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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

For Grief Counseling, Look No Further Than Your Dog

Earlier this week I was asked, “What’s the most important life lesson you’ve learned from your dogs?” I said the first thing that came to mind, but the real answer came to me much later, long after the conversation had ended.

 

With Thanksgiving upon us, I have to admit there was a big part of me that wanted to just skip the week entirely. There has not been a single Thanksgiving in my life that I haven’t spent with my mother, and for this first one I just kind of wanted to stick my head in the sand and try to get past it.

 

It’s a perfectly valid response, according to the grief counselors out there. No need to force yourself into merriment when you are working through some big time sadness. In my family, we each have one big holiday that we host, and Thanksgiving has been mine since I got married 14 years ago. However, we had lots of invitations from other people and I could easily take this year off.

 

I went into my guest room to ponder what I wanted to do, the room where my mother died in June, a room still filled with things of hers I couldn’t quite go through yet. I picked up a photo of her, suddenly struck once more by her beauty, a flood of emotions surging up once more.

 

I was about to stuff the picture back into a drawer and run away, but before I could do that Brody came into the room. He plopped next to me on the floor—the very same spot where he slept by my mother’s side for two months—and put his head on my lap, essentially holding me in place. So I stayed and remained with the picture, letting the emotions continue their course, while he nudged my hand onto his head for pats every few seconds.

 

Thus pinned to the ground and forced to work my way through my thoughts, I decided that skipping this holiday was actually a bad idea for me. I would essentially be taking this longstanding family holiday tradition and making the entire focus on loss, which is of course the last thing my mom would have wanted. Although it would be sad to confront the day head on, I decided, as Brody gave me encouragement, that this was what I needed to do.

 

I emerged from the guest room ready to go. Not only did we move forward as planned, we invited an extra five people. Moving through, over, and past bumps, but not around them. Never around.

 

So I guess what I would have said, had I thought about it more beforehand, was this very important lesson that I never learned in veterinary school: Dogs truly teach us to be in the moment; not to run away from sad things but to run toward them. Because every moment is precious, even the crummy ones that make us better appreciate the lovely ones, and they deserve to be lived.

 

It’s a heck of a lesson. And I am so, so thankful this year to have learned it.

 

 

Dr. Jessica Vogelsang

 

Comments  3

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  • Comfort
    11/26/2015 12:36pm

    Please accept my deepest sympathies on the loss of your mom.

    Pets, regardless of species, can be incredible solace in bad times. They seem to know when their human needs emotional support and also seem happy to provide it.

  • 12/04/2015 08:50am

    I have found this to be true so many times in my life. There is no better listener than a cat or dog. Just looking into their eyes lets you know that you have a good reason to pick up the pieces and go on.

  • Condolences from another
    12/04/2015 12:15pm

    I share your grief, having one of my own - I lost my husband of almost 40 years in September. The holiday season this year isn't easy - Thanksgiving was his AA birthday, New Year's Day is his natal birthday...

    If it wasn't for my "boys" I would have crawled in a hole on Thanksgiving. (I have a 5 year old Standard Poodle & a 10 year old fospice - a poodle-chihuahua mix...)

    My big boy, Frog, has taken his absence particularly hard, still dragging some of his things around the house & sleeping with them...

    I thought this year could be an exception to our house rules, so cooked a turkey breast and we all "carnivored out" on the living room floor. Also arranged a pre-Christmas "pawty" with some canine friends.

    The boys & their necessities are keeping me engaged with everyday living, something I've really needed. And yesterday, I dragged out some Christmas lights - as you said, NEVER around. Blessings on you, Doc.

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