How to cope with grief

 ‘Give your child honest answers about death’

By Tanya Sweeney

Experts say confronting grief and being honest about loss is best for children

Between the rough and tumble of early life, we soon find that children are more resilient than we think. Yet when it comes to a hurdle as big as death, our instincts might just be to carry them away from it all and to shield them from the enormity of the loss.

Years ago, this was very much the norm if a young child experienced the death of a loved one. No doubt people’s hearts were very much in the right place, and these actions come from a protective and loving instinct.

Yet experts believe that confronting the situation head on with the unadorned truth is a better start on a child’s grief journey.

Theresa Kavanagh is a support worker at the Limerick-based Children’s Grief Centre, who provide a listening service to children and young adults experiencing the death of a loved one, parental separation or other form of grief.

“It’s quite amazing how parents feel they’re protecting their child when they don’t allow them to participate in rituals like wakes or funerals, but a child has the right to say goodbye to the person they love,” she notes. “Children need, want and deserve the truth. Children are so perceptive. It’s amazing how much they know and how strong they can be,” she says. “I’ve heard of children being told that ‘Mammy is asleep’, while another little girl was told that her granny went on holidays and never came back. The problem is that younger children go into magical thinking and make things up. If they’re sent away in the event of a death, or not talked to properly, they will always blame themselves, even if the death is from something like cancer.

“I remember one young boy’s mother died of an accidental drug overdose, and he said, ‘I thought it happened because I was bold’. That’s why it’s so important to have open conversations, and also to validate how they themselves feel.”

Often, this can be easier said than done for adults who are also forging their own journey of grief and coping with loss. Often, it can be the first time that a parent or guardian finds themselves in that situation, so it’s entirely natural that uncertainty would reign.

“If a parent can express how they feel, it’s important to say ‘it’s sad, but I’m a grown up and I can look after myself’,” notes Kavanagh. “It’s interesting, a lot of parents haven’t dealt with their grief before they come to the centre, and it’s only when they’re here that they realise that. Parents and children seeking help at the same time can really help the healing process.”

Ann D’Arcy is a Senior Social Worker and Bereavement Coordinator at Our Lady’s Hospice and Care Services, Dublin, who has been offering workshops for bereaved children and their guardians for 14 years.

She notes that the grief journey for children is very different to that of adults.

“A child can’t sustain the depths of emotional pain for the same lengths of time,” she explains. “One minute they are talking about death, the next they’re back on their bikes or PlayStation as if nothing happened. But that doesn’t mean they’re not grieving.

“A very little child may listen to this and run off, and a parent might think they either didn’t take it all in, or the conversation is done, but with a young child developmentally, they’ll find it difficult to understand permanency,” explains D’Arcy. “They’ll often keep coming back to ask the same questions over and over again, trying to make sense of it. It’s important to remember you didn’t do it wrong in the first place. They will just need to talk about it over and over again to understand. It’s important to give a child the space, and permission, to grieve however they might like.

“We need to remember that grieving is normal, and most children are going to feel sad, angry and lonely. You might find that many children will express that physically — they’ll be more tired or experience tummy pains or headaches. Some regress to a younger age,” notes D’Arcy.

“The other thing that often happens is that they are terrified of losing their surviving family member. Most of the children I meet will want to ‘protect’ their surviving family members, and often won’t tell them how they really feel for that reason.”

Death really is the ultimate wrong-footer, and for that reason, grieving children often need to be grounded with certainties.

“Children need information on what happened around the death, but also reassurance that their meals will be given to them, school will still be there, and people will still love them,” says D’Arcy.

Offering children some sense of control over the situation offers them a valuable coping skill: “For one child, talking and looking at old photos is really important, for another, it’s too much and they don’t want to have that reminder in every room. It’s about negotiating that,” says D’Arcy. “Give the child a choice on whether they would like to view the body, and how they would like the loss to be acknowledged. Do they want something said in class for instance, or would they rather it wasn’t mentioned? Will they want to participate in Father’s Day?”

When discussing death or loss with children of all ages, the expert advice to do away with euphemisms and explain the situation in clear language.

