I’ve written before about helping children deal with death. It’s a difficult thing to do, especially if you haven’t developed ways of deal with death yourself.
A couple of weeks ago we had to put down Bailey, our Aussie Shepard. He was almost 15 years old and we had him for almost 14 of those years. My daughter is 17 so Bailey has been a part of her life for as long as she can remember.
Her and I have talked before about the fact that Bailey was old and didn’t have too many more years left. She sometimes tried to wave this thought off by either saying that he would be around until she was at least in college. Most of the time she would straight up say that she didn’t want to think about it.
As mentioned in the post that I linked to above, her mother’s health isn’t good and sadly has continued to worsen. She’s lost both legs and most of her eyesight to diabetes. She has also had heart damage as well. All of this weighs heavily on my daughter and the fear I see in her is palpable. The death of Bailey intensified those fears.
Considering that she is 17 years old, I don’t expect her to be able to be able to completely come to terms with the idea of death. Hell, most adults I know haven’t come to terms with it. Still, I am trying to help lessen some of the anxiety and fear about the idea of death by talking to her about it, but I have few comforting words.
For us, as atheists, there is no “better place” for Bailey, her mom, or anyone to go to once death comes. My daughter long ago dismissed the idea of God and heaven and hell. Still, I see her desperately trying to cling to something that would promise that this life isn’t all there is. She has said to me on many occasions that she just can’t conceive of there being nothing after death. She can’t see how we can be so alive and full of energy one minute and completely gone forever the next.
I have explained how I view death: that when we die, there is nothing. It’s like going to sleep and never waking up, except that there are no dreams in that endless sleep. I’m not sure a 17 year old is even capable of understanding that, but I keep telling her what I believe every time the subject comes up. Hopefully someday when she is mature enough it will make sense to her, or at least be something that she can rationally consider.
I take a lot of comfort in a song by George Hrab. The song is “Small Comfort”. It is about what he thought and felt when he had to put his dog down. I thought of this song when I was petting my sweet Bailey, telling him what a good boy he was as his eyes closed and I heard him exhale his last. I’ll end by posting the lyrics here.
I don’t believe in heaven, and I know that there’s no hell,
I don’t think you’ve gone anywhere, and I guess that’s just as well
I want to remember the last look in your eye
it was the best and worst thing, to get to say goodbye, to you
They say we’re not supposed to comprehend,
but I want to know more-
being there with you at the end, was a pain I had hoped for
Did you know where you were going, did you like the time you’d spent
I wish that you’d stayed longer but that’s not how it went
now I know there’s no forever, but of all the hearts I’ve met
I think the place we ended up was as close as one could get, did you?
They say were not supposed to understand,
but that doesn’t help me-
watching you leave by my own hand were the cards that were dealt me
some would blame the dealer some would blame the deal
some would make up stories that never could be real
I hope when you left you were glad to be back home,
I think that you knew you would never be alone
I’ve no need for heaven or some eternal bluff
I prefer what’s real and what we had here was enough
I’m glad I get to miss you but that you can never miss me
thinking you’ll wake up and see us is your eternity,
small comfort. I miss you. I miss you.
Here is another link to a better quality version of this song. Oh, and please, give George some love. Listen to the Geologic Podcast. Go to his website and buy stuff. He’s a fantastic entertainer and and skeptic extraordinaire!
Featured image by dek wid