently in, was very meaningful for me.

    We would have a little memorial service of sorts, and talk about the sweet, or funny, or hard memories at the end we had with them.

    We would cry and hug and cry some more.

    We would talk about death, and consequently redemption, in light of our faith.

    I was able to see one of our pets after she passed away. I got to pet her and kiss her goodbye. I think this was immensely helpful for me in bringing about closure.

    Even months or years later, those losses would wash over me and recede like a wave. Let your kids know that it’s ok to cry long after they’re gone. That’s just the nature of grieving.

    Put up pictures of your pet. Go through family albums with them in some of the pictures. Enjoy their memory.

    Light a candle in their honor. Any visuals or things that touch the senses are meaningful to this time.

    Don’t put away their things (food bowl, toys, bed, etc) right away. Gradually phase these things out. And let that be a reverent time, too.

    Go out for ice cream in honor of your pet.

    Make a donation to an animal shelter in their name.

    Don’t make them feel bad if they ask about getting a new pet, even if you’re not ready to talk about it yet. Conversely, don’t pressure them to move on before they’re ready.

    God bless you and your family.

  36. Rachael says:

    first, i’m so sorry. We lost our Clyde a year and a half ago, and it still smarts some days.

    Second, the thing I found with my kids was that it wasn’t a single period of mourning. They were sad for a few days, and then they seemed to have moved on- so much so that it bothered my husband. What we found, though, is that it would happen every few weeks or so… when the weather changed and we’d have been playing in the back yard, or when we’d go to a place Clyde loved, a kid would lean over and sit quietly, until they’d say “I really miss our dog.”

    So… they’ll seem resilient, but grieving may come back when you don’t expect it.

  37. Sarah M says:

    Oh Anne (and family), I’ve got tears in my eyes. I’m so sorry. I had wanted a puppy for the majority of my childhood, but because I was raised by a single mother (who couldn’t take on one more responsibility), that never happened. When my husband gave me a puppy (a chocolate lab, be still my heart) for our one year anniversary I cried. Then, when we had to surrender him only a few years later, I *bawled*. Hard. For a day. Gave myself one of the worst migraines I’ve yet experienced. Loosing a dog is loosing a loyal companion, and it’s not a small thing.
    Sarah M

  38. Leslie H says:

    I am so sorry for you and your family in the losing of your faithful friend. Indeed, it is SO hard. I can still well up with tears remembering the times we have been through this. As hard as it is, I just want to assure you that, in time, you will look back on this as a great growing opportunity for your kids. They learn so much about life in these experiences. I would encourage you not to worry as much about making them feel better, as helping them learn how to handle being sad, accepting that loss is part of living, and going on in spite of experiencing terrible things. THIS is real life, and learning how to feel grief, seek help if needed, and go on, are skills that they need in this world. They will be stronger people for this experience. Again, my sympathy.

  39. Jessy says:

    Dont forget to mention to the kids that its okay to smile and laugh as you remember all the fun and funny things that Harriet did…the important thing is wonderful memories.. Remembering isnt only about crying. Dont be afraid to keep bringing up her name. For example: “Wouldnt Harriet have loved the sunshine today?” Remember when Harriet got Into the garbage?” “Wow…that dog over there is WAY bigger than Harriet!”

  40. Cindy says:

    I echo those who said to share memories of what a great dog she was as a family. I recommend a mourning period of no dog. For us it has usually been a few months, but then get a new dog. We are dog lovers and for us it is hard to not have a canine companion. We have been married 32 years. We have been through this twice with dogs and once with our cat. Our previous dogs Josh male cocker spaniel was with us for 12 years. Trixie female cocker Spaniel also 12 years. Mac a Maine Coon was also with us for 12 years. We hope we have quite a few years before we go through this again, but of course it’s inevitable. We currently have Leo a golden retriever and Dash a Maine Coon male to fill the void left by their predecessors. All loved all different. My sympathies!

  41. Leigh Kramer says:

    I’m so sorry to hear about Harriet! Losing a pet is hard, a very special kind of grief. With the kids, keep the lines of communication open. They might be sad one minute, fine the next, which is all completely normal. So long as they know it’s ok to express their emotions in the way they see fit (barring, of course, anything that would hurt them), that’s all that matters.

  42. Lori says:

    I’m so sorry to hear this. It is sad losing a pet and especially hard for little ones who’ve always had a buddy by their side as they’ve grown up.

  43. Mary says:

    Perhaps make sure they get the message to allow themselves to feel their sadness wholly. Greeting deep sadness for the first time is so hard. I heard Pete Doctor discussing the new Pixar movie on NPR yesterday and it seems the takeaway of the film is that sadness has to become a part of your emotional make-up as you grow up and it’s okay to be sad about that fact alone, let alone whatever has inspired the grief. Maybe that would be a good film for the family to see when it’s out in a week or two?

    I’m so, so sorry about Harriet, Anne. I hope you and Will hold each other and let yourselves grieve fully, too. I hope you can feel heartbroken without thinking there’s anything broken about it.

  44. Susan says:

    So sorry for your loss of your beloved pet for the whole family. I will say prayers for peace, comfort and healing for all of you.

  45. Susan says:

    I’m so very sorry for our loss. I know a little of how you feel – I’ve had two beloved dogs, in my past 18 years, and they’re both in Hund Himmel (dog heaven in German.) The memories become sweeter and less painful in time.

