During my trip up north Jasper (my parent's dog) died. It some ways it is hard to have an emotional, trying time occur during our vacation but in other ways I think the timing was good. Elli has never had someone close to her die up till this point and she was confused and upset by Jasper dying and being buried in the field nearby. I think it was good for her to be able to see it happen and ask questions though since she is old enough now to get a sense of what death means and how people deal with their grief. I think this was better than her just being told that Jasper had died and having to deal with it from a distance. I normally find it very interesting to try to answer the hard questions that come up when Elli becomes curious about love, death, betrayal, sex, and religion but it is very hard to answer questions properly and tell her what she needs to know when I am wiping away tears of my own and trying to keep my voice from breaking and failing me entirely.
All the sign says is Jasper 1998 - 2011. That is what a memorial normally says but there is so much more to remember and I wanted Elli to understand what happens after death. I want her to know that although the body falls apart and the sense of self is gone that memories of the person that has died can continue for a very long time and that a part of Jasper will remain as long as we continue to remember who and how she was. We need to remember the twitching tail and frantic bark as she begged for a ball to be thrown and Jasper smacking sticks into our legs as she ran around with a gigantic chunk of tree between her jaws.
I had to explain to Elli exactly why we were going to take Jasper to the vet to be euthanized and what happens to bodies after they die. She asked the next day if Jasper was in little pieces yet and I talked to her about how fast bodies decay in the ground. She wanted to know why we put Jasper's toys in the grave with her and what Jasper would do with them. I wanted to allow myself to cry and let her see me cry because it is important that she understands that grief is natural and nothing to be ashamed of but I needed to be in control to help her when she needed guidance or a shoulder to cry on herself. I hope she has taken away from this that we grieve for the dead but what we must do is remember the best parts of their lives and then go on to enjoy the time we have. The most important thing about a person or a dog is not if, how or when they died but how they lived and Jasper had a good, long life that brought joy to many and that is worthy of celebration.