When I was pregnant with my first child, I approached the impending life transition in characteristic manner – research. Starting with pregnancy books and then moving on to childbirth, baby books (sleeping, eating, development) and then parenting toddlers and preschoolers (development and enrichment), I think I read every book the Milwaukee Public Library system had to offer. The SYSTEM, folks. I ordered books from other branches and picked them up in my neighborhood library. I took notes. I plotted parenting strategies. I was a veritable know-it-all when it came to the latest research on infant sleep patterns, the risks of various childbirth interventions and how and when to introduce new solid foods to a baby.
Given my penchant for “scientific” study, it is noteworthy that I rushed headlong into navigating the death of my dog, Rodman, without even a google search about pet bereavement and parenting children around the loss of a pet. I also shied away from discussing the whole thing with Jason. I didn’t have a plan really, and instead just followed my own steps through the process.
Rodman passed away on June 17, three days before our return from Sweden. He was 16.5 years old. It happened very suddenly. First I heard from the dogsitter that she needed to take him to the emergency clinic and less than 2 hours later I was on the phone with the vet giving the permission to put him down. The vet asked what I wanted them to do with the remains. That was too big a decision so she offered to hold him in cold storage until our return. I consented.
When we first arrived home I was still not ready to deal with Rodman’s absence. Instead I focused on our remaining dog, Jupi, who was clearly feeling low despite our return. Monday morning I went and picked up Rodman’s body at the emergency clinic. I brought him home and we held a wake of sorts. We ate his favorite foods for dinner (pizza, broccoli and ice cream sandwiches). We made plates of the special meal for Jupi and a symbolic plate for Rodman, too. I made a slide show of photos of him and a sentimental spotify playlist. We sat in our sitting room with the body which the vet had set to make it look like he was curled up sleeping. I had him arranged on a dog bed with hard sides and a bottom. The kids sat and stroked his ears. We cried and laughed as we told Rodman stories – the time Rodman rolled in the gelatinous fish; the time Rodman snuck out of the tent, rolled in manure and then got covered with dandelion fuzz; the time Rodman ate the birthday cake off the counter; the time Rodman fell in the river and Jason fell in rescuing him while a school busload of girl scouts looked on, shouting. You get the idea.
Tuesday morning the kids said goodbye. Then we delivered Rodman’s body to our regular vet for cremation. We’ll scatter him about in his favorite spots here and in Maine.
I wanted the kids to have a last chance to see Rodman and to be comfortable with the fact of his death (and the reality of death, in general). Having him at home with us one last day seemed to be just the thing for them, and for me too.