We had a heartbreaking conversation with our kids tonight.
It was about our friends' dog, Toby. Toby lived in the house behind us, but we loved him like he was our own. If the gate to our backyard was ever open, you could be sure to find Toby.
Toby was attacked by a dog in his front yard Friday night. We were in our backyard and went running when we heard the screams. Chris and John took him to an emergency animal clinic. After helping Angie calm the girls down, I took my girls home and put them in the bathtub.
Ann Catherine peppered me with questions as I bathed her that night. What happened to Toby? Why did he get hurt? Would he be okay? She couldn't stop thinking about him.
I was honest with the girls and told them Toby was hurt badly. But I told them that he was with the animal doctor, who was going to try and help him.
The next morning when Ann Catherine woke up, she asked me if she could draw a picture for Toby. She drew him, Maura Kate and Celia and wrote "get well soon" at the bottom.
That morning at breakfast, I told the girls that when we said the blessing we needed to pray for Toby. Lily Baker went first and asked God to "please fix Toby." Ann Catherine asked God to help Toby "because Maura Kate loves him so much and wherever Maura Kate goes, Toby goes." It was so sincere and so simple. God must love to hear the prayers of children.
Toby started doing better, and we thought he was going to be okay. But when we got home from Bible study last night, Angie texted me that Toby had passed away. We were heartbroken. The girls were in bed asleep and we wondered how we would tell them.
This morning Lily Baker was playing with her Silly Bandz bracelet, which was a doggie. She told me it was Toby. "He's at the animal doctor, Mommy," she said. My heart hurt as I remembered that she had no idea that Toby was gone.
I called Chris to tell him and we agreed we would tell the girls after dinner. As we sat down to eat, Lily Baker asked if she could say the blessing. "Momma, I want to pray for Toby," she said. Chris and I just looked at each other and I told her that was fine. "Dear God, please help Toby feel better," she began. It just never occurred to her that Toby wouldn't get better.
We ate our dinner and when the girls were finished, we told them we needed to talk to them about something.
"Girls, you remember how Toby got hurt the other night?" I asked. They nodded. "And you remember how we prayed that God would help the animal doctor fix Toby? Well, the doctor tried but he just couldn't fix Toby."
Their eyes widened as if they knew exactly what I was going to say.
"So Toby went to Heaven," I gently explained.
Ann Catherine just stared at me. But Lily Baker - oh, Lily Baker. She lowered her head and her bottom lip began to tremble. When she looked up at me, she had tears in her eyes.
"Mommy, does that mean I won't get to pet Toby again?" she asked as those tears began to multiply. The question was beautiful, innocent, sincere and absolutely gut-wrenching. For the first time in her short life, she was faced with the realization that someone she loved was gone and wasn't coming back.
Have you ever watched your child struggle with pain? It was one of the saddest things I have ever seen.
I began to cry, and I looked at Chris for guidance. Tears were streaming down his face. "Toby's gone, baby," he said quietly to Lily Baker.
"But, I loved Toby!" she said. "He was the best dog in the entire world." And she put her head down and began to cry.
"Come here, baby," Chris said and she ran into his arms. He loved her while she cried.
I realized that something good had to come out of this.
"Girls?" I asked. "What do we know about Heaven?"
"Melissa's there!" Ann Catherine said. And just like that, Lily Baker got a big smile on her face.
"And it's a wonderful place, right?" I asked.
"Yes!" they both answered.
"Maybe Toby's floating on a big cloud!" Lily Baker said.
"Maybe he's met my angels," Ann Catherine said.
And they both ran to the window and began to look at the sky. I think they were looking for Toby.
Lily Baker wanted to take Ann Catherine's get well card to Maura Kate and Celia. It was raining, but that couldn't stop her. She put on her raincoat and Chris walked her to their house. She handed the girls the picture and Chris said, "Lily Baker, can you tell the girls where Toby is?"
She didn't say Heaven.
She said, "With Melissa."
I learned two things tonight. First of all, teaching a child about death - any death, whether it's human or animal - is hard.
Secondly, my girls are so completely comfortable with the idea of Heaven. Because of Melissa's death, they've been exposed to talk of Heaven more than most other kids their age.
In their eyes, if Melissa's there, why wouldn't it be wonderful?!
Before bed tonight, we talked again about Toby. I told them that Melissa had seen how much they loved playing with Toby and she was so happy to be able to finally play with him. Chris asked the girls if they thought Toby was licking Melissa's toes in Heaven and they got a big kick out of that.
It was nice to finally laugh.