The Lessons of Barney

Pets teach kids about love, loyalty, kindness, compassion and responsibility. Sadly, they also teach kids about death. 

Our family dog Barney died last week. He was 12 years old—or 13, we’re not really sure—and one morning, he laid down beneath a tree and stopped breathing. He did not seem to suffer.

It was a shock, and we all cried at the sudden loss of this sweet, funny member of our family. Our home is unnaturally quiet now. Our arrivals go unheralded. There is a palpable void in our family life.

Our two sons had left the house that morning, not knowing that they would be seeing their dog for the last time. While they haven’t said as much, I’m sure they each feel a sense of regret at not being able to say goodbye to Barney (I know I do). 

Barney’s death carries several lessons for our family: that tears are an honest expression of grief, and you’re never too old/young/tough/soft to cry when you’re in pain; that the little things that add joy to our daily lives often have greater value than we realize; and more.

However, I believe the key Lesson of Barney is that life is fragile, and death often comes without announcement. A thief in the night. 

We can’t take life for granted, our own, and those around us. While we’re here, it’s important for us to love each other, and treat each other with kindness. 

With Barney’s death as context, I’ll remind my sons of an important lesson; treat everyone as if you’re seeing them for the last time, because someday you’ll be right.