“A dog is a vehicle, you know; a dog is a window to Mother Nature…
– Cesar Millan, dog behaviourist
“It’s been almost six months, I should be over it!”
Pater was clearly distraught. His eyes were flooded, his posture awkward and his embarrassed glances at me, all emphasized his pain. He was an average looking man, 35 years old and with a modern haircut that showed shaved sides up to the edge of his head. His dress was casual and modern with designer jeans and a causal top that looked like brightly coloured blue underwear. And, he sported a large, flashy watch on his right hand suggesting he was left handed.
Pater was married to Paul and they had an adopted teenage daughter, Penny who was in grade ten at a local high school. Pater has just bought into a franchise operation with a close friend. They painted things using the latest chemical technologies and equipment. Paul was a waiter right now until he found something more suitable in his area of training as a registered massage therapist.
As he completed the registration forms confirming his left handedness, this new focus seemed to calm him. When he had finished I asked him what had brought him to my office. He replied,
“It’s been almost six months, I should be over it! And, Paul, keeps reminding me! But, I just don’t know how to do that!”
“…that’s what I want…I’m just not sure it’s possible!”
“What should you be over, Pater?” I asked.
“Polly’s death!” he said, his loss welling up again in his eyes.
“And, who was Polly, Pater?”
“She was my German shepherd I had for ten years!”
“When did Polly die exactly, Pater?”
“Last November 27. I decided to put her down. She was so sick. It was the right thing to do…but I still miss her!” he said, his voice breaking with grief.
“As you well know, Pater, you have had a tremendous loss and are in a deep state of grief. But, I can help you move through that grief and honour the memory of Polly…if you’re ready to do that. Is that what you’re looking for today?”
Pater looked me straight in the eyes and said,
“Yes Ken, that’s what I want…I’m just not sure it’s possible!”
“In my professional experience, it is very possible if you are willing to learn more about death and more about life. Would that interest you at this point?”
“I wish people would realize that animals are totally dependent on us, helpless, like children, a trust that is put upon us.” – James Herriot writer
“… reminds us we are part of a natural system.
“Ken, I have to do something right away…this is impacting my whole life…I need to move on.”
I passed him a clipboard and asked him to write down, the five behaviours or traits, he missed most about Polly. He gave me an odd look of surprise but followed my request. I waited quietly. It didn’t take him long.
Then, he passed me the clipboard with five phrases listed on it: “she was always there for me – she listened to me – she greeted me excitedly every time I got home – loved me unconditionally – seemed grateful to be with me.”
“Excellent!” I said looking at his list.
Then I added,
“There are three things everyone needs to learn about death so they can understand its role in our life. Are you ready to consider them, Pater?”
“OK!” he responded, cautiously.
“First, a quote from Jacques Cousteau, the renowned underwater explorer, who said, ‘It is only because we know we die that we appreciate life!’ The death of a person, a pet, even a plant or the end of the day, reminds us we are part of a natural system.”
“So, death is natural and part of life…I can see that, Ken. But, why am I dwelling on Polly’s death?”
“Probably, because you perceive you have lost her…but, that’s the second point, Pater, actually, you haven’t lost her! She has actually been transformed but you haven’t noticed it, yet!”
“I don’t understand, run that by me again, please!” he said, confused and a little irritated.
“Our job is to find the new forms of it, since she passed..”
“Actually, you can blame Albert Einstein. He said everything is made of waves and particles of light…everything is matter or energy… and matter and energy cannot be destroyed or created, only transformed from one to the other. It’s called the law of energy conservation…a fundamental law of nature!”
“I have heard of that…probably in school, but what does it have to do with losing Polly?”
“To clarify the third point, let me offer you an example which may help you put this together. The love and devotion your parents had for each other were waves of energy. They transformed these energy waves into energy particles, when they co-created you. Make sense so far?”
“I guess so.” he said, hesitantly.
“So, the love you share with your partner, Paul, and others is the transformed love you received from your parents. It is this same process happening with the devotion your received from Polly. Our job is to find the new forms of it, since she passed.”
“You mean Polly’s love for me is still here but I just haven’t been noticing it. But, it is in different forms…it looks different in some way…is that what you’re saying, Ken?”
“Yes, that’s what I’m saying! And, when you uncover the new forms of Polly’s love for you, it enables you to notice her presence around you still, and that frees you to get on with your life. Do you want to do that, Pater?”
“Yes, I do. How do we get started, Ken?”
“… who…did you notice, started being there for you…”
“This is a focused, accelerated, learning process you are engaging in. Let’s start with the first behaviour or trait you most miss about Polly… ‘she was always there for me.’”
He paused, looking dejected, and then said,
“Ken, she was my constant companion. She greeted me every time I walked in the door. She slept at the foot of our bed every night. She would park under the table during every meal. She would be beside me every day when I went for my run.”
“Pater, I want to go to the moment when you decided it was time to put Polly down. Because that’s when you will find the new forms of her love and devotion appearing in your life. Tell me about that moment.”
