Monday night, tonight, marks one week since my parents had to make the decision to put their/our dog down. To write that it was a difficult decision, feels like a cliché, but it was. Even though Uncle Calvin, as Miss Q and Miss S knew him, was an old dog, at 14, or 98 in human years, we still felt we had months or even a year or two left with him eight days ago at Sunday dinner, not hours.
But the vet had found suspicious lumps on his spleen and liver, and he had a bad hip, and Addison’s Disease and then he fell on my parents’ balcony. Once he got to his feet, my mum had to carry him up and down the stairs so he could do his business… not an easy feat when your dog is a Malamut/Lab X. In short, the cards were not stacked in his favour.
My husband and I had a brief conversation about telling Miss Q and Miss S about Uncle Calvin’s death. We both figured they wouldn’t really care, to put it bluntly. They saw Uncle Calvin at least once a week, and their interaction was minimal.
So on Tuesday morning after both the littles awoke, I decide to pull no punches. ”I have some sad news about Uncle Calvin,” I told them. Miss S wasn’t paying attention, but Miss Q’s eyes were giant. ”He died last night.” There was suddenly a catch in the air, and I realized I should have read up on how to break the news to kids about death. So I feebly tried to soften the atmosphere with, “That’s pretty sad, eh?”
Miss Q started nodding, then said, “I bet Granny is pretty sad that Uncle Calvin won’t be barking at her,” and burst into tears.
This was not what my husband and I had surmised. As I hugged them, I felt like I was trying to swim up from the bottom of the ocean. This was uncharted territory for sure, and I didn’t want to scar them. I tried to recall my child psychology courses, and when I couldn’t think of anything brilliant to say, I waited to see what they’d tell me.
And then I couldn’t wait. ”Do you want to see some pictures I have of Uncle Calvin as a puppy?” Yes, diversion, and yes, it worked. We scampered to the bedroom to find the album.
Uncle Calvin was a handsome puppy. Black and white, I remember taking him to Willow’s Beach, and having people flock to us, oohing and ahhing over his coat and all over adorable demeanor. One woman told me she couldn’t wait to see what he’d look like all grown up. We never saw her again, but grown up he looked pretty handsome too – even with his goofy underbite.
Those who visited my parents’ house were greeted by Uncle Calvin’s commanding barks, a great intruder deterrent, but a stressful habit. Once inside he was a gentle giant, only really noticed by his Walter the Farting Dog-esq ways..
And so, the littles and I moved from looking through pictures of Uncle Calvin, to drawing pictures of him.
Throughout the morning, Miss Q asked questions, like if Gramps took Uncle Calvin to the doctor and what does death mean. I kept my answers honest, and biological. It’s amazing how a complex question like what it means to be dead, becomes concrete when you use biology.
You could see Miss Q trying to piece together the events. It turns out she knew Uncle Calvin wasn’t doing very well because Granny had told her as much when they were at swimming lessons the day before.
In one breath, Miss Q would say, “I bet Granny and Gramps need cheering up,” then in another she’d get weepy, or mad at Miss S who kept on nodding and saying, “Uncle Calvin is at Granny and Gramps.”
Now, a week later, though they don’t ask about Uncle Calvin, I know he still flits in and out of their minds. Uncle Calvin was a member of our family, and you never forget family.