Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Animals Give "Paws" to Grief

Today I have another guest blogger as a result of the 2012 WordCount Blogathon.

Kirsten writes a fabulously fun to read blog called Running for Autism about her life in Toronto, Canada raising two boys (6 and 8 years old). Her older son has autism which is why she runs to raise funds for the Geneva Centre for Autism. You can also catch her on twitter (@running4autism) and facebook (Running for Autism).

She shared the story of her father's death and how her mother coped with the help of their pets.


My first dog was a mutt named Judge. He was what we called a “pavement special” – in other words, we had no idea what his lineage was or what breeds were represented in his genes. He became my dog not by virtue of someone giving him to me, but because he decided, when he came into our family, that he belonged with my two-year-old self.

It was a beautiful friendship between girl and dog. Apart from the times I was at school, Judge and I were rarely apart until he died at the age of twelve.

From the very early days of my life, my parents were “animal people”. There was no abandoned animal that went untended by them. The vast majority of our animals were rescue pets, from Sebastian the cat who was found in a parking lot with a list of injuries that went on for two pages, to Jessie and Bessie, the mother-and-daughter pair of dogs who didn’t have a home. On one occasion, my mom pulled over on the highway and darted into the traffic to rescue a budgie that was in the middle of the road.

My mom and dad treated the animals in much the same way they treated people. When cookies were distributed, the dogs got some too. Breakfast was not complete until all of the dogs and cats had received some milk and a sliver of toast topped with anchovy spread. The four-legged members of the family were not banned from any part of the house as long as they left the mud outside and didn’t scratch the furniture – much like us kids.

My brother and I grew up, we left home and eventually, the country. My dad retired, life events happened. Through everything, the animals remained a constant factor in my parents’ lives.

Seven years ago, the landscape of our lives – including the lives of the animals – was completely altered by the death of my dad. After the funeral and the cremation, after the ashes had been scattered, and after everyone who had gathered to say goodbye had gone back to their own lives, my mom found herself in her long-time home with only the animals for company.

The loss of my dad was devastating for my mom, who had been born in the generation of girls who left home to get married. In her youth, she had not gotten to experience any of the independent woman stuff that we have today. She had gone from the parental home straight into the married home. And therefore, when my dad died, my mom was living by herself for the first time in her life. She and my dad were two months shy of their fortieth wedding anniversary, and it had been a harmonious marriage.

My mom credits the animals for getting her through her initial stages of grief. They just seemed to know what my mom needed, possibly because they were grieving themselves.

They started following my mom wherever she went in the house. Dogs and cats alike were always with her, keeping her company. And yet, when she needed a good cry, they stayed a respectful distance away and gave her grief the space it needed. If the crying went on for an extended period of time, the big Belgian Sheppard would approach her and rest his head in her lap, as if to say, “That’s enough now. You have to get back to living for while.”

At night, the loneliest times of all, one of the cats would curl up with my mom, his body right up against hers. He would start to purr, and my mom just knew that he did it to soothe her, that he understood the calming effect that the purring had on her. She would fall asleep to the sound of the purring, and once satisfied that his human companion was all right, the cat would then fall asleep himself.

Having the animals to care for gave my mom purpose. It gave her a reason to get up in the morning. Some days, the idea of having to feed and care for four dogs and three cats seemed too overwhelming, but she did it anyway. If she hadn’t had the four dogs and three cats, she simply would have stayed in bed.

The fact that she was able to move on with her life in spite of her grief is a testament not only to my mom’s own strength of character, but to the role the animals played in her grieving process. Today, my mom is an independent woman with a rich, fulfilling life. She misses my dad every day, and occasionally, she still needs to have a good crying bout.

But the two dogs who are left over from my dad’s days (Jessie and Bessie, the mother and daughter pair who are miraculously still alive and ridiculously old) are there to help her through.
Jessie, Bessie, and Chelsea

1 comment:

  1. What a lovely, sweet story, Kristen! And thanks to Sarah for sharing this forum. It's great to read uplifting stories like these. Thanks!


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