Saturday Morning Message: Pet Support for Survivors

Author: Carol Lane

Good Morning,

This week survivors sent their heartwarming responses about how pets have helped them on their individual grief journeys. Many sent pictures of their house pets, so I thought you might find it interesting to see a picture of outside pets sent by Susan, spouse of Charles, at the beginning of today’s message. I will keep my remarks short this week as there were so many inspiring stories for you to read that I want to let you go to them quickly. 

Susan's Horses

There are two events that I would like to highlight this week: 

The first is a special promotion to read a free book titled “Griefwriting” by Joan Zlotnick. It is a novel based on a recently widowed woman. When you click on the link, it will take you to Amazon where  you can get the book. 

The second is that registration is open for the TAPS National Military Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp on May 25 through May 29. This is an amazing opportunity to meet with other survivors and TAPS staff over Memorial Day weekend. There are workshops, sharing groups and other activities. If you have questions, there is a helpful page on the TAPS website called “Frequently Asked Questions.” 

Questions are the backbone of the Saturday Morning Message. In order to keep the Saturday Morning Message fresh, I am looking for more questions. If you have questions or topics you would like to see addressed in the Saturday Morning Message, you can email me at online@taps.org. In addition to replies that are placed in the message, I also look for thoughts you have. You can write to me anytime just to communicate or if you have thoughts on what could make the Saturday Morning Message more helpful. Replies to the weekly question are best sent to me by Tuesday afternoon. You are an important part of this message, and I look forward to your replies, questions or any ideas you may have. 

Hugs,
Carol 

Question for Next Week’s Saturday Morning Message 

The peer mentor program at TAPS is very special. Being paired with someone who has had a similar experience as you can be comforting as you learn you are not alone. You have someone who understands your loss who contacts you or who you can contact to share your feelings as you travel on this journey of grief. If you are a peer mentor, it can be very rewarding to reach out to support another survivor. The question this week is: What has been your experience either being a peer mentor or having a peer mentor from TAPS? Your responses may help another survivor to become or ask for a peer mentor. 

♫ Song for the Week 

From Adra, mother of Kyle: When Kyle was just in elementary school, he fell in love with a painting by Vincent Van Gogh, a painting called "Starry Night." I recently came across a song by Don McLean called “Starry, Starry Night” and cried my way to work thinking of how Kyle would have related to the song. 

Answers from Survivors

Annette's Dog PebblesFrom Annette, mother of Joseph: I got Pebbles on an impulse, and it is one of the best decisions I have made in a long time —  no regrets. Someone gave me a book on training dogs written by a monk. There is a community of monks in upstate New York that train German shepherds. Although I certainly did not adhere to all of their techniques, I did use some and it really paid off. She is so good; I even taught her to ring a bell when she has to go out. It is such an easy thing to do, but if you do not know about it you would think it was impossible. I wish I knew the name of the book, but I passed it on and I do not remember who I gave it to.

Rebecca's Dog AlexaFrom Rebecca, mother of Griff: Axela (my son Griff’s gift from Heaven to me) is the reason that I am still on earth. She barks at me when she wants me to come outside with her and keeps it up. It's like she's chewing me out for not going outside. Axela gives unconditional love. Axela goes inside with me to Tuesday Morning, McKays Used Books, JE Rice Hardware Store, Merchants Tire, SunTrust Bank, even my attorneys' office, and of course her Pet Valu. Axela loves people — she's great with everyone, just like Griff is with all people. I am able to go to see family friends because Axela is always with me. She even helps me drive by sitting on my lap while I’m driving. I hold her with one arm and feel calmer. She feels my feelings that are inside me. Axela makes this house a home. I am her well-trained human.

JoAnn's PoodlesFrom Jo Ann, mother of Jonathon: These three are my furry best friends: Luci (white poodle), Heidi (German shepherd) and Cali Girl (golden retriever). Luci and Heidi were with me when I received the knock on the door Sept. 22, 2013. Luci wouldn't leave my side, and Heidi wouldn't let Navy Casualty assist me. The officers couldn’t get any closer to me as Heidi could sense these two gentlemen were upsetting me. With Heidi and Luci's constant love and always staying close by my side I made it through three tough years of struggling with the loss of my son, Jon. Cali Girl aka California Girl was given to me this past August by Jon's widow and children. Cali Girl is a snuggler and brings me great peace and love. I know Jon is smiling down from Heaven knowing how much joy she has brought into his mom's life.  

From Christine, mother of Adam: I serve as an AmeriCorps member at a children's center. One of the cooks lost her son in a car accident when a friend was driving who was intoxicated. Debbie has a therapy dog who wears a harness with the letters PTSD on it. This is so she can take him anywhere. The mention of pets reminded me of my son's desire to have a dog. He had three different rabbits as pets. I see rabbits often as signs, but I regret not getting him a dog — a decision his stepfather and I could not make based on many factors. Would all of those factors have really been that big of a deal? 

Susan's DogsFrom Susan, spouse of Charles: Given that pets cannot speak, they watch us so carefully for cues. And given this special talent that they have for reading even our unspoken emotions (think therapy dogs for PTSD) I think we can take comfort in them as God's gift for many reasons, not the least is to help us heal.

Mine are little rescues with the 5-pound blonde girl, "Daisy," being particularly sensitive. She came from another widow who was too ill to care for her anymore. She looks at me with eyes so wide, trying to absorb everything. It's comforting to be able to carry her around and talk with her.

