THE SANDWICH GENERATION
First of two parts
Question: My father passed away last year. My mother, 84, just lost her dog of 18 years. She is more depressed about her dog's death than my father's passing. I don't understand this and am angry she seems to miss the dog more. She is very depressed and just sits home alone. She says she doesn't like going out because she has to come home to an empty house. What can we do?
Answer: You didn't say if your father had been ill or died suddenly. If he had been very ill, his going may have been a relief. She undoubtedly misses him, but maybe with mixed feelings.
Years ago, after putting closure to my one-year grieving period for my 11-year-old Norwegian Elkhound, I met a woman who has been a pet bereavement counselor for the past 20 years. She is also head of the New England Norwegian Elkhound Rescue organization. I got my second Elkhound with Cotton's help, and now have my third rescue Elkhound.
I posed your questions to her, Cotton Silverman, MSW. Her answer:
"Pets give unconditional love. No other being gives us this. Pets willingly love us. They don't judge us or argue with us. Love is just because..."
Perhaps your father was a difficult person to live with. Perhaps your father was never happy himeself and this unhappiness spilled over to your mother. So your mother's dog may have been the only happy and loving constant on a daily basis.
Why do some people grieve so much? Cotton says, " The grieving process for a pet is the same as that for a human loved one. Many people first become angry that the pet has left her/him. Then there may a denial period, followed by guilt that more wasn't done to save the pet's life. And then depression. If the pet was the only living thing in the home, the depression can be deeper."
Everyone goes through some sort of "process" and this, according to Cotton "is natural. You have to come to closure. There is no answer as to how long it takes a person to reach closure. It can be immediate and the pet owner gets another pet immediately. Or it can take more time. Some people even have shrines for their pet. Others put messages in a balloon and send it off to heaven."
One never-married senior I knew long ago went into a deep depression when her father died. A five-year old poodle" saved" her life. When that dog was 15, the woman got a puppy. She said she never wanted to be without a pet or to come home to an empty apartment.
NEXT WEEK: Pet grief will be continued with tips for both the senior losing the loved pet and sandwich generationers who want to help the senior overcome this grief.
The Sandwich Generation is reader interactive. Questions are welcome. You
can contact Carol Abaya via her web site www.sandwichgeneration.com or