Like you, we’re reeling from the devastating news about Sandy Hook Elementary. It has us kissing our own children’s foreheads, trying to imagine how the parents of those lost children will manage in the coming days. We’re asking ourselves: “What can we do to help?”
In the face of terrible tragedy, we believe it’s very very important to hold our children with love and as much calm as we can muster. To protect them from the media and details of the news if we can. To protect them from our own emotional responses. And to explain what we need to explain to them in an age-appropriate way. We want our children to grow up believing the world is beautiful and good – which it is – even in the face of profound suffering such as this.
(There’s an excellent KidPower article here that helped inspire our story — if you want more information about how to be with your children in the face of this tragedy. )
We immediately knew we wanted to create a story — something to support children who may hear (or feel) the impact of the incredible tragedy. Stories can be powerful healers — they can offer solace, they can be a vehicle for deeper understanding, they can provide emotional support through mirroring, and they can inspire conversation. We wanted a story that addresses loss and tragedy, but that leaves children with a sense that the adults in their world love them, and are keeping them safe, and are doing everything they can to ensure that it never happens again.
This is a free story about a young girl named Lee, who loves her little black dog Prince. But one day, Prince is suddenly killed by a speeding car. The girl not only has to come to grips with the abrupt loss of her dog, but she also manages questions like “Who was it? Why didn’t they stop? How could they do it?”. And the ultimate message from her loving parents is this: We love you. It is OK to be sad. We are holding you. And we will do everything we can to prevent this from happening again.
You can share this story with children who have heard (or felt) the details of of this tragedy, and are struggling to make sense of it. You can use it as a vehicle for family conversation, although often there is no need to discuss. The story conveys it’s own message.
This story has no Sparkle advertisement or copyright tag. It is only intended as a gift to support families who may find it useful. Feel free to download and share or email this story as often as you’d like. We give permission for it to be shared freely.
We send our prayers to the families in Newtown.
Below is the written version of this audio story. Feel free to use as is and/or adapt for your family’s needs.
There was once upon a time a little girl named Lee who lived with her mother and father in a small two-story home in the country. Lee’s family kept chickens next to their small garage, and had several garden plots that gave them lots of vegetables all summer long. In their back yard were five apple trees, several tall maple trees and a sloping hill that was fun for rolling down in the warm months and sledding in the cold months.
Lee loved her yard. She loved climbing the trees and digging in the garden and hiding in the thicket and exploring along the rock wall. Her favorite times in her yard, however, were playing with their fluffy black-and-white dog named Prince. Prince was a smart, loving dog that was very good at fetching balls, guarding the chickens and playing hide-and-seek with Lee.
She spent much of her day with Prince — whether it was snuggling on their couch together, or wrestling on the carpet or chasing each other around the yard. Lee and Prince were best friends.
Lee’s house was situated on a dirt road — all by itself — with forest on one side and farmland on the other. It was very quiet, and Lee’s father liked to joke that “If you hear a car – its coming to our house!”. So there were no fences at Lee’s house – and Prince had the run of the yard.
“Prince lives in dog heaven over here,” said Lee’s mother once, “good food every day and a playmate that hardly ever gets tired.” That playmate, of course, was Lee.
Well, Lee was in charge of feeding Prince in the morning and making sure he spent enough time outside getting exercise every day. Most of the time she went outside and played with him, but there were times when Lee or her mother or father would let him out alone – to sniff around the yard and do some investigating on his own. After a little while he would come to the back door and ‘woof’ – which was his way of saying that he was ready to come back inside.
One morning, in early winter, either mother or father or Lee let Prince outside, and then everyone continued going about their morning business: making breakfast and tidying bedrooms and putting away dishes and the like.
After awhile Daddy could hear a car going down the road and said out loud, “Hmm – that car is going a little fast.” He went to the window and peeked out and saw a car zip by. “Too fast,” he said softly.
“Is it OK, Daddy?” asked Lee who had picked up a picture book to look through.
“Yes Lee, its just that cars should be careful on these back roads – they can get a bit slippy.”
Then everyone got back to their business, and didn’t think about the car. After another while, however, Lee wondered where Prince was.
“Did Prince come in yet?” she asked from the couch.
“I didn’t let him in” said her father from the kitchen sink. “Did you let him in?”
“No,” said her mother coming down the stairs, “He must still be outside”.
It was quiet for a moment, and then her father looked out the window again, squinted his eyes a little and said, “I’ll be right back.” He went to their mudroom and put on his down jacket and boots, and went out. Lee continued to read her book.
