Our tribe finished the year on a bittersweet note, saying to goodbye to our lovely, cuddly, always slobbery, furry friend Ellie.
Ellie has been part of my family for nine years, before my little tribe came on to the scene, arriving as a tiny little bundle of black fuzzy Newfoundland fur. She was the lovely Big A’s dog, and from the beginning her heart belonged to him. That tiny little bundle of fur grew to be a beautiful dog of larger than life proportions. Weighing in at a rather hefty 70 kilos, Ellie lived large, and attracted attention wherever we went. She was at heart always a playful puppy, blissfully unaware of her size, and often bowling people over in an effort to get another pat or make friends. We referred to Ellie as our fur-child, and spent many hours walking with her, playing with her and our other fur-child Charlie the Wonderdog at dog parks, making new dog-loving friends along the way.
Then Big A and I had our tribe, and Ellie was there with us. Incredibly gentle, she ambled around, taking care not to knock over any littlies along the way. Ok, so maybe once or twice she drooled on the kids, and stole the odd snack here or there, but on the whole she was a gentle member of our family.
My little tribe all spent time lying with Ellie, telling her stories, stroking her fur and giving her love. She made the mammoth trek across Australia to our new home on the west coast, then across the world to France with us. When it snowed last year in our village, Ellie was in seventh heaven, contentedly rolling in the fresh fall. There were tears from everyone when we left France and Ellie and Charlie the Wonderdog headed off for long stay in quarantine.
Over the years, Ellie has given us lots of love and laughs, with bucket-loads of drool. She taught the kids how to love and respect animals, about responsibility and now her final lesson for us is dealing with grief and loss.
The day Ellie passed away was a tough one for Big A and I. We said goodbye to Ellie in our lounge room, careful to keep the tribe away for her final moments. Then in hushed tones we tried to work out how to tell them what had happened. Seeking advice from a couple of different places and spaces and thinking about how each of our little tribe is wired, we sat them down and told them what had happened.
Grief is a peculiar affair. You never know how you will cope with something until you are in that moment. I think the same can be said for your children, you don’t really know how they will handle something until they are in the moment.
For our tribe we tried to be honest, and true to how we felt. This was not the time to ‘keep your chin up’ and ‘be a man’. In simple words, I explained that Ellie was a very old dog for her kind, she was very sick, and she had died earlier that day.
We had chosen not to say ‘gone to sleep’ or ‘gone away’, instead we chose the more raw honest version of the truth.
We let the tears flow, and offered lots of cuddles and let each know it was ok to cry, ok to feel sad, and ok to talk about it. Watching their little faces crumble with the emotional pain and grief that came was excruciating.
My heart ached in that moment.
Was it the right decision to tell the truth and allow them to grieve?
Would it have been easier on everyone to just tell a half-truth and spare them the inevitable pain that comes when you lose someone you love?
A few days have passed since we said our final goodbyes to Ellie, and on reflection I think we made the right decision.
My little tribe is still grieving for Ellie, and we all still shed tears some days. Captain Jack collected some of her woolly fur and some ‘special marbles’ from the rug where Ellie lay when we said goodbye to her. He has decided part of her ‘heart and soul’ went in there, so he carries them each day, a simple memento of his time with Ellie. The littlest of the tribe aren’t quite old enough to comprehend yet, asking if she will come back. There have been a lot of questions about life, death and getting old. Charlie the Wonderdog has been given a lot of extra love as the tribe think she misses her sister, and needs to know how much we love her.
So, I think giving the kids a chance to grieve was the right thing to do. Though it broke my heart and theirs, I think we have all learnt something.
How to deal with losing someone you love.
How to appreciate the loved ones in your life.
How to support each other when you are feeling sad or down.
We will always love you Ellie, and miss you every day.
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