6/06/2007

All dogs burn in hell

When I found out that O'Keeffe had been put to sleep, I was trying to deal with it in a clouds and sunshine manner - picturing Keeffe as a revitalised, younger dog running around happily in that mysterious yet blissful place that you convince yourself exists when you're grieving.

Then, out of the recesses of my addled mind I recalled something from my childhood. When I was 13, one of our dogs had to be put to sleep rather suddenly. He was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease one day, and two days later he was dead. An aunt I was really close to died two years before, but due to my age, I wasn't capable of comprehending all the complex thoughts and emotions which accompany the death of someone you love. By the time of the dog's death, I was in a religiously neutral state due to an overpowering need to be anti-establishment. Nonetheless, a belief in the afterlife was something on which I didn't waver. I had to believe there was something, or else each loss in my present and future would be insurmountable. My Mom, a stalwart and unfaltering Presbyterian, kindly informed me that animals didn't have souls, and as such, never went to heaven. Thanks Mom.

Apparently animals, being a lesser species, aren't allowed souls. Otherwise, they would be on the same level as us ever-so-evolved humans, and how could that possibly be? This revelation rocked my fragile world, and drove me to phone a late night radio talk show to seek advice on how to cope. I was a dorky pre-teen and listened to AM talk radio on a nightly basis. I even went to sleep listening to it, as I found it calming for some strange reason. I can't remember what advice I was given, but I do remember that I still felt lost. Since I'm confessing to the nerdiest of pasts, I might as well also add that I couldn't listen to the Bryan Adams song, "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You" for months after the dog's death because it was my favourite new song when he was alive. Who would have guessed that such a strange child would develop into me?

Anyway, this recollection of my Mom's parental miss-step made me think about what The Dude and I would do in such a situation with P. The Dude is a hardcore atheist, not believing that humans have souls, let alone the little furry things. If P. experienced the loss of a pet at a young age, I can't possibly imagine telling her that her dog was dead forever and just rotting in the ground. Thankfully, The Dude agrees with me, so that's one major argument avoided. Children deserve a little less reality and a little more cushioning sometimes.

What have you done, or what would you do in that situation? Pass on your own beliefs, even if they are difficult to deal with? Stuff the family pet and set it within a dazzling tableau vivant? What?

9 comments:

Rachel said...

My parents are anti-religion, but they believe in ghosts and stuff. It's hard not to, when the house they live in is stuffed full of ghosts and things that rattle the dishes and turn lights on and off. So I don't believe in a heaven, per se, but I think there is something else after we leave these bodies we're in. I'm pretty sure my paternal grandfather watches over me. I don't remember my parents ever actually discussing death with me, though.

When the time comes, we'll probably explain it to Jillian as best we can without doing the "Grandma's sleeping" thing that so many people tend to do. I guess it's one of those things that you have to just wing it.

electriclady said...

Hm, I have no idea what I'll do. I don't particularly believe in an afterlife, but it seems cruel to tell a child otherwise. I don't remember my parents ever discussing death with me, either--all but one of my grandparents died before I was born, and by the time someone else I knew passed away I was in high school.

The other day my husband was lobbying for us to get a kitten--our cat is 10 years old, and his reasoning is that by the time she dies, Bat Girl will be old enough to understand, and maybe having another cat will cushion the blow.

My friend's little boy (age 4) has seen all the Lord of the Rings movies, so when her grandmother died and he started asking questions, they used a LotR analogy to explain it to him (sailing into the West or some such).

May said...

My family is a complicated mass of lapsed and/or fervent Catholics, secular Jews, stray Buddhists, and adamantine atheists. So arguments about Hell and souls very much dinner-table fare. I lost my own fledgling Catholic faith pretty quickly - when I was nine, my kitten died, and I was told it was only a cat, had no soul, and was more or less a broken machine. I was NOT happy. Luckily, a very granola knit-your-own-yoghurt aunt of mine explained to me that though there is no Heaven and Hell, all things that live are part of the same universal soul, and when they die they go back to it, like a drop of water falling back into the ocean, where nothing is ever alone, or misunderstood, ever again, and all is togetherness and light.

I don't exactly believe it now, having fallen into the clutches of the adamantine atheists camp, but it was very comforting at the time, much more so than 'only humans have souls, and yours is going to roast forever next time you fight with your sister'. In fact, it's still comforting. Dang, I'm softening.

cat said...

Pet cemetery all the way for us. I have been saving my beloved kitty's ashes for a tree in our backyard. He will be honored as will our current furball and all the ones after. It's not so much that we believe there is an after life it has more to do with returning the genetic material to the earth so it can start the cycle of life again. Those ashes will give life to the tree and everything that lives in and under and around the tree. In a way perhaps it is an after life or then again maybe a very kind of rebirth.

Thalia said...

Our family pets didn't die until I was in my teens. I was very sad, but I had no need to think of them in heaven, we just cherished their memories. So I guess perhaps it depends on what kind of person P is. I haven't got round to thinking about what we'd do with our putative child...

But also had to comment that I also fell asleep listening to london's version of talk radio. I found it very comforting - but was also an insomniac so I listened to rather a lot of it!

fisher queen said...

First of all, dogs have souls. ! How could they not? look into those eyes. God or no, dogs (and people) have souls.

My opinion at least.

I don't think kids should be lied to or have things sugar coated for them. It only leads to disappointment and anger later on. Are the Dude's views really as bleak as you make them sound? Would it be possible to say something like we return to the energy that we came from? Too flaky? Too obtuse? I guess it also depends on how old the child is when you have the conversation.

Hmmm. A good question.

Alexa said...

Hmmm...Scott and I have had this conversation as well. I think we will end up doing something like what Cat said, but I don't know. I am going to lose my shit when my cat Lennie dies, so I will probably be too busy rending my garments to do much explaining to a hypotehtical child. Of course if I leave it up to Scott he will go all Christopher Hitchens and scare the poor (hypothetical) child half to death.

tonya said...

We have unfortunately had this conversation with our daughter too many times in her short life.... lost a beloved dog, lost a great-grandma, lost a grandpa. [sigh] When she was 3, it was much simpler, "her body just stopped working, it was too sick and there was no way to make her better again." And lots of comforting when the tears come (they still do). With the recently dead humans (sorry if that sounds crass), and now that she's almost 5, it's more of a conversation about the physical body stopping, but the spirit/personality that animated the body being free now, no longer tied to the body in pain.

I also believe in the 'returning to earth/cycle of life' metaphor, so we went with that. Someone at preschool introduced her to the whole "in heaven" concept, and while we don't believe that, we did not contradict it per se. I just spun it by saying that she can look up at the stars and think of those she misses, and they can hear her, and can always send her love in return.

Hard concepts to simplify for kids, but you'll find what works best for you. Just stay true to your beliefs, because she'll sniff out an untruth in a heartbeat. ;-)

rockmama said...

I have to admit, I like the "drop falling back into the ocean" metaphor. I may have to half-inch that for explaining it to the Prawn, as we are not, in any way, religious.

Something related- When I first arrived in the UK and met my husband's extended family, his late Aunt, who was a little funny, told us that one of the dogs had just died and that she was in a casket up in the bedroom. I spent the rest of the visit with a supreme case of the willies, imagining a dead dog in a coffin upstairs. However, on the way home I was informed that a "casket", in UK speak, was an urn that holds ashes. Phew.