“It’s always about giving very factual information to a child, and that’s why we recommend using words like ‘dead’ or ‘death’ and to explain what they mean,” observes D’Arcy. “It’s a very abstract concept for a child. Explain to them that when a person dies, they no longer feel anything. They’re no longer thirsty, cold, hungry, in pain, sad. It may look like a person is asleep, but the body stops working and the heart stops working.

“Be very, very concrete. Coming from a faith perspective, some people will believe the soul or spirit has gone to heaven, but just remember that young children will see that as a concrete place, and will probably ask when they can visit, or why the person won’t come back.

“If a child is seeing their loved one’s body, explain beforehand that their body might feel cold, and look a little different than usual,” adds D’Arcy.

Conversations for very young children need to be similarly concrete, though it may take them more time to assimilate the enormity of the situation. “If a child is asking the questions, it’s important to give the honest answer, really,” surmises D’Arcy. “It’s better to have had that conversation from someone they love, rather than hearing it in the school playground.”

Complete Article HERE!

Washing My Boy’s Body

When a hospice counselor is called to the bedside of a child who has just died, he leads the parents through a Buddhist ritual for cleaning the body. In the process, he guides them through the fires of grief, which burn away everything but love.

Misery, 1897. Kathe Kollowitz

By Frank Ostaseski

One day, in the middle of writing a foundation grant report, I got a call from a man I didn’t know. He explained that he was the father of a 7-year-old boy who had been very ill with cancer. Some people had told him that I might be able to help him out.

I said certainly, I would be willing to help the family through their grieving process. I made some suggestions about how I might be able to support when the time was right.

The man paused. It was clear that I didn’t understand yet what was happening. He practically whispered, “No, Jamie died a half hour ago. We’d like to keep our boy at home in his bed for a little while. Can you come over now?”

Suddenly, the situation wasn’t hypothetical; it was real and staring me in the face. I had never done anything like this before. Sure, I had sat at the bedsides of people who were dying, but I had not attended the death of a young child with two grieving parents in unimaginable pain. I honestly had no idea what to do, so I let my fear and confusion arise. How could I possibly know in advance what was needed?

I arrived at the house a short while later, where the dispirited parents greeted me. They showed me to the boy’s room. Walking in, I followed my natural inclination: I went over to Jamie’s bed, leaned down, and kissed him on the forehead to say hello. The parents broke into tears, because while they had cared for him with great love and attention, nobody had touched the boy since he had died. It wasn’t their fear of his corpse that kept them away; it was their fear of the grief that touching him might unleash.

I suggested that the parents begin washing the boy’s body— something we often did at Zen Hospice Project. Bathing the dead is an ancient ritual that crosses cultures and religions. Humans have been doing it for millennia. It demonstrates our respect for those who have passed, and it is an act that helps loved ones come to terms with the reality of their loss. I felt my role in this ritual was simple: to act with minimal interference and to bear witness.

The parents gathered sage, rosemary, lavender, and sweet rose petals from their garden. They moved very slowly as they put the herbs in warm water, then collected towels and washcloths. After a few moments of silence, the mother and father began to wash their little boy. They started at the back of Jamie’s head and then moved down his back. Sometimes they would stop and tell one another a story about their son. At other times, it all became too much for the father. He would go stare out the window to gather himself. The grief filling the room felt enormous, like an entire ocean crashing upon a single shore.

The mother examined and lovingly cared for each little scratch or bruise on her son’s body. When she got to Jamie’s toes, she counted them, as she had done on the day he was born. It was both gut-wrenching and extraordinarily beautiful to watch.

From time to time, she would look over at me as I sat quietly in the corner of the room, a beseeching question filling her eyes: “Will I be able to survive? Can I do this? Can any mother live through such loss?” I would nod in encouragement for her to continue at her own pace and hand her another washcloth, trusting the process. I felt confident that she would find healing by allowing herself to be in the midst of her suffering.

It took hours for the parents to wash their son. When the mother finally got to the face of her child, which she had saved for last, she embraced him with incredible tenderness, her eyes pure reflections of her love and sorrow. She had not only turned toward her suffering; she had entered into it completely. As she did, the fierce fire of her love began to melt the contraction of fear around her heart. It was such an intimate moment. There was no separation between mother and child. Perhaps it was like his birth, when they had the experience of being psychologically one.

