Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Family Pets Can Teach You How To Grieve

Robert McCartney of the Washington Post wrote an Op Ed piece reprinted in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Tuesday, June 22. It was entitled, “A Best Friend’s Final Gift.” McCartney at first didn’t want to be present when his old and sick dog had to be euthanized. In fact, he didn’t even want the dog in the first place. “I did not want anyone to see my tears.” He did not want anyone to watch his fall from manhood as tears rolled down his cheeks.

McCartney wrote, “I avoid funerals, adept as finding reasons why it’s too inconvenient to go. But in the last hour or so I spent with Brooks [the dog], I came to recognize what I’d been avoiding – feelings of sorrow and loss.”

“Keep a stiff upper lip, you will get over it very soon, it was probably the best thing, and she was just a dog” are all admonitions by well-meaning people who attempt to have us stop being sad at our loss. In fact what they do is give us permission not to face our loss, if we heed them. This also prevents our grieving as we should, in order to be psychologically healthy.

My radio show, “Relationships 101” on, which will be posted next Monday, June 28, is a conversation with Judy Mandel, author of the book Replacement Child. This book details the impact on one woman of her parents’ failure to grieve the loss of their child who died in a plane crash. Their “solution” which helped them to avoid their grief was to have Judy as a replacement for the lost child instead. Anything to avoid grieving. In doing so, however, they created an intolerable burden for Judy to live up to a phantom child.

Loss is a profound and deep experience. The more attached we are to the lost individual, the deeper the grief. And failure to effectively grieve simply allows grief to steal remnants of a “normal life” and hold them prisoner forever. In Longing For Dad, in print for more than 12 years and available at, I detail the devastating impact of unresolved loss.

Grief is a natural process that needs to be felt and effectively dealt with, in order to be mentally, psychologically, and spiritually healthy.