“We, Paul and I, had taken her to the vet again because the new pain medication didn’t seem to be helping her anymore. The vet said there was little else she could do, given Polly’s condition, and the prognosis for her disease. She recommended putting her out of her pain.”
“Pater, go to that very moment in your memory. Now go inside your mind. Tell me who, at that very second, did you notice, started being there for you, started being present for you?”
He paused, closed his eyes for a few moments, then said,
“Actually, my dog I think is the only person who consistently loves me all the time.” – H. G. Bissinger, journalist
“Can you see how other forms of ‘being there for me’ have replaced…
“Well, Paul for sure, because I remember he put his arm around my shoulder to comfort me. And, the vet as well. She started talking about how difficult a decision it was to make, and so on.”
“And, Pater, since that moment six months ago, who else, have you noticed, has been there for you in other ways, other important forms?”
“Ken, there have been several. My daughter, Penny, my Mom and my Dad have been very supportive since Polly passed. Mom has had us over for meals a few times and my Dad wanted to go looking for a puppy for me…but I wasn’t ready.”
“Any other forms you can recall?”
“Even my niece and nephew sent me a condolence card…their just kids but their thoughtfulness was so beautiful…I really appreciated it.”
“So, can you see the new forms of devotion that have appeared in your life since Polly passed. Can you see how other forms of ‘being there for me’ have replaced the form that Polly provided to you?”
“I can see that, Ken. But I still miss Polly.”
“…I don’t miss her scratching our couch and damaging our coffee table with her nails…”
“Yes, so now we have to uncover the truth about Polly. Polly was a part of nature, like us and followed nature’s duality law. So, Polly had two sides…strengths and weaknesses…traits you liked and those you didn’t…just like every other aspect of our natural world.”
“I’m not sure what you mean…” Pater replied, a little confused.
“I suspect you miss the parts of Polly’s behaviours that gave you pleasure. But, I bet you don’t miss the parts of Polly’s behaviours that gave you pain. Is that true?”
He paused before replying with,
“Well, I know I miss her on my runs, but I don’t miss her scratching our couch and damaging our coffee table with her nails…is that what you mean?”
“That’s the idea. Next, we need to uncover the bad parts of her ‘being there for you’ and the good parts of the new forms you noticed in Paul, the vet, Penny, your Mom and Dad and your niece and nephew.”
“But, why do that?”
‘By uncovering that information, it makes your memory of Polly truthful and real. This enables you to honour Polly and move on with life.”
“Animals have a much better attitude to life and death than we do. We are the ones that suffer when they pass, but it’s a healing kind of grief that enables us to deal with other griefs that are not so easy to grab hold of.”
– Emmylou Harris, musician
“… jump up on my Mom, which terrified her.”
“So, I’ve been noticing only the good aspects of Polly and not the bad parts of my time with her…is that what you mean?”
“Yes, Pater! Remember, it’s not to dishonour Polly, its to ensure your perceptions of her are truthful, accurate and healthy for you.”
“OK! That sort of makes sense to me. I just remembered how on our run, I had to keep her on her leash because she liked to chase pick up trucks. And, I had to be so careful with her around kids because if they touched her around her eyes, she could snap at them.”
“Pater, that’s what I’m talking about. I don’t think you miss those parts of Polly. What were some other ones that were challenges for you?”
“Well, as I mentioned, she was hard on our furniture. And, she was so big and friendly, sometimes she would jump up on my Mom, which terrified her. And, I think my Mom and Dad visited us less because of it…though neither ever mentioned it to me directly.”
“Pater, let’s look at the new forms of ‘being there for me’ which you have identified, since Polly’s passing, in Paul, Penny, the vet, your Mom, Dad, niece and nephew. What makes them so special to you, at this point in your life?” I asked, wondering if he was starting to see the continuity of our natural system.
“…you can be reminded of her anytime you are with these people…”
“Well…I think Paul and I are closer now, we seem to have more time together. And, Mom and Dad are around more. And, my niece invited me, for the first time, to her birthday party last month.”
Pater paused before continuing,
“So, it’s like I have more awareness of, and options for, being with others…I feel like I’m more important to other people now…does that make sense?”
“It sure does! And, you can thank Polly for that. And, you can appreciate the role Polly has played in your past, present and future, too!
Then I added as an afterthought,
“Actually, you can be reminded of her anytime you are with these people, these new forms of her love and devotion…do you see the perfection in that, Pater?”
“I do! But I still miss those other aspects I mentioned. What about those, Ken?”
“We need to follow the same process for those as well. And, any other aspect of your memory of Polly that may be one sided. Shall we continue on to ‘she listened to me’?”
When we have completed this same process on the other behaviours and traits of Polly which Pater was missing, he started referring to how difficult, and yet wise, it was to put her out of her misery. As we finished up the two hours together, he said he was already considering, in what he termed “a new light,” his Dad’s offer to find him a new dog.
“Pets are nature’s learning tools about relationships and love!” King ayles, writer