After the bathing ritual was complete, the parents dressed Jamie in his favorite Mickey Mouse pajamas. His brothers and sister came into the room, making a mobile out of the model planes and other flying objects he had collected, and they hung it over his bed.

Each one of them had faced unbelievable pain. There was no more pretense or denial. They had been able to find some healing in each other’s care and perhaps in opening to the essential truth that death is an integral, natural part of life.

Can you imagine yourself living through what these parents did? “No,” many of you will say, “I cannot.” Losing a child is most people’s worst nightmare. I couldn’t endure it. I couldn’t bear it, you may think. But the hard truth is, terrible things happen in life that we can’t control, and somehow we do bear them. We bear witness to them. When we do so with the fullness of our bodies, minds, and hearts, often a loving action emerges.

And sometimes they act with enormous compassion toward others who have suffered similarly or who may yet in times to come.

One of the most stunning images of this that I can recall came after the major earthquake and tsunami disabled the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan. A photo in the newspaper revealed a dozen elderly Japanese men gathered humbly, lunch baskets in hand, standing in a line outside the plant’s gates. The reporter explained that they were offering to take the place of younger workers inside who were attempting to contain the radiation-contaminated plant. In total, more than five hundred seniors volunteered.

One of the group’s organizers said, “My generation, the old generation, promoted the nuclear plants. If we don’t take responsibility, who will? When we were younger, we never thought of death. But death becomes familiar as we get older. We have a feeling that death is waiting for us. This doesn’t mean I want to die. But we become less afraid of death as we get older.”

Suffering is our common ground. Trying to evade suffering by pretending that things are solid and permanent may give us a temporary sense of control. But this is a painful illusion, because life’s conditions are fleeting and impermanent.

We can make a different choice. We can interrupt our habits of resistance that harden us and leave us resentful and afraid. We can soften around our aversion.

We can see the way things actually are and act accordingly, with wise discernment and love.

The Thai meditation master Ajahn Chah once motioned to a glass at his side. “Do you see this glass?” he asked. “I love this glass. It holds the water admirably. When the sun shines on it, it reflects the light beautifully. When I tap it, it has a lovely ring. Yet for me, this glass is already broken. When the wind knocks it over or my elbow knocks it off the shelf and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ But when I understand that this glass is already broken, every minute with it is precious.”

After being with Jamie’s parents as they bathed their son, I returned home, and I held my own child very close. Gabe was also 7 years old at the time. I saw clearly how precious he is to me, what a joy he is to have in my life. While I felt devastated by what I had witnessed, I also was able to appreciate the beauty in it.

Complete Article HERE!

Students learn to care for dying people

Matthew Cullen, a Union College student volunteers at the Joan Nicole Prince Home, plays cards with resident Bob Humphrey.

by Sara Foss

When I ask Matthew Cullen to share one of his favorite experiences volunteering at the Joan Nicole Prince Home, his answer surprises me.

“Giving my first bed bath,” he says.

When you give a bed bath, “you use a wash cloth to wash a patient’s body,” Cullen explains, adding, “The residents are really grateful for it. One resident told me, ‘Thank you for that. I feel much better.’

This is the third summer that Cullen, a senior at Union College, has spent caring for dying residents at the Joan Nicole Prince Home in Scotia.

His shifts are a mix of mundane tasks aimed at making residents more comfortable and keeping them company. Sometimes that involves chatting at the kitchen table. Sometimes it involves sitting quietly while they rest or sleep.

“A lot of time I’m the only person here,” says Cullen, a native of Guilderland.

Helping terminally ill patients live their final days in peace and comfort might sound like a lot of responsibility for a 21-year-old college student.

But Cullen is more than up to the challenge. The ebullient red-head speaks of his work at the Joan Nicole Prince Home with insight, compassion, even wisdom.

“It can be sad sometimes, but the great majority of the time, it’s happy,” Cullen says. “The patients are sharing their memories and stories with you, and you’re doing the same.

Cullen isn’t the only college student who spends his summers volunteering at the Joan Nicole Prince Home.

He’s enrolled in a unique summer program, called CARE (Community Action Research and Education), that sends college students to volunteer in residential homes for the dying, which provide free, round-the-clock bedside care to terminally ill patients whose families are unable to care for them.

