It has taken me a long time to write this one. I thought I would write it pretty quickly after Bea died, while the lesson of the book and my sons’ reactions to it were fresh in my mind. But I couldn’t. I’m not sure I am ready yet, but as I mentioned in my post about my Passion Planner, writing has always been about reflecting for me. So I’m hopeful this post will help me reflect and grieve just the way the book helped my sons right after Bea was gone.
Obviously, I am a huge proponent of using books to help kids learn lessons. One of the most important and hardest lessons for a kid to have to learn is how to say goodbye. We are not a religious family, so I did some research about books that do not mention religion or heaven but still show kids that it is helpful to remember, think about, and even talk to loved ones after they are gone. Saying Goodbye to Lulu is the book we chose to help our boys say goodbye to our beloved dog, Bea.
Just a little about Bea and her role in our family before I get to the book. My husband and I have been together for 14 1/2 years. We had Bea for nearly 12 of those years. We met as juniors in college, graduated, moved in to an apartment together, started our jobs, got engaged, and got a dog. She was 2 years old when we got her, so she was still puppy enough to get in some trouble (she ate a few books, a few towels, a few shoes, and half a family-sized bag of dark chocolate M&Ms! in that first year), but she was old enough to be potty-trained and able to roam our apartment without too many issues when we were gone all day, so she was PERFECT for us.
We got married and moved into our first house when Bea was 3. But we did not have our oldest son until she was already 7 years old (they actually shared a birthday!). He did not really notice and want to play with her until she was about 10, the same year our youngest was born. Neither of the boys really knew her as a young, fun, pup. Although this always made me a little sad, I now see it as a blessing in disguise. They loved her, but their first experience with real loss was not as tragic as it could have been. They felt it and got to understand the feeling, but in a gentler way.
And of course, the book helped us to talk about those feelings. In Saying Goodbye to Lulu, the main character, a young girl, sees that Lulu is deteriorating, just as our boys did with Bea. She is not able to get up and walk around as much as she used to, she starts to lose her sight and her hearing, and she needs much more help from the girl to do the things she used to do.
Actually, I wish I had read the book to the boys before Bea was gone. I didn’t really think about it applying then, but after reading it, I think it would have helped even more. I think it would have prepared them more for what was coming and reminded them that they should take the chance to tell her how much they loved her. But even afterwards, it was definitely helpful.
The book did a great job of explaining the circle of life. One of the things that helps comfort the little girl in the story is when her mom shows her pictures of Lulu as a puppy and explains that she needed the same kind of care as a newborn that she needs now at the end of her life. She couldn’t see or get around on her own then either. Another thing that helps her is talking with her mom about all the wonderful things Lulu did when she was healthy and looking at pictures of those moments too. After reading the book, that is what we did as well.
Although we didn’t have Bea as a true puppy, we looked at pictures of when she was young, pictures of her loving on the boys when they were young, pictures of us playing with her, and pictures of just her and her adorable face. We talked about how we as a family were able to give her so much love and such a good life. We talked about how we got her from the Humane Society of Indianapolis where someone who was not as able to take care of her had dropped her off. I even told my oldest about the scars she had from a fight she had been in with another dog before she was dropped off. We also talked about how much love she gave us. How we would miss her coming to the door when we got home, how we would miss her playful growl when we pulled on her rope, how we would miss being able to give her a hug when we were sad. Then we cried.
The tears did not last long, but they truly did help us all to feel better. As I often say to the boys, sometimes it feels good to cry.
For my 3 1/2 yo, the book honestly helped him to realize that Bea was gone. He did not really know the word dead before this, and when the girl in the story goes to visit the dog in the grass where she is buried, he truly started to understand. He still looks at me sometimes, with his sweet, wide eyes, and says, “Mommy, I miss Bea Dog.” I tear up every time and say, “I know. I do too.” Then he gets the very serious look of a kid who is trying to comprehend and says, “She’s dead, right Mommy?” And I remind him that, yes, she is dead, but it is still nice to think about her once in a while. Then we hug, he goes on with his day, and I usually go cry in another room for a while and remind myself to enjoy his beautiful innocence as long as I can.
The book also inspired us to plan what we want to do to remember Bea. We are going to make a stone for her and put it in our backyard once school is out. We want a place to look at to remind us of her wonderful spirit. The girl in the book planted a tree, which we may even do as well, but the boys said they really wanted to make something for her, so that is what we plan to do.
Our family is not ready to get another dog yet, so we did skip a few pages at the end of the book. After the girl in the story is finally able to say goodbye to Lulu, the authors graciously put in a few pictures of her so you can easily stop reading there. But the next couple of pages show the girl getting a new puppy and telling him that even though he isn’t Lulu, she loves him too. If you are reading because your family is in the same situation, I wanted to mention those pages and the fact that they are easy to skip if you want to. If you are planning to get a new puppy soon, they would be great to go ahead and read because they would help your kiddos see that it is okay to love their new puppy as well.
While I miss Bea every day, the hardest times are when I am alone in the house and I am truly there alone. Those moments when she does not come around the corner to see what I am doing or lay at my feet when I am washing the dishes or folding the laundry are definitely the toughest. But then the house fills with boys again and I am reminded that those boys helped her live a full and happy life.
Inside the back cover of the book, the author’s note explains how they hope the book has helped kids to deal with loss. They suggest that maybe, especially with older kids, writing about their pet would help them to begin to cope as well. They also mention a website to visit for more tips on coping with the loss of a pet: https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/general-pet-care/end-life-care . I am not sure if that site has changed over the years, but it seemed more about technical issues surround the end of life than emotional ones. I did also read this article in The New York Times, which I found much more helpful: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/08/well/family/when-a-pet-dies-helping-children-through-the-worst-day-of-their-lives.html
Here is the link to Saying Goodbye to Lulu by Corinne Demas on Amazon.
As always, thank you for reading. Let me know in the comments below or on one of my social media posts if you know of any other books to help kids deal with the loss of a pet. I am sure my readers would love to hear about them.