    I read a book called Good Dog. Stay, by Anna Quindlen, and it really resonated with me.

    I remember a family dog from my childhood that got hit by a car, and we had a burial ceremony – and it meant a great deal to me and my brother.

  46. Guest says:

    I am so very, very sorry for your loss. I’m an only child and always had a best canine friend. The month after my husband and I were married, we adopted our first furry “child” and I loved her. Though some may not understand this, she was honestly my canine soulmate. I spent thirteen years of my adult life with her – learning what it was to be a wife, a professional, a mom and most profoundly, learning to love deeply means you will grieve deeply.
    We lost her in February and I still cry often. The pain isn’t as raw and I can talk about her without completely losing it (usually) but I miss her terribly.
    Our kids took it very hard. Harder than I had anticipated actually. We had her before we had kids so they had never experienced life without her. They had also never experienced loss so her passing was their first exposure to loss and grief. A friend recommended Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant and I have to admit I thought, what is that really going to do? But it did a lot. Our kids both responded very positively to the book and still frequently pray that God will give her extra squirrel and cat biscuits (a humorous part of the book).
    I don’t know how I did parenting them through their first experience with a tremendous loss but a therapist friend told me that I showed them the most important part of loss and grief which is that it’s not only okay to grieve a loss but healthy. I didn’t hold back the tears to be ‘brave’ and I still sometimes will say that I’m feeling sad that day because I’m missing her. My friend said I gave my kids permission to grieve.
    So a novella later, my advice would be to buy the book and see if it resonates with your children, to give them permission to grieve by modeling it and not trying to cheer them up when they’re sad as though there’s something wrong with being sad/grieving.
    Lastly, we decided to adopt again a few months later and included the kids in the process. We’ve been very clear that no dog can ever replace our beloved girl but our hearts can still love (my heart had a really hard time with this for what its worth) and companionship is good. Having that companionship after a period of grieving has seemed to really help our kids though they also cry at times.

    • Guest says:

      One more thing we did that was a beautiful closure to us is to pray this prayer by Rabbi Barry Block. It was very comforting for us all.
      O Lord our God, we come before You this day in sadness.

      Alice, who brought us so much joy in life, has now died. Her happy times in our family’s embrace have come to an end. We miss Alice already.

      Help us, O God, to remember the good times with Alice. Remind us to rejoice in the happy times she brought to our home. Let us be thankful for the good life we were blessed to give to her.

      We are grateful to You, God, for creating Alice, for entrusting her to our care, and for sustaining her in our love for a measure of time. We understand that all that lives must die. We knew that this day would come. And yet, O God, we would have wanted one more day of play, one more evening of love with Alice.

      O God, as we have taken care of Alice in life, we ask that You watch over her in death. You entrusted Alice to our care; now, we give her back to You. May Alice find a happy new home in Your loving embrace.

      As we remember Alice, may we love each other more dearly. May we care for all Your creatures, for every living thing, as we protected the blessed life of Alice. May her memory bless our lives with love and caring forever. Amen.

  47. Trish says:

    The Rainbow Bridge Poem always makes me cry, in a good way. You are doing everything in a wonder-fully. Thinking of your family today. XO’s

  48. Anjanette says:

    Harriet sounds like a very special pet, I am so sorry for your family’s loss, Anne! We lost our first family pet, a beloved cat, Cleo when my kids were 8, 6, 2, and I was pregnant with my fourth. We had adopted Cleo as newlyweds, and she died on my birthday– with pregnancy hormones too, I was pretty much a sobbing mess!

    One thing that helped with the grieving process was making a “Good Times with Cleo” book with photos and stories, and having one bound for each kid. It was very emotional to put together, but it did help us remember happy times, and the books have become treasured keepsakes.

  49. Lynda says:

    My heart goes out to you and your family. When my Granny died last summer, it was our new puppy who healed my heart. The very fact that he was the only one who didn’t ask how I was doing was a blessed relief. He drove me crazy and kept me busy and brought me back to life. Perhaps, after a little time for mourning, a new pet will help you all to move forward with just happy memories of Harriet.

  50. Corby says:

    Have them make a little memory book of their favorite photos. Also if they are interested or curious they can question and talk with the vet. When I lost my dog (unable to have kids he was my son) I did enjoy going to the shelter and just visiting with the puppies. Seeing them run and play really helped. Not to mention the awesome puppy kisses.

  51. Sassy Apple says:

    Forgive me if I repeat comments from other readers; I didn’t read them all. I am very sorry for your loss. IDK the exact ages of your children, but if they range 2-3 years apart, be prepared for very different reactions. Younger children are just developing empathy, so if a child (like my dear niece) looks up from crying with her siblings and says, “Can we get a poodle now?” Be ready for your reaction and the reactions of his/her older siblings. My ‘advice’ is to let them show you how they grieve and remind the whole family every single person grieves differently. It’s true and a valuable nugget of knowledge for life.

  52. 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.

  53. 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!

  54. 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.

  55. 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.

    Perhap

  56. 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.

  57. 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

  58. 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!

  59. 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.

  60. 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”.

  61. 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.

  62. 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.

  63. 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?

  64. 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.

  65. 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.

  66. 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.

    Sincerely,
    Naomi

  67. 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).

  68. 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

  69. 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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