CARE got its start at Union College five years ago, and has steadily evolved since then.

It is now offered in partnership with Skidmore College, and open to students from a handful of other schools, such as Siena College.

This summer there are 13 students volunteering at four different residential homes for the dying: the Joan Nicole Prince Home, Gateway House of Peace in Ballston Spa, Mary’s Haven in Saratoga Springs and Hospeace House in Naples.

“These students are seeing the dying process as it happens,” Carol Weisse, the Union College professor who founded CARE, told me.

But it isn’t all gloom and doom.

Far from it.

“There’s joy in these homes,” Weisse said. “For the students to see that, it makes death less frightening.”

Residential homes for the dying — also known as comfort care homes — serve a noble purpose.

The staff and volunteers at these facilities become a kind of surrogate family for residents, doing “everything a family member would do,” said Weisse, who directs Union’s Pre-Health Professions Program and is herself a longtime hospice volunteer.

Everyone deserves good end-of-life care, and residential homes for the dying ensure that people with little in the way of resources can get it. If anything, we need more of these homes — and more volunteers to keep them running.

CARE was initially geared toward students planning careers in health care.

The idea, Weisse told me, was to give undergraduates who might one day treat dying patients a better sense of how to communicate with and care for those with no hope for recovery. These days, CARE is open to any student with an interest in end-of-life care and a willingness to commit to the research project.

The Joan Nicole Prince Home is bright and cheery, with a back porch, meditation garden, living room and kitchen where executive director Amanda Neveu is baking cookies during my visit with Cullen. The home can accommodate two patients at a time, and each have their own bedroom and bathroom.

Neveu told me that residents — neither of whom are able to speak to me — enjoy speaking with younger people.

“It’s a legacy thing,” she said. “They want to share their stories and have them live on.”

Cullen is planning to go to medical school, as is Nurupa Ramkissoon, a 19-year-old Union College junior and Schenectady High School graduate who has spent her summer volunteering at the Joan Nicole Prince Home through the CARE program.

“It’s definitely been a little sad,” Ramkisson said. “The people who come here are very sweet, and you spend so much time with them. … There’s one resident who likes teaching, and she’s teaching us how to cook. It’s making her feel comfortable, like it’s her home.”

Weisse said her goal is to “cultivate a community of compassionate caregivers,” which sounds like a good goal to me.

At some point, every one of us is going to need a compassionate caregiver, and training students to step into this role could have lasting benefits.

Weisse believes she has created a program that could be implemented at residential homes for the dying all over the country.

“My hope and my dream is that this can spread,” she said.

And with any luck, it will.

Complete Article HERE!

When a Parent Dies

Ways to Help Yourself and Your Surviving Parent

A grief-support expert shares a letter she wrote to a grieving friend

By Amy Florian

Not too long ago, a dear friend’s dad suffered a major heart attack and died. At the funeral, there was little time for more than a brief exchange of words.

But, given my background in grieving support and education, I wanted to offer some advice to help her and her mom through the grieving process. So, that evening I wrote her a letter. I’m sharing it here because I believe it can be of help to anyone who has recently lost a parent and wants to help their surviving parent through the grief. Here is what I wrote:

Dear Katie,

The way-too-soon and totally unexpected death of your dad has hit you hard. It was clear at the services that your family is reeling, trying to comprehend what happened to you, to understand the enormity of this loss, and to figure out what to do now.

Leave behind the well-meaning compulsion to cheer each other up or keep looking on the bright side.

I’m glad I was able to attend the services to celebrate his life and mourn his death together, and I also know your grief has only begun.

I remember after my husband’s death, a few of the letters that people wrote were extremely helpful — not the ones telling me the writer’s own story of grief, as if I was supposed to experience the same thing and handle it in the same way, but those that contained hard-won wisdom from grieving people.

In that vein, I offer you some input that may be helpful to you and your mom, gleaned from my many years of providing grief education, facilitating grief support groups and counseling grieving people.

If any of this does not apply in your case or is not helpful, then set it aside. Everyone grieves uniquely and you don’t have to meet my (or anyone else’s) expectations.

Grief hurts. We don’t want to face the pain, the loneliness and the void that will never be filled in the same way again. But if we don’t, we won’t heal.