Funnily enough, my big best friend used to be a thoroughbred horse. In my horse racing years, my favorite race horse's name was, "Too Far Gone," but he wasn't. His nickname was "Toofie" because he ran with his mouth open, looking like he was smiling, He loved me unconditionally. I was his person. I left to live on the West Coast for four months, and upon return, went out to the barn and walked to the big field where he was grazing, 40 acres away. I called his name. He came running to me and did his usual habit of wrapping his long neck around mine in a horse hug. I asked the farmhand who walked out with me if he did this to anyone else. The farmhand said, "No, with everyone else, he just acts like a horse."

One day, going to the post, I dropped my stick and as I looked down at it, in my short stirrups, I fell off. Toofie kept trotting to the start without me. I called his name and his head came up, startled, and he turned and trotted back to me so I could mount him again. We won. Again.

I could tell this horse anything. He was my cross between a stuffed animal and a rocking chair. I used to say, "I don't need a psychiatrist because I have a horse.”

I believe with all my broken heart that they are here to help us in any way they can, including helping us heal.

From Linda, mother of Eric: I lost my only child, Eric, and desperately needed something to take care of or something that needed me. My first little puppy looked as helpless as I felt. We needed each other. I then got a second dog because I felt like I was not giving my first dog enough attention as I was "stuck" in the bed most of the day. They needed me to walk, feed, and play with them. I had a purpose for just waking up in the mornings. They became brothers, and I felt like a mother of two for the first time. My furbabies saved my life. They gave me unconditional love whether I was crying my eyes out or just surviving each moment without my son. 

Tabitha's Dog SchotzieFrom Tabitha, spouse of Michael: When my husband and I were dating, he had a cocker spaniel named Schotzie.This dog was older and had a bit of attitude. One of the things my husband noted right away was how close Schotzie and I got. We both usually fell asleep on the couch while my husband played Rock Band. When we married, Schotzie became our joint child. When my husband passed, Schotzie reminded me of my husband every day. As long as I had him, I had a part of my husband. Schotzie also took up lots of my husband’s tasks. Schotzie told me when it was late and I needed to go to bed. He watched over me by guarding the doorway to wherever I sat. When he passed, it was like I lost my husband all over again. It was like I lost one of our kids. It was like I lost one of the last pieces of my husband. Schotzie was that integral to my life. 

Tabitha's Dog AlexAlex is another story. When we initially got married, we were at two different bases; we lived about 16 hours apart. I missed my husband and the kids, so he suggested I get a small dog. Thus, Alex came into the picture (a small terrier). Alex ended up being mostly my dog because it was just the two of us. When my husband and the kids moved in, there were a lot of growing pains because, being a terrier, Alex was quite possessive of me. When my husband passed, Alex helped tremendously. Whenever I cried, Alex ran over to force me to nuzzle him. He would usually flop on his back as well. He seemed to be saying, “Pet me and you’ll feel better” or “I’m here, don’t cry.” He was very in tune with my emotions. Now, that it is just myself and Alex again, I feel a lot of his attitude assists me with getting out of my bogs of depression. I have to get up because someone needs to feed the dog. I have to get up because Alex never lets anyone sleep in more than eight hours. I have to stay active because otherwise Alex torments me to throw the ball all day. I have to go to bed at a decent time or Alex complains about having to stay up.

It’s odd how the smallest things can have the deepest connections. But I feel both dogs have helped me, in their own ways, in dealing with my grief. From assuming my husband’s responsibilities to ensuring I stay active to comforting me when the world seems too much.

From Diane, mother of Caleb: Griz was Caleb's dog. That I have his dog is a great comfort. Griz is a constant companion. I don't have to worry about him saying the wrong thing or being rude and saying, "Get over it!" I don't have to explain to Griz why I'm crying — again. He seems to understand and sits next to me, wanting to lick the tears from my face. If I'm having a bad day, Griz doesn't try to guilt me into pretending like it's a better day than it is. He goes along with me and is a steady support by just being there. If I can't sleep, he wakes up, too, and follows me into another room while I pray or cry or just sit. He sits and waits ever so patiently. Sometimes, sleeping on Caleb's bed is therapeutic for me. Griz can sleep on that bed. He lies next to me, doesn't move and helps me not feel so alone. When I'm sitting down, sometimes he will come up and put his paw on my leg, as if to say, "It's OK. I'm here." This precious gift is the best buddy I could have asked for since Caleb's been gone. I'm so thankful, and I understand why a dog is man's best friend. This dog is this Gold Star mom's best friend — always beside me, always faithful, making me smile through the tears. 

The Saturday Morning Message (SMM) is a weekly communication; written and contributed to by survivors. The primary focus of the SMM is to foster peer based connection, survivors helping survivors, for support and encouragement along the grief journey. It is the goal of this communication to foster a safe, supportive atmosphere where we can openly share in a non-judgmental and caring manner. Read and contribute as you are comfortable, and explore any opinions/ideas shared that are most beneficial to you on your individual journey. Content submitted for inclusion in the SMM is edited for spacing considerations and grammatical corrections.

If you ever need to speak to someone regarding an urgent matter or just need a listening ear, the loving family at TAPS is available to you 24 hours a day. Please feel free to contact TAPS at 1-800-959-8277.