Watching a child at the end of their life is one of the hardest and most painful things to witness as an adult, with many mixed emotions that come in waves as you know you are reaching the time to say goodbye. With no way of knowing when the end will be, the days and nights are long and filled with people coming and going; health professionals, family and friends. It’s a very confusing time that adults struggle with. Grief affects everyone differently and there is no right or wrong way to deal with it.
Now imagine being a small child, watching quietly as they know their sibling is soon going to die. Seeing mummy and daddy being upset, very often this is the first time they have seen their parents really cry. They often have to be cared for by family members, friends or professionals there to support the family; this is normally their first experience of death. There are so many questions these children have but often find it hard to understand their own emotions and find it hard to open up. They will often say “I have to be brave”. Children have an amazing ability to be wiser than their years during these times but they don’t really understand the full magnitude of what is going on around them.
Working with Mabel and families going through this I have seen first hand the amazing impact a dog can have for not only the children but the family as a whole. Amongst all the pain and sadness Mabel provides a welcome distraction from the uncertainty they are facing. Mabel is a wonderful cuddle buddy and will sit for long periods of time being held/cuddled by the
children and they will tell her all about themselves. It provides the most wonderful outlet for them to tell Mabel how they are feeling and shows the children it is still ok to smile, laugh and be happy even when you are also upset and sad.
It is during this time when listening to what they are saying to Mabel that I can learn their fears, their hopes, where they need additional support. Talking through what is going to happen, different emotions, what it might be like at the end. One particular time, when sitting with a child he was busy telling Mabel all about his brother, how he was unwell and would be going to heaven soon. Throughout his brother’s illness he had been amazing; he understood why mummy & daddy were unable to play with him as much and why different people were looking after him etc. He was open about his feelings and on the surface seemed to be coping well. Suddenly he began to cry,- something he hadn’t done until this point – he turned to Mabel and asked her “What am I going to do when I need to give my brother a cuddle but he is in heaven?”. Until that moment no one was aware this was his biggest worry. Time with Mabel was then spent making a very special teddy, which we dressed in some special accessories made out of his brother’s clothes so that whenever he needed a cuddle from his brother he could cuddle his teddy, whom he named “Mabel”.
When the time had come to say goodbye to his brother he told Mabel he was worried about going
into his brothers room as he was now so unwell, but he really wanted to go and see him. He asked if Mabel could go with him and together they went to see his brother. He told his brother all aboutMabel who decided to curl up on the bed. The child decided he wanted to join her and the siblings lay cuddling together with Mabel beside them. The child (and his family’s) final memories of his brother were not ones of worry but just two brothers cuddling and the child telling him about Mabel the dog.
Not only has Mabel provided support for the children but she has been there for the parents too.
When they have sat in their child’s room for hours feeling too scared to leave their child side, Mabel has happily let them take her for a small walk around the grounds of the hospice, giving the parents a reason to take a few moments for themselves without feeling guilty that they are thinking of themselves. Those moments of being in the fresh air, thinking of something different or even playing a game of fetch with Mabel and their other child has done so much for their wellbeing.
People can encourage parents to take a short break but often they will not. Mabel however will look at them with her big brown eyes and they will sit and talk to her, stroke her and walk with her. As people we tend to want to make things better, in these situations you can’t, but a dog doesn’t try to do anything other than give unconditional love. Mabel has helped so many children dealing with grief and all the emotions that come with it. She helps them talk through difficult situations and allows the child to open up and ask lots of questions and stays by their side as they grieve their loved ones.