Grief that is suppressed, denied or ignored does not go away. It stays there, it festers and it will find a way to come back out and bite you in physical, psychological, spiritual and emotional ways.

But it also helps to try to set the grief aside sometimes, as if in a box on the shelf, and let yourself smile or enjoy life for a bit. Those times will sustain you.

Don’t be afraid of bringing up your dad, saying his name and telling the stories. Will it cause tears? Yes, sometimes, but that’s not because you brought it up. The tears are there anyway. It is healing to allow them to spill out, whether you are alone or especially when you share those tears with someone else who also loved him, whether it’s your mom or supportive friends who will let you cry with them.

Did you know that there are physiological chemicals in tears that relieve stress? Tears are our natural stress-relief mechanism when we are sad — that’s why we call it “having a good cry.” So, when you cry, you help yourself heal.

One final thing about tears. People often say they can’t start crying because if they do, they will never be able to stop. Do you know that has not happened in the history of humankind? No one has ever not been able to stop crying. Allow the healing to happen, facilitated by allowing tears when they are there.

As you support your mom, remember your job is not to “fix it” or to make her feel better. Your job is to be her companion, to be there for her whatever she is feeling.

Leave behind the well-meaning compulsion to cheer each other up or keep looking on the bright side. Instead, just keep checking in. Ask what kind of a day it is today — feeling up, down or all over the place?

Talk about when you miss your dad the most. Share your stories about things people say that are helpful, and the well-intentioned things people say that are not! Share what you each wish people knew about what you’re going through. Keep the lines of communication as open as possible, so you can pour your experience out to each other and gain comfort.

Keep in mind that grief takes a very long time. Expect to hit sad periods of time again weeks or months after the death. This is especially true when those “marker days” hit: his birthday (and yours), the wedding anniversary, Father’s Day, the holidays, the monthly and yearly anniversaries of his death.

You will be sad over and over again. You will be happy over and over again, and eventually the happiness will predominate. But expect a roller coaster of emotions — some hours and days will be better, and some will feel like disasters. Hang in there. As long as you continue doing the hard work of grief, you are healing, you will heal and you will get there.

Another word about those “marker days.” Your dad’s absence will be huge, and yet the tendency of most people around you will be to talk about anyone and everything except your dad.

The intention is good — they want to keep you from feeling sad. Yet, these are the times it is most important to say his name, share the memories and keep his legacy alive.

His life and the lessons he taught you are with you forever. His love is with you forever. You are a different person because of him, and no one can ever take that away from you. Keep his name, his stories and your memories alive, even as you let go of all the things that can no longer be.

These are just a few things that I hope can get you on the path to healing. My most fervent hope is that your family may heal, carrying memories and stories of your dad’s life with you even as you move into a future that will be different than you had planned.

I will check in regularly, just to see what’s happening and how you’re doing. I am here for you for the long haul, no matter what.

I hold you and your mom close to my heart. In these crazy, turbulent days, I wish you moments of peace, an occasional smile and continued healing.

Love and hugs,

Amy

Complete Article HERE!

Tips for Helping Grieving Children

Doctors today have documented evidence to demonstrate that grieving can, in fact, make children sick. Health issues such as skin problems, cardiovascular disease and even cancer can often track their onset to a painful event translated as grief. Traumatic loss is so abhorrent to the mind that children often have difficulty coping. Children today have […]

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Doctors today have documented evidence to demonstrate that grieving can, in fact, make children sick.

Health issues such as skin problems, cardiovascular disease and even cancer can often track their onset to a painful event translated as grief. Traumatic loss is so abhorrent to the mind that children often have difficulty coping.

Children today have numerous opportunities to distract themselves from grieving properly; i.e. video games, computers and television. In my book, The Only Way Out is Through, I share some insight into working through grief. Here are some tips for parents and caregivers to help children deal with grievances in a healthy manner.

Tips for Nurturing Bereaved Children

  • Grieving children must get plenty of rest, eat a balanced diet and drink plenty of water. Exercise is also very important; however, remember that fatigue is often a characteristic of both loss and depression.
  • Encourage a grieving child to express and vent shock, anger and fear. This will help the child stay connected to life and can re-establish trust in what has become an unsafe world.
  • Children should be allowed to participate in the rituals of saying goodbye. This will give them a sense of realty and closure to this unthinkable event.
  • Parents or caregivers of grief-stricken children should encourage their child to participate in weekly therapeutic groups with other children who have encountered the same kind of loss.

