(This is part of the Slice of Life Project)
“Daddy, when is Bella coming home?”
The query comes from the back seat. We are on our way back from the store. Today, I kept the music off. He fills the gap with conversation, just as I had hoped. My afternoon had been spent in meeting trying to rejigger our class schedules next year to make more time for math while not losing too much of our other content areas. My brain was too full of school stuff. I needed family time.
“She’s not coming home, honey.”
“Where is she?”
“She’s in heaven.”
Bella was our family dog, and we had to put her down in December. Every now and then, the little one still wonders about why Bella isn’t meeting us at the back door with wagging tail or greeting him in the mornings at the bottom of the stairs. Or barking her head off at every animal or human walking near our house. We even miss (kind of) the tuffs of white fur scattered around the house. (I still use her pic as my avatar)
“Yes. Dog heaven.”
“What does she do there?”
“She plays. She runs. She watches over us.”
“In Dog Heaven?”
“Hey — that’s just like the book!”
When Bella was dying, I brought home a book called Dog Heaven as a way to explain where our dog was going and why we could celebrate her spirit in our lives even after she was gone. The older boys got it, but for the youngest one, it was and is too abstract. Thus, the questions — the same questions — emerge from time to time as his mind tries to grapple with loss. Every time he counts out our family or names each of us, Bella is right there in the mix.
I ask, “Do you miss Bella?”
“Yes. But she’s in Dog Heaven. Right?”
“Is she happy?”
“Yes. She is happy now.”
“She’s not sick?”
“No. She’s not sick anymore. She’s happy. But we can still miss her. I miss her.”
“I’m hungry. I need a snack.”
A few hours later, in an eerily similar conversation with my middle son, he presented me with a craft that he had made at an after-school program in which someone from a local animal shelter teaches children about caring for animals.
“I made this,” he said, showing me a cute little cat craft. It had the name of our elderly cat — Coltrane, for John Coltrane, the legendary saxophonist — painted on the front.
“So, when Coltrane goes to heaven, we can remember him,” he added.
My kids amaze me every day.
Peace (in understanding and remembering),