I will never forget the day that we rescued a nine-month-old dog that was surrendered by a family who could no longer keep him. My husband and I brought him home four years before having children. His name was Samson. When our daughters were born, he played with and watched over them. He was incredibly protective of them. Like so many families, we included Samson in everything that we did.

Holidays, travel, hikes – my husband even took him to work in his Santa Monica office. One day, I noticed Samson was limping and immediately took him to the vet. I will never forget the day our dog was diagnosed with bone cancer. It was painful to watch and even harder to explain what was happening to our daughters, who were then two and four-years-old.

With the help of family, friends and even our pediatrician, we were able to help our daughters cope with his illness and ultimately his death.

We openly talked about what was happening at every stage. We used the five steps below to help our children through the grieving process. 

1 | Be honest

Our pediatrician told us that we should be honest about what is happening to Samson, but to keep in mind their very young ages. We told our daughters that our dog was very sick and that we were doing everything we could to help him. When the cancer started spreading in his body and he ultimately stopped eating, we knew it was time to say goodbye. Our daughters noticed the change in his physical appearance and our four-year-old asked us, “Is Samson going to die?” We said, “Yes, but that means Samson will no longer be in pain.” Those words gave them incredible comfort.

2 | Let them know it is okay to feel sad

The house felt empty without our dog. Our two-year-old daughter said she missed Samson and that she had dreams about him. She would often look at the sky and say “I see Samson!” Sometimes our daughters would cry and many times I would cry with them. We let them know it was ok to cry and feel sad. It’s what we do when we love somebody very much.

3 | A letter helps

We asked our little girls if they would like to draw Samson a picture to let him know how much they loved him. They drew several pictures. Samson has been gone for two years now and they still draw him pictures. My older daughter now even writes him letters.

4 | Celebrate your pet’s life

We asked our daughters about their favorite times with Samson. We laughed and we cried together. My husband and I also told them about our favorite times with our wonderful dog. They loved the story about his rescue, his training and how we first introduced him to them when they were born.

5 | Read them the poem called Rainbow Bridge

It’s a very healing poem for anyone who’s ever lost a pet. It’s a beautiful story about how pets are restored to perfect health upon dying and play all day. According to the story, they are ultimately reunited with family.

Every time our daughters see a Rainbow, they say “Samson is there waiting for us just like in the poem.” We like to believe he is there and one day we will all be reunited with him.