Complete Article HERE!

Here’s Some Tips That Will Help Your Kids Deal With Bereavement

by Anthony Martin

It’s difficult explaining death to a child, especially the loss of a relative. You might have questions about how to begin the conversation, or you might feel uncertain about what to say.

Naturally, you want to protect your child from feeling the same pain you are experiencing, but it is crucial that you speak honestly and openly about the situation.

Helping your child understand grief and loss is best for their emotional health and well-being.

Explaining Death to a Child

Children might not understand that death is permanent. They may ask questions like, “When is Mommy coming back?”

Although it may seem gentler to use phrases such as “passed away” or “went to sleep,” it can be confusing. Try to say terms like “dead” or “died” to help them understand better.

Share basic facts when you feel it is appropriate to help settle a child’s curiosity about death. It’s important to answer questions your child has simply and directly, and it’s OK to admit that you don’t have all of the answers. Try to remain concrete in your explanation by saying something like, “a person’s body stops working when they die.”

Even though older children may understand death better than younger children, it may still be difficult for them to know how it could happen to someone so close to them. That’s when it is essential to explain that death is a natural part of everyone’s life cycle.

Differences in Bereavement by Age

Bereavement differs for everyone, but at specific developmental stages in a child’s life, it can look notably different.

  • Babies/Toddlers: Although at this age, children might not have the language to say how and what they are feeling or have a complete understanding of death, they can still experience separation and loss. They may pick up on the distressful feelings of those around them.
  • Preschoolers: Children at this age might find it hard to grasp that death is permanent. They need a lot of reassurance because they are at a stage of magical thinking. They may believe that someone will come back to life again or that they made the person die.
  • Primary-School Children: At this age, children may still have some confused thoughts about death and may feel that is something temporary. They may also think that the person can still feel things like hunger or cold. They may ask direct questions about where the person is and what happened to them.
  • Older Children: By this age, children know that death is not temporary. They are more aware of how adults and others are reacting to death, so it’s important to talk honestly about events and feelings. They need regular reassurance that their grief is understood.
  • Adolescents: Teenagers may react like younger children or have reactions akin to those of an adult. They will probably want to spend more time with friends than with family for support. Their feelings may be overwhelming, and although they can appear to be fine, inside, they may be genuinely hurting or suppressing how they feel.

Emotions That Accompany Grief

There is no one right way to grieve. It’s common for children to express many emotions, just like adults, but they may express them differently.

They may feel shock, guilt, sadness, anger, anxiety, fear, loneliness, and helplessness. All of these feelings are normal. They may feel unpleasant, but they are all elements of the process of grieving.

It’s important to help your child accept how they are feeling and not push them away or deny their feelings. It’s painful to go through bereavement, but helping them connect with their emotions is a good step toward healing.

Ways to Help Kids Cope

Children need to know that they are not alone. Having support from family and friends and being able to talk to them can be very beneficial.

They may also need spiritual support if that helps them grieve better. You may want to seek counseling for your child to help them deal with their emotions and the loss.

Encourage children to read books or poetry when they are grieving. Motivate them to exercise, and make sure they are continuing to eat healthy foods. Allow them to take time to relax.

You and your child may need time away from work and school. Help your child to cope by engaging in social activities.

The most significant thing children can do to deal with death is to be patient with themselves and allow themselves to feel the emotions related to the loss.

Below are some helpful resources to assist with this very difficult matter.

Complete Article HERE!

The gifts our dying dog gave to my sons

The author’s sons, Donovan, left, and Tate, with Krypto.

By Mike Mikula

Every poem about dogs ends in tears.

Our boy Krypto’s 18-year-long poem ended early this month. He was on our porch on the nicest of Atlanta days, with just enough of a breeze to carry spring in for his last breaths. Our sons, Donovan and Tate, ages 13 and 11, whispered weepy gratitude into his ears as he slipped away. A good death for a good boy — a working dog, and his work, as they say, was done.

