A couple of Sundays ago we decided to skip church. My son, Jack, was getting over strep.
My husband, Matt, was trying to recover from some bug he has yet to get over.
Our dog, Leia, was sick. And I was tired.
Jack envisioned a morning of video games.
Matt envisioned a nap.
I envisioned coffee and the Sunday paper.
My nine-year-old daughter, Amélie, envisioned church at home. She planned the service, lined up chairs in our dining room, and gave us all pieces of paper with instructions. We took turns reading until we had finished the book of Jonah. She read an illustrated version of the story to her five-year-old brother, and then she asked us questions about the text. I then read the day’s selection from the book, Bringing Lent Home with Mother Teresa, and we all wrote or drew pictures on the flowers and leaves for our Easter tree. We wrote out things we were thankful for on the flowers: for snow days, for family, for our fireplace. We wrote our prayer requests on the leaves: for more snow days, for mom to have another baby (NO!), for our dog Leia’s sick tummy.
Then we finished up our church service by gathering around the piano and singing the old hymns “Blessed Assurance” and “Day by Day.” It was lovely. It was beautiful. My heart swelled with love for my sweet family.
We had a beautiful day, a sweet blessing tucked in the middle of trying to live out the Lenten season—to live out life—with grace and meaning.
What I didn’t know that morning is that in just a few days our two-year-old dog would be dead from an obstruction. I also didn’t know that as Matt told Amélie the news she would collapse on the couch and wail, “But she was my baby!” and “How could God let this happen?”
Good question. How could God let this happen?
As Amélie’s mama, and as a person in her life entrusted to help guide her to faith, I was, and still am, echoing those same cries.
Since that morning eleven days ago, I have tried to talk to her about Leia’s death and about God and about faith. I have tried to affirm her need to question God—even to be mad at God. On the day that Leia died, I remember sitting on the couch with Amélie and thinking to myself, “God is big enough to handle her doubt.” And it’s true—I do believe that God is big enough to handle her doubts and questions—and to handle mine. I want her to hang on to her faith, and I want to hang on to mine, but I will admit that my faith is hanging onto a rather tenuous thread at the moment.
As a writer here for Practicing with Children, I am ashamed to confess to you that since that day we have abandoned family Lenten readings and that after that last prayer – the one for our sick puppy—wasn’t answered, we have yet to add any more leaves or flowers to our Easter tree.
I feel like I should come up with three easy steps for dealing with children and grief.
I feel like I should lie and tell you all about the blessings that have arisen out of Leia’s death and how we see God’s plan in this loss.
I feel like we should be handling this loss with loads of grace and faith.
But, in truth, we are sort of a mess.
It’s silly, probably, to be a family in the midst of a faith crisis after losing a dog. It seems like such drama should be reserved for a bigger loss.
But here we are—Matt and Jill and Amélie and Jack. We are confused and tear-stained and sad. We will be OK. I know we will. I will patch up my faith. Amélie will too. Jack will quit asking bizarre questions about death. We will tape more leaves and flowers on our Easter Tree. We will find joy in Spring. We will heal.
…but in the meantime, we miss you, Leia Lou.
What about you? How do you deal with loss and children? With loss and your own faith? — Jill Clingan