The most troubling thing was how quiet the house had become.
With two kids, six and nine, our home is rarely silent. That was especially true with Stella in the mix, our Shepherd/who-knows-what pound puppy mutt ambling through the house. Stella was always there to stand guard over late night fridge raids and early morning walks, and everything in between.
And now she was gone.
Succumbing to a host of illnesses and general old age, Stella made it to 11 years and then suddenly, she passed away. My wife Kelly and I were hardly prepared. I was certainly in denial as Stella began to slow down, to struggle through her days.
My kids seemed not to notice at all. Now we had left the house that morning with Stella, and we were coming home without her.
Not knowing what to do, or how to break the news, Kelly suggested we find a book or two that might help our children understand what had happened, and give us a way to ease into a conversation none of us wanted to have.
We settled on Saying Goodbye to Lulu, by Corinne Demas, and Remembering Ruby, by Melisa Wells. Both felt age-appropriate for our two avid readers. They've been devouring books since they first learned to read, and our hope was the right ones would help them find comfort and understanding at their own pace.
Most important, these books gave us a way to break through the shock and despair, to show the kids that they certainly were not alone.
It worked. Both books are beautifully written and illustrated, perfect for the kids but in hindsight, perhaps too emotional for me. The thought of coming home from work to find my wife and daughter reading Saying Goodbye to Lulu still shakes me a little. I tried to keep it together, but ultimately had to leave the room so my muffled tears wouldn't interfere.
Kids are strong, surprisingly so. They've come to terms with their loss, though we speak of Stella often and our fridge has become a bit of a shrine of photos and sketches.
Books aren't just a way for your children to leap ahead in school, they're a pathway towards understanding the world around them. When you teach a child to read, it's an incredible gift. Treasure it.
Hopefully the next book we choose will be about the excitement of a new puppy. We can't ever really replace Stella, but we can't stand the quiet either. Suggestions are welcome!