You know how dogs are full of awesome, and some dogs also light you up inside? Willy was a light you up dog. An awesome Jack Russell full of boundless energy, a playful and loving personality, and a mischievous air about him.
Willy was our neighbor's dog and he passed away this week. Needless to say, there's a void on our street right now. It's also DD's first experience with death, and we kind of had to wing it. I'm sharing what we did, so that you might not have to wing it quite as much.
1. Lay some groundwork early. We have laid ground work previously about Mother Nature, my current God substitute. I'm not sure what direction we're going in spiritually with this family, but I wanted her to have a sense of something beyond herself.
2. Don't shield them. When my husband went over with soup and a card, she wanted to go. I knew it could be very sad and scary but we sent her.
3. Give a little script. That said, I didn't send her blind. I told her she can say, "I'm sorry you lost your dog" and give a hug if she felt like it. Little ones don't know what to do or say when in the face of something new, like an adult crying.
4. And then role-play. We practiced that several times and DD initiated practicing a few more times, so I know it was sinking in.
5. Don't force it. She didn't choose to give a hug but did give a good bye kiss. Either way, we were cool with whatever she did.
6. Keep it simple. I simply said to her, "Willy's body isn't here anymore because he passed away. People and animals pass away after they are very old or very sick. We miss their bodies, and Mother Nature takes them to be with her. But we can still feel their love". (Later that day, DD told me she could feel Willy in her body and asked me if I could, too. In the past, we have talked about Mother Nature being in every living thing).
7. Set boundaries. We instructed her to hold any questions until after the visit, and reminded her a few times before the visit. We also let her know what might happen, like "People might cry, and you can just pat or hug people who are crying".
8. Go with it. For the rest of the day, on and off, DD has been "getting a new doggie" or playing "My doggie is very old and sick". She is incorporating those concepts into her world, and I'm just going with whatever she comes up.
Our hearts go out to our lovely neighbor for her loss. We are grateful for having had Willy in our lives.