(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),
Coltrane, what a cool name for an animal. And what a cool way of capturing natural conversation in the moment. Nice. It’s 12:06 here. I figured you would be up soon. Karen is up as well.
I am moving along on my boil down duties. I have a good number and a number of photos as well. I did get to Stacey at Slices about spreading the news. It’s a bit complicated but she has the blurb so we will see if she can get it up.
So I am waiting until Monday, yes?
This one hits home. We had to put our 17 year old dog down this fall and it was so hard. Our daughter was at college so we had to figure how to tell her over the phone and even though she knew this day was coming when she returned to school in August, it was harder than I ever expected. I still find myself looking for the dog every now and then and I do love that book, Dog Heaven.
Simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming.
I think of Smokey still after eight years.
Sorry to hear about Bella. A great book to read about the meaning dogs bring into our lives is by Mark Doty — “Dog Years.” It’s a beautiful, passionate book about dogs, despair, hope, moving on…yeah, I loved it.
What a bittersweet post – so wonderful and sad all in the same breath – exactly how life feels sometimes.
We have lots of pets in Dog Heaven. I love the idea that they are running and having fun. Thanks for sharing a great conversation.
Kids are truly amazing…great story. Very touching.
Poignant slice. Leave it to Cynthia Rylant to add some solace. We don’t always think about how kids, even when young, hang on to thoughts, how they are constantly working to make sense of things, or how important it is to be there when they need to talk about these things. Your story showed all that.
Bella and Coltrane … great names for pets. This is a lovely piece, very touching. As I sit here with my two crazy, uber-affectionate, almost-year-old kittens, I remember all my companions past who are now in cat or dog heaven.