Telling the girls about the dogs was incredibly hard to do. Ben and I decided to tell them separately. We figured that Bryn, being older, would have more questions than Shay and wanted to give her the time to ask them.
We told Shay first. We stumbled through an explanation of how her doggies had started to get old and hadn't really worked right anymore and had, eventually, needed to go to heaven. We both started crying during that explanation, and it ended up with her comforting us instead of the other way around. She said, "Look--I be a crazy girl! I make you happy! I run!" And then she proceeded to run circles around our downstairs, checking in on us each lap, all the while telling us, "I be crazy! I make you happy!" And eventually we couldn't help but laugh at our beautiful little girl, trying to cheer us up in her own unique way.
Telling Bryn was harder. We started in to our explanation, but before we got too far, she stopped us and asked bluntly, "Are my doggies dead?" When we had to answer that yes, they were, it was instant waterworks. She kept saying, "But I want them to come back!" And there was nothing we could say except, "I know, baby, we do too," because it was fully true. Eventually she asked us if they were in heaven, and if they were with Jesus. She cried herself to sleep that first night. Honestly, I think we did too.
The next morning, neither of the girls brought it up for the first several hours. I felt like I was walking on eggshells, just waiting for one of them to say something, but we got out the door to our Kindermusik class without any incidents. On the way home, though, out of the blue, Bryn turned to Shay and said, "Our doggies are dead." Shay immediately responded with, "No they're not." I don't know if she was just trying to be contrary, or if she had just forgotten, or if maybe (gulp) Ben and I had never actually used the word "dead" in our explanation of "the doggies going to heaven," but in any case, I had to pull the van over then and there, climb in back with the girl, and explain as gently as possible that yes, in fact, the doggies were dead. And we had to have the whole thing out all over again.
Shay cried. Then Bryn cried. Then I cried. Bryn said she didn't want the doggies to be alone. I pointed out that they were with each other. She said, "No, I mean they need someone to take care of them." Before I could even think of anything to say, sweet little two-year-old Shay chirped, "It okay, Brynie. Jesus takes care of them for us." More waterworks on my part.
Ben and I had always viewed the dogs, not just as pets, but as part of our family, which is why making this decision was so incredibly painful for us. Apparently we passed this mindset on to our kids. Bryn kept talking about how she didn't want our family to be apart. Eventually, she said, "I wish the rest of us could die and go to heaven so our whole family could be together again." I did explain to her that it wasn't time for us to go, but I couldn't help but think that there was something kind of beautiful about this. Four-year-olds aren't afraid of death. Bryn trusts utterly in the fact that she loves God and will be going to heaven to be with Jesus. I don't know at what point people begin to fear and doubt those things, but I'm so glad my precious children aren't there yet.
At any rate, there have been a few more crying spells throughout the week, but the worst ones were those first few days. Bryn has taken to telling everyone she sees that her doggies are dead, and after seeing big sister do this a few times, Shay has started following suit. So if you see us in the next few days, don't be surprised to have the depressing news delivered to you very matter-of-factly. Thank you so much to all the dear friends that have expressed encouragement during this time. We miss our Dag and T very, very much, and we know that it will be a long time before we stop looking over our shoulders for our hairy black shadows.
Go hug your pets. Or your kids. Or if you're lucky enough to have pets and kids that can co-exist happily together, both.
Addendum: On Monday afternoon, when I went in to get Shay from her nap, I found her sitting on her floor. She had her toddler Bible open in front of her, and she was paging through it, looking intensely at the pictures. She looked up at me and said, "Mommy, I askin' Jesus to give my doggies back." So, so sad.