As I’ve said before in prior columns, learning takes many shapes and forms. It doesn’t
always come from books. Some of the most important lessons come from life. Some of life’s
lessons are as simple as shopping and letting your child handle the money for you. Many of the
most important lessons my children have learned have been in the car. There’s nothing as
valuable as a long car ride with nothing else to do but talk. We’ve covered health topics,
manners, tolerance, compassion and many more subjects just talking during long car rides. Then
there are some lessons that aren’t always at the top of our lists. I’m referring to the lessons that
we aren’t jumping up to teach but have to be taught none the less. On December 17, I had to
teach my children about loss, life and death. Being death phobic (if there is such a term) myself,
this wasn’t an easy subject.
On December 17, our beloved chocolate Labrador, Newt, who we had spent ten
wonderful years with, had to be put to sleep. Though he had been ailing since the early summer,
and we had discussed the very real possibility that this would be his last Christmas, his passing
exactly one week before Christmas Eve came as a shock.
When my husband rushed out the door at 4am that Saturday, I had been sure he would be
back hours later with Newt in tow. When he walked back in at 6am alone, I had to deal with my
guilt. Guilt that I had promised my dog he would be back home soon; that everything would be
alright. In turn, my children were awoken so that they could understand that we would have to
return to the vet very soon to “take care of” Newt. Guilt knows no age limits I learned as my
daughter wailed about how she hadn’t said a “good enough” goodbye. Together we cried and
mourned for our loss, our guilt that our goodbyes had been good enough. My husband and I
returned alone to the vet and, as someone would do for their human loved one, held his paws as
he passed from this world to what we hoped would be a better place, just as we all hope when we
lose a loved one who has been sick and in pain for some time.
Though this was one of the hardest things we have ever had to do during our marriage, coming
home to a dog less house and two grieving children was harder.
And this is where our life lessons begin. For the next several days our learning shifted
from books and workbooks to endless conversations and “what ifs”.
One of the most important lessons we learned is that there are no warnings that the end is
coming. I myself spent hours asking myself why I hadn’t realized he was coming to the end. We
all wished we had known that that Saturday was his last day. If we only had had a chance to do
things differently. If only we could have prepared. But as we had learned, many times there’s no
way to know that any day could be the last day for anyone or any pet we love. One lesson we
learned, and one that we have all heard before, is never, ever take anyone we love for granted.
We had been so busy planning for the holidays that we had taken for granted that our Newt
would be a part of them. We have since adopted the mantra to let everyone we love know how
much we love them while they are here. One of the toughest lessons we have learned is about
grieving. For me, especially, I have learned that we all grieve in different ways. While my
daughter and I spent hours with tears spilling from our eyes, my son sat stone faced on the sofa
avoiding our emotional display. In between my tears I worried about his health. Wasn’t it
unhealthy for him to keep it bottled up inside, I worried. But at night I would hear him alone in
his bed sobbing quietly and knew that some people need to be alone to grieve. By day, he was
our brave soldier, a wall to lean on. By night, he braved the heartache and his tears alone.
Yet the largest and most important lesson of all for us was closure. For just like any other
loved one in our lives, we had to decide how to put Newt to his final rest. The year before we had
lost our 15 year old wonderful cat Soxx and it was fitting that he be buried beneath the apple tree
he so loved to conquer and climb. For Newt, because he was a larger pet and had died away from
home, we decided as a family to have his body cremated. We chose a lovely photo urn so that we
could display his picture as we remembered him in life – our happy, loving and faithful
companion. Though he would not be resting under the apple tree with his long time friend Soxx,
cremation offered a way to keep him close by. Though it will never be as good as having him
here to stroke, it gave us all closure knowing his ashes could come back home where they
belonged. The toughest lessons in life, learning how to say good bye and let go, aren’t the easiest
or most pleasant to teach, nor can they come from a textbook. Unfortunately, though, they have
to be learned and what better way than at home, surrounded by the ones we love and share our
In Loving Memory of Newt Lorenzen
~ Catching Frisbees for Us in Heaven~
Listen to an Interview About Homeschooling with Christine Lorensen