Outcomes Offered

■ Appropriate grieving

■ Acceptance of the stages of adjustment

■ Strategies for moving forward

It is always sad when someone or something close to us dies. The first time Bill experienced that was when Spot, his dog, died. Spot was more than a dog to Bill. He had been his best friend for as long as he could remember. He had been there longer than Bill's sister, Janet, and he was always at Bill's side even when his closest human friend, Troy, wasn't.

Spot would play with Bill whenever he wanted. He would lay his head quietly on Bill's lap when Bill wanted to talk about some of those things that he never talked to anyone else about. Spot would stand, growling, between Bill and his father if Bill's father got angry with Bill. There was no doubt that Spot was his best buddy and always had been.

However, Spot was getting older. His fur was going grayer, and he waddled slowly to the door to greet Bill when he got home from school instead of leaping up, paws on Bill's chest, trying to lick his face. Dad had taken him to the vet's several times over the last few months, and this time, Dad came home by himself. He explained that the vet had said it was kinder to put Spot to sleep.

Bill knew that meant Spot was dead but he didn't want to believe it. He knew Spot was old. He wasn't like he used to be but Bill had sort of expected—and wanted—that Spot would always be there. He tried to hold back his tears but couldn't. His mother gave him a hug and said, "That's okay. You loved Spot and he loved you. It's okay to be sad."

Bill sobbed himself to sleep that night. In fact, he cried so much he wasn't sure if he had slept at all. The next day at school he was in a daze and, probably, didn't hear a word that his teacher said. He didn't want to play with his schoolmates at lunchtime or after school. All he could do was think about Spot.

He found himselfwondering if there had been a mistake. Could Dad have got the news wrong? What ifSpot had got better before the vet put him to sleep? Should they go back to the vet's to check? He knew this hope was unrealistic but didn't want to accept that Spot would never be coming home.

Now, if you knew Bill, I'm sure you'd like him. He's a nice kid, far from being an angry guy, but there were times, at the moment, when he'd snap at his sister or yell at his parents when they asked him to do something—and then sink into feelings of despair and sadness. At times it seemed unfair. Why should Spot die when he had been such a good buddy and never hurt anyone?

Gradually—so gradually that I am not sure Bill really noticed it—he began to listen to some of the things his teacher was saying and to kick the soccer ball with his friends at lunchtime again.

When his dad first said, "We can get another puppy," it was the last thing Bill wanted. There could never be another Spot. But, as time passed, he thought maybe it would be nice to have another dog. It wouldn't be the same, yet a puppy may be like Spot used to be. It might help fill that gap that Bill had felt since Spot died.

At one stage his mom gave him a hug and said, "All those feelings you've been going through are what we all feel when we lose someone or something close to us. I know it doesn't feel good and I wish I could make them disappear for you. The hurt, the sadness, and the anger are part of the ways we adjust to losing someone we love. We pass through them, and move on to look forward. We feel sad, then need to find what helps us feel glad again."

Of course, Bill never forgot Spot, and I doubt he ever will. He has a picture of him above his desk. Nonetheless, Bill learned there were still lots of things he could enjoy without a dog. For a while he didn't want a substitute for Spot; then, when he asked, his parents bought him a new puppy. Since the new puppy's coat is all the same color, Bill calls him Spotless. Now, a photograph of Spotless is pinned beside Spot above his desk.

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