Much of that work involved needing an ultramarathoner’s worth of exercise, but that kept the IPAs from adding territory to my gut. Krypto also herded other animals and sometimes people, did some occasional protection detail and set the stage for us becoming a family.

The other great work of his life was teaching. He taught my wife and me how to be parents, and he taught our sons the joys of unstructured play and the art of observation. Like Albus Dumbledore, he did his greatest educating in old age, showing our family how to live with infirmities and without self-pity, and in the end, how dying and dead are different things.

My wife, Sarah, and I believed that Krypto was the first great thing we did as a couple. The rescue outfit described the Australian cattle dog-mix puppy as “not much to look at and getting picked on by the other dogs because he was kind of a jerk.”

And he was indeed a hammerhead, early on escaping our yard and chasing a high school cross-country team until he caught the slowest kid. But he quickly responded to training and copious exercise. Krypto explored the north Georgia woods with us and was a witness to our engagement on the Benton MacKaye Trail. His squared-away self convinced us that we were qualified to repeat the experiment; this time with very small humans.

The pee on the pregnancy-test stick wasn’t dry before Krypto relocated his sleeping spot from the dog bed by my nightstand to the floor next to Sarah. He did the same thing when Donovan’s brother, Tate, came around two years later.

The books about dogs and babies urged us to bring a blanket home from the hospital so Krypto could familiarize himself with Donovan’s scent, followed by Donovan. Krypto was unimpressed.

Although Krypto was outwardly ambivalent, each time Sarah got up to nurse, he followed, sitting at her feet and facing the door, acutely keyed in to her vulnerability. He did so again with colicky Tate 2½ years later. The dog was working harder than ever but the boys moved him down in the pack order, just by virtue of being humans.

The transition from stinky, furious blobs to menacing, pokey toddlers to boys who just wanted to throw a ball or Frisbee all day long took dozens of dog years. Along the way, Krypto took down a prowler who came into the house while Sarah was upstairs reading to the boys. The perp was begging for mercy when I got to him, but Krypto greedily held his ankle. Good boy.

Not long after Donovan and Tate became full partners with Krypto, his interest in athletics began to wane. Cattle dogs tend to slow down around age 13 or so. We had a soft old couch that he’d made his own, and the boys liked to bounce on it and wake him for belly rubs or ear scratches. One day their protector snapped hard at them. He was sleeping more deeply and waking up anxious. It shook us up, but the boys were made aware that not everything in life can go at their speed. A little Prozac in Krypto’s kibble helped, too.

Krypto’s decline was the one we’re all hoping for: small increments over an extended period preceding a rapid crash, followed by permanent sleep. My sons received regular lessons in patience. Walks took a while so we had to leave earlier for school. Smell became more important to Krypto than locomotion, so the boys came to understand that a walk often meant standing around while he sniffed the world.

Krypto died with the lab work of a puppy; neurological failings were his undoing. Eventually, his front and back halves had trouble communicating, and he moved like a firetruck tiller with no one driving the back end. He needed help down the three steps to get outside. Cue my sons. They listened for Krypto by the door and were always ready to help him outside and wait patiently for him to find just the right spot before assisting him back up the stairs.

There were the requisite indignities and accidents. The boys helped him up and fetched the paper towels. “Krypto never seems to feel sorry for himself,” Tate said one day while doing exactly that over a pile of crap in the hallway. My sons were paying attention to these lessons.

In his last week, Krypto’s mobility cratered and his anxiety resisted the strongest tranquilizers. He kept us up half the night telling us it was time to let him go. I wanted him to die on his own terms but his mighty heart would not quit. Donovan and Tate heard their father blubber his way through explaining what would be our last measure of devotion.

(The surreal experience of watching one’s father cry uncontrollably has been compared to the first time you see Grandma in a bathing suit.)

Krypto taught my boys to accept decline and mortality, so they had no questions for our vet when she arrived with full eyes. The boys were with Krypto on the porch as the vet eased him from his mortal coil. They are different kids and handled the intense emotions in their own ways, but they were present, holding that dog as he left us, telling him how much he’d be missed.

They fell in love with a dog and, as the contract states, they had their hearts broken. They are better people for knowing him, loving him and losing him.

And in the end, my young men carried Krypto from the house for the last time. I have never been sadder or prouder.

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