Love, Loss, and Youth

Photo by Gratisography on

The other morning my son and I went upstairs to feed our bunny together as we do every morning.  Some days it’s a carrot and some parsley, some days it’s just the carrot.  The rabbit had been sick lately, dealing with what we believe was cancer, so I always thought out what I needed to bring for him to eat.  He had just recently started eating the carrots again so I figured we would bring up his treat.  I had warned my son and husband I didn’t know how long he had, and I wanted him to be happy and comfortable.  When we opened the door that morning, I immediately saw he was no longer with us, his sweet little body laid out in the cage.  I tried to shield my son from it, quickly shooing him out of the room, but I didn’t move fast enough.

He immediately shrieked, “Is he dead?!”  I don’t want to lie to my child about these things so I told him, “Yes, honey.”  Naturally my son lost it and cried and started running around trying to expend some of the grief he felt in his own body until he threw himself on the couch.  I told him that I’m here and it’s ok and I knew he was hurting so much.  I didn’t try to comfort him as far as, “We knew he was going to go,” or anything like that because, even though I was “prepared” for the death, it still shocked me.  I felt helpless watching my son react like that.  We will get into this more later, but I have my own issues with death, so that’s why I tried to shield him from it, and also because there are still facets I don’t know how to explain to him. 

I called my husband and let him know that the rabbit was gone and I explained the situation, telling him initially that I had tried to keep our son from it.  As I was telling this to him, I heard my son cry in the background, “I saw his eyes!”  My heart dropped as I was reminded of my own first experience with death (more to come on that) and I remember the confusion.  I felt sick.  I don’t want to make death a weird thing for my son because it is a natural part of life, but I didn’t want him to experience it this soon.  Clearly, I have no control over that, and even though I was prepared for losing the rabbit, I wasn’t totally prepared to find him like that.  I try to be with my animals when they transition and I was going to try and work that out with my child.

With death being a natural part of life living alongside youth, it makes it hard to explain the dichotomy to children.  They have no clue that all life ends.  Youth is the perpetual energy machine with no end in sight, always invincible.  My son saw the rabbit alive the day before, not fully understanding that he truly was sick, and then he woke up to him dead.  They don’t understand what that cycle is.  I guess at the end of the day, I don’t really know what that cycle is either.  But seeing my son’s heart break this early broke my own with it.  I know it isn’t something we can hide from our children forever, I’ve experienced that as well on my own journey.  But I understand it differently now: I can’t prevent the hurt but I can be there with my son through it.  And that is love in a nutshell: the ability to be there through something uncomfortable or painful or even joyous.  If I can help my son understand that much, then I am happy.

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