Everyone handles grief in their own unique way.
I grieve in silence, preferably alone. The most therapeutic place for me is typically outside. I swim through my memories, good and bad. I will have a cry, and then, as God has commissioned time to foster, my heart and mind will heal, and I’ll move on.
When we heard about our farm dog’s passing, I was curious about how my children would handle it. They have attended funerals of people we loved before, but they were too small to process the implications of that loved one no longer being with us.
Now they are old enough to understand, and the news of Snoopy’s death struck a deeply emotional chord. It allowed my wife and I to see just how our children grieve, how we can teach them about grief, and how we can help them grieve in a healthy way.
Why we Loved Snoopy
When you think of a farm dog, you don’t typically think of an overweight beagle. Well, that overweight beagle would have most likely put the dog you’re thinking of to shame. (I’m biased of course.) The best way to describe her physical countenance was, “as big around as she was long.” She wasn’t the long-legged, lean, Blue Heeler type. But that never stopped her.
Unafraid of anything, sometimes to a fault, Snoopy was the queen of the castle. Even after she developed a cancerous tumor on her under side, nothing undesirable was going to invade her space, i.e. the yard. I don’t remember a time that we would go to the farm from week to week and not see a dead opossum or raccoon lying around that she had dispatched. It was as if she was sending a warning to all other invaders who might dare challenge her!
Killing critters and leaving them lay around is all very typical of farm dogs, but what was interesting about her was her maternal instincts. Of all the barn cats that would incessantly bother her, she never harmed one, unless they tried to get into her food of course. Then, when our children came around, she considered them her own. If a stranger pulled up to the house and the kids were playing in the yard, snoopy’s hair would bristle and you would hear a deep growl as she would position herself between the visitor and the kids until we called her off.
What Snoopy accepted into her life was her’s to protect. Once you were accepted, she was gracious. Our kids would wrestle with her, pull her tail and ears, lift and pull her floppy jowls and look at her teeth. She loved it. She also loved a peaceful, leisurely nap in the yard while the kids played all around her.
We could tell when Snoopy was reaching her final days. She stopped running around the farm with her new companion Henry, a young, hyper, skinny beagle. Instead of meeting us at the gate when we pulled up to the house, she would pull herself up with all her strength, ears drooping, and make the long painful walk as far a she could. We would go to her and pet her, speaking in soft caring voices. Her tail would wag, and then she would saunter back and lay in her usual place outside the basement window.
The news came to us on Thanksgiving day that she had passed. My uncle found her in the warm, protected hay shed. It was as if she knew how she wanted to be found. She was curled up peacefully in the corner of the shed. She had passed in her sleep.
Handling The Pain of Loss
No dog will ever be a perfect replacement for Snoopy. After my son heard she had passed, I found him sitting quietly on the swing set outside. He was staring out across the river bottom west of the house. His expression was blank. It was like looking into a mirror at myself in that type of moment. I touched his shoulder and said, “What’s up buddy?” he replied, “Just thinking about Snoopy dad.” He cried for only a few seconds, walked to Henry, the new beagle, and squeezed him tight.
My daughter dealt with her grief in a much more delayed fashion. Her tears didn’t come until a day later at bed time. The beauty of it was, that she didn’t cry because Snoopy was gone, but because she was thinking of other people who might be sad as a result. My wife reminded her that snoopy wasn’t sick anymore, and that she could have fun with Henry now.
It Sounds Cold, But…
I’m glad that my children have had an opportunity to grieve. There is grace in it. It’s a type of grace that makes them aware of life and death. It has given my wife and I an opportunity to have some the sweetest conversations with our children about how it’s good to love, and it’s good to cry and hurt when we are sad or when bad things happen. It’s also a great reminder to all of us of how much God loved us, and how he cares that we hurt, which is why he sent Jesus to provide a way for that hurt to be removed forever.
Time on this earth is not infinite. God uses sad moments to remind us of this truth, and I’m thankful that He is gracious enough to do so. It’s what makes eternal life with Him so much sweeter. Our time with Snoopy was a means to that reminder, that was intended for our whole family.