Her father was gone for a while, and then came to the back door and called Lee’s mother.
“What is it?” her mother asked.
“I need to talk to you,” he said, and then the two whispered by the back door for a moment. Lee looked up and thought she could hear her mother crying.
“Lee,” said her father as he walked over to her.
Lee put down her book and knew something was wrong. She felt a chill run through her body and her head felt heavy. “What’s wrong with Momma?” she asked.
Daddy knelt next to her and took her hand. His hand felt warm.
“Its Prince, honey” said her father, “This morning we let Prince out. And there are very rarely cars on our road. And so we don’t worry about him. But this morning, well, something happened that never happens… there was a fast car, and it was icy and I’m sure the car didn’t see him, and Prince was hit.”
“Is he going to be OK?”
“No, sweet Lee. Prince is gone. I’m sorry Lee.” Then her father picked her up and squeezed her tight.
Lee was filled with confusion and sadness and anger all at once, “Wait,” she said, “No he isn’t. He was just right here, Daddy! He just had his breakfast.”
Daddy took both of her hands in his.
“I know. This happened so very quickly. But he’s gone”
“Prince is dead, my sweet Lee. He was hit by the car.”
Lee sat still for a moment. She felt her father’s hands in hers. She felt the soft chair under her legs, and the book in her lap. Her heart felt so heavy.
“Daddy…. I don’t understand.”
“I know Lee. This is all very sudden. I’m sorry.” Her father took the small blanket draped on the chair and gently tucked it around his daughter. Then he put on his jacket and went out the mudroom door.
Lee stayed in her chair for a long time and thought. She thought about the all the times she played with Prince and fed Prince and walked through the field with Prince. She thought about his black-and-white shaggy fur and his bright brown eyes. She thought about how he curled at the end of her bed at night, and how he licked her hand first thing in the morning. Her heart hurt. How could this be?
That evening, the family had a funeral for Prince. His body was wrapped in his favorite plaid woolen blanket, and laid in the ground next to the rock wall where he used to nap in the sun. Lee, her mother and her father all cried. They were very sad. They shared stories about all the things they loved about Prince – how he ran, how he snorted when he was happy and how he loved to eat carrots.
“We will always have these memories” said her father, “That part of Prince will never go away.”
Lee placed Prince’s favorite tug-toy on top of the small mound, and then walked back inside with her parents.
For the next day, Lee didn’t want to do anything but feel sad and miss her dog. She kept expecting him to come romping across the yard or down the stairs. She kept almost hearing him sigh by the fire or woof by the back door. The sadness was so sharp it hurt.
And then the following day, Lee thought about the car. “Daddy” she asked, “Did that fast car hit Prince?”
Her father was quiet for a moment and then said, “I think so, yes.”
“But, if the fast car hit Prince, why didn’t it stop and see if he was OK?”
“I don’t know, Lee.”
“But … how could they do that? How could they just hit our dog?” Then Lee started to cry. Her Daddy pulled her into a hug and held her tight.
“I don’t know Lee – I don’t know.”
But that did not satisfy her. For the rest of the day, Lee kept thinking about the fast car and wondered who was driving it. Was it a young person or an old person? Was it a man or a woman? Was there only one person or a few? The more she thought about the car, the more scared she felt. Every time she looked at the road by their house, Lee would feel a rush of fear and worry. What if another car came driving past? Lee’s mother watched her and then came over and looked her in the eye.
“Why did it happen?” asked Lee with wet eyes. “Why did they do it?”
“Lee,” said her mother, “Sit with me.”
Lee sat across from her mother in a kitchen chair. She looked into her mother’s kind eyes.
“You loved Prince so much. We all loved Prince so much, and we will miss him every day. What happened was scary and sad and do you know what? Your Daddy and I are going to make sure that something like that never ever happens again.”
“How?” asked Lee softly.
“Well, we know people in town who can help and all of us will work together to make sure that our roads are safe. We will do this Lee – the grown ups will do this. But what we can’t do is make the sad go away. Sadness we just have to feel. But we will work to make sure this never happens again.”
Then her mother held her tight again. And Lee, felt a little better. She still felt very sad but she didn’t feel quite so angry and scared. In her mother’s arms, she felt safe and protected. She knew that her mother and father would make sure she was safe.
And in that moment, she didn’t think about the fast car, and she didn’t wonder who was in it and why they did what they did. In that moment, safe in her mother’s arms, Lee was only thinking about Prince – what a good friend he was, and how much she would miss him.