The Gift of Grief : Processing Loss with Kids in Foster Care

Losing our family dog reminds us that the gift of grief is found in the ways it strengthens our bond and allows us to model healthy grieving.

A Tribute 

Our family recently had to make the difficult decision to put our sweet dog Maddie down. I shared a short tribute attempting to summarize the impact she had on my life, my marriage, and our fostering journey :

/ / how lucky i am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard / / 

On October 4th, 2018, we met our sweet Maddie Joy. We fell in love with a photo of her and in the midst of our infertility, miscarriages, and pain we brought her home. Our lives have never been the same. 

I know everyone says this about their dog, but Maddie was the BEST. We’ve never had a crate. She was not a barker in the ways that just drive you nuts. She was just loyal and snuggly while being protective and empathetic. All she wanted was to be near to the people she loved. Even people that did not like dogs would eventually succumb to Maddie. She was just that dog. 

She was rescued out of abuse and neglect and ended up rescuing us. Even though she was already 7 years old, she was our first baby. 

When we said yes to fostering we knew so much would change for Maddie. The first week was hard. We didn’t know what to do. But she gave us the gift of accepting she wasn’t first anymore. She sat back while our lives changed and just loved us through it. On chaotic days when I felt like I did the bare minimum to care for her she’d climb into bed at the end of the day and just sink into me, just cherishing that space and time to snuggle her people. 

Over time, she let her walls down and one by one connected with the kiddos. She’d snuggle next to them during movie nights and allow their not-always-gentle petting. 

When baby girl joined our family her protective momma bear came out. She’d sleep with her head over baby’s legs and watch intently while she cried to make sure she was okay. 

Over the last week she’s made it clear she was ready to go. Even in her last moments, she fought for the sake of those that love her. She fought through her tiredness as we waited for the kids to come home from camp so they could say goodbye. Even today, as they gave her the sedative, she fought to keep her eyes on us until they gave her a second dose to ease her into rest. 

Our hearts are shattered. We will miss her so much in the big and little things. At 13 years old it was her time to go, but you’re never ready to say goodbye to something that has had such an impact on your life…

The Gift of Grief

Like so many things in life, the pain of losing our sweet old girl is mixed with joys and gifts we couldn’t have expected. Unfortunately, something that is all too common for kids in foster care is a lack of closure in their loss. Things happen so fast. The kids don’t know when or if they will see loved ones again. Not getting to say goodbye is devastating.

Our two older kids were leaving for an overnight camp when we noticed something was wrong with Maddie. After they left, we quickly got a vet appointment where we received the diagnosis. We knew then that we needed to do what we could to keep her comfortable until the kids got home and could say a proper goodbye. They’d grown attached to our dog over the 16+ months in our home. She was theirs too. 

It’s like our dog knew, and hung on for the kiddos. It was heartbreaking and hard, but oh so good for their little hearts. When they got home and we were able to tell them, they cried and snuggled her. Each child took a few minutes themselves to talk to her and say goodbye. We talked about happy memories and gave Maddie extra treats. After she was gone we leaned into each other in our sadness. They leaned into us and watched my husband and I lean into each other. We know this is nothing in comparison to the loss of any significant person in a child’s life. However, this experience allowed us to model grief and loss in a healthy way. It was one more gift our dog gave us even in her passing. 

It’s been almost a week now and the kids are doing well. They’ll make comments occasionally but the space was given to say goodbye and provide closure which allows them to move forward. My husband and I are still struggling, but watching the kids brings so much healing. It’s like a little piece of all of them grew up a little, touched in yet another way by loss. However, this time they had control over their goodbyes and we’re forever thankful for that. 

We will continue to fight for what is best for them and provide healthy closure if and when it is ever appropriate and possible. Sometimes it’s not, and for that we are thankful for a team of professionals to walk with them as they process their feelings. Either way, our recent experience reminded me of the many ways in which this fostering journey has made me see the positives in otherwise difficult seasons. They bring opportunities for us to build connections with the kids and model healthy coping mechanisms in the trials that we face. 

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