Catholic Adoptive Parenting Columnist Heidi Hess Saxton
Catholic Mom Columns
“Playing Fetch with Jesus”
only thing worse than finding my nine-year-old border
collie reduced to a bloody clump of blood and gore was the
prospect of telling my son that he had lost his best
friend. My husband and I made a pact: He would bury Missy,
I would explain to the kids what had happened.
Craig courageously fulfilled his unsavory task while I
removed the crate from its usual place in the dining room
and tucked away her food and water dishes. Then it was
time to pick up the kids from school.
They noticed immediately. “Where is Missy?” asked
four-year-old Sarah. “What did you do with her house?”
Christopher wanted to know.
“It’s time for a talk, kids.” I led them to the couch,
trailed by Craig.
“A serious talk, Mommy?” Christopher asked.
“Yes, honey. Do you remember what I told you about when
someone dies, how the body is like a Christmas package –
we set aside the outside and keep the real present on the
Christopher’s chin began to quiver.
“Well, today there was an accident. Missy was hit by a
truck so hard that she died. It happened very quickly … so
quickly, in fact, that I’m sure she didn’t even know what
happened.” I had not seen the accident that took her life,
but her remains had told the story. “Daddy buried her body
in the backyard. But the part of her we love the best …
her personality and her love and her sense of fun, that
part is chasing rabbits in heaven, and playing ‘fetch’
Theologically speaking, I knew I might be on shaky ground.
Animals do not possess the same kind of rational soul,
imprinted with the divine image, as we do; therefore, we
cannot know for sure whether they share our eternal home
after their demise. Scripture is silent on the subject.
However, since animals cannot choose sin, neither do they
need salvation as we do – and it is not unreasonable to
think that God in His goodness would include in heaven all
those means by which His love was expressed on earth. Man
and animals lived side by side in that first garden
paradise, so it may be that they share our heavenly home
as well. Time will tell.
Meanwhile, four broken hearts at our house sorely needed
comfort. Sarah dissolved in tears when she saw her brother
crying, but moments later asked if we could have another
dog and toddled off to see Cinderella. Christopher was
inconsolable. Over and over he asked to see his dog, and
wanted us to retell the details of the story. Finally he
wailed and flung himself into my lap. “This hurts worse
than when I lost my birthparents!”
It was December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
As we read the first reading together – about the downfall
of our first parents, and the promise of the Redeemer – I
explained that God’s heart hurt, too, when death entered
the world along with all the other consequences of sin:
pain and ignorance and the tendency to make bad choices.
“That bad truck driver made a bad choice, and I hate him!”
“We all make bad choices, honey.” (I was thinking about
the bad choice I had made that morning to let Missy out on
our three-acre lawn for her morning constitutional while I
got the kids ready for school.) “But I’m sure the person
in the truck didn’t want to hurt Missy. Right now he’s
probably feeling sad that he accidentally killed such a
beautiful animal. We need to pray for him, too.”
Clearly, for Christopher Missy was more than a pet. She
represented a kind of permanence and unconditional love he
had never experienced in his short life – not even from us
(unlike me, Missy never got cross with him or sent him to
his room, even when he threw gravel in her eyes). Missy
was always ready to play with him when he came home from
school, and when we returned from vacation. She
accompanied him on every adventure, and kept him company
late at night when the rest of the house was asleep. It
was no wonder that, to Christopher, losing Missy was an
We found a picture of Missy and Christopher, and put it in
a little frame by his bedside table. That night sleep came
slowly as I held him close and murmured what I hoped were
comforting words in his ear; only when his sobs had
thoroughly exhausted him did his eyes finally close. The
next day we made a headstone out of glitter glue and
marked her grave, which he and Sarah have visited several
times during the course of the past few days.
Since this is an adoption column, perhaps this particular
article will seem out of place, and if so I apologize.
However, I am reminded that one of the most common reasons
prospective foster parents give for not opening their
homes to children in need of a family is that “it would
hurt too much when the children went away.” And they are
right; the pain of losing a beloved family member can be
unbearable. (Of course, owning a dog and helping a child
are two different things – clearly one is infinitely
higher in dignity and value than the other. How ironic,
then, how many families who think nothing of “adopting” a
pet, hesitate to rescue a child!)
This week, I can say with conviction that the benefits of
unguarded love far outweigh the risks. I have lost family
members before, including three of my four grandparents;
however, this is different. The wound of this particular
loss runs deep and visceral; Missy was my daily companion,
and privy to thoughts and feelings and moods that were
difficult to share with another human being. These past
few days I’ve wandered in a fog – and yet, I will always
be grateful to have had the time with her that I did,
because she taught me things about myself I couldn’t have
learned any other way.
The truth is, Missy gave me courage to love with abandon –
the huge, Missy-shaped hole in the middle of my heart is
proof positive of that fact. Someday another creature may
come along to fill up that hole, or maybe the ache of that
void will simply make me more attuned to someone else’s
loss. Either way, it was time well spent.
|Heidi Hess Saxton and her husband
Craig are adoptive parents of two children
Christopher (6) and Sarah (4). is
the editor of Canticle
magazine, the “voice” of "Women of Grace".
A convert to the faith since 1994, Heidi is also a graduate student of
theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan, and a
frequent contributor to CatholicExchange.com.
Read more of Heidi’s writing through her website
www.christianword.com or visit Heidi's blog
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