We have an-almost-fourteen year old golden retriever, who is nearing the end of her life. This dog has been my friend and my companion through some very hard times (and lots of good ones) and I will be heartbroken when she dies.
So will my kids, especially S., who is very attached to the old dog and who is himself old enough to understand loss and to fear death.
S. hasn't said anything to me about Emma-dog but he talked to his grandmother about her on the week end (he wanted to know how old his Grandma was and was reassured to learn that, in dog years, she is still a spring chicken). He raised the subject again with my spouse yesterday morning ("So, is Emma in the dying phase of life?").
We have all reassured S. that Emma is not suffering and that she has had a long and wonderful life. I think it's a very good sign that S. is working this through with us, instead of keeping his questions and fears to himself.
Yesterday, before he left for school, he threw his arms around my neck and said, "Please don't die."
My mother-in-law and spouse were with me when this happened and agreed that he was just fooling around, not realizing what he was saying until it was out of his mouth. I responded by laughing and telling him that I wasn't going anywhere.
But I wish I could protect my kids from having these thoughts, protect them from loss and death and fear. I guess all parents do. Instead, the best we can do is love unconditionally, listen when we are asked to and let our kids know that it is as normal to fear and to grieve as it is to love.
Our dear old Emma may pass on soon and it will be very hard for my family.
I want my kids to understand, though, that I am doing everything I can to make sure that I am around for a very long time.