Saturday, January 10, 2009


We were watching the family's new favorite show last night, Dogtown. It's a documentary show about a facility dedicated to rehabbing and placing damaged dogs. Everyone in my house can enjoy it, and it cuts down on the Hannah Montana re-runs (tho greatly increases the pleas for a puppy.)

Bruno, one of the dogs, died. My elder daughter grabbed the remote and started to fast forward to a happier scene, but I stopped her. I figured that this might be a good way to talk about it with the kids, without talking about it. Quite poetically, the dog died of a brain tumor (which the kids didn't catch).

Henry didn't seem to follow what was happening until the dog's burial. He asked me when the dog would be alive again, and cried when I told him it wouldn't. We haven't avoided the subject of death, but it's not exactly dinner table fodder either. Yet another place that religious belief would really come in handy for me.

How much does a 4 year old understand about death? I was sorry that the show upset him, but it reinforced to me that he's not ready to discuss what will happen to him. I have occasionally felt like it's something that we should be doing, at least when he gets sicker, but my mother gut instinct (which I have learned to listen to) tells me not to so far.

He was inconsolable for a time, until I realized that he was upset about the dog's collar which was left on the grave as a marker. He really wanted for another dog to use the collar. As soon as I assured him of that, he stopped crying and hasn't mentioned it since. Henry's style is to ruminate for a while before discussing, so I expect it to show up again in conversation.

For now, I can't think of a way to make death and burial anything less than terrifying to a concrete thinker. I think I'll follow my mommy gut and lie to him.

RIP, Bruno.


Jessica said...

I'm in school right now studying to be a Child Life Specialist... one of the things we talked about in one of my classes we talked about death and my professor told us that all children are aware of death, but it's not until they are school age 7-8 that they recgonize death as being irreverseable.

A children's book that my prof. mentioned is a good starting point for discussing death with a child is "The Purple Balloon" by Chris Raschka. The book does have a bit of a religious component to it though, when it mentions that god makes dying easier.

...tom... said...


Yet another place that religious belief would really come in handy for me.

While I am not deeply religious I refuse to believe this mortal coil is all there is. Guess if I am wrong ... no harm done.

What is the old song..?? 'Swear there aint no heaven, pray there aint no hell.' Works for me.


rlbates said...

I say trust your mommy instinct. RIP, Bruno

Anonymous said...

I agree with rlbates-As a mother of a 4 year old myself, I think your instinct is best. It certainly seems to have worked well for you so far.

net said...

I agree with rlbates and anonymous. Trust yourself.

Doc, I like "The 10th Good Thing about Barney" by Judith Viorst. Deals with death without going into religion. I've used it a lot - and I'm a pastor.

And I am praying for you and your family. Please let us praying-types carry that part of the burden for you.


pelican said...

By all means, go with your gut.

Every time I read your posts about Henry, I am struck by how willing you are to be honest with how difficult this is and your exceptional parenting in the face of his illness. You clearly have a very good mommy gut.

If it isn't too personal to tell- what is the (necessary) lie you're planning to tell when Henry is ready to talk?

Lisa Marie said...

Wow.. I just found your blog tonight and I am so impressed with it. Through your life events you are setting such a wonderful example for your children and your blog readers. Thank you.

Susan said...

My mother instinct told me not to pursue the topic with my 7 year old son as he was dying. Hospice was convinced I really needed to and so at one point I asked him if he wanted to talk about what was happening with his body and he said no. I rephrased it and he said "not now". So - we did not talk to him about it until he was in his last few moments of life when we told him it was OK to go.

I still feel confidant it was the right thing for Nathan. You should definately keep with your gut instincts about it.