Alzheimer's disease · Behavior · Caregiver · Dogs · Grief

Being sad alone / August 17, 2006

I returned to work today, after two whole days of being unable to control my tears. Although I dreaded the day I’d have to say good-bye to my beautiful boy, I was still unprepared for the torrent of grief that followed. I am extremely fortunate to work with many animal lovers–people who actually cried with me today, left me consoling notes and one dear friend who made a donation to Dogs for the Deaf in memory of Dustin.

The experience of grief at the loss of an animal is something I’ve been thinking about a lot the past few days. I think the nature of the relationship (for many of us) cultivates these feelings. The “Dog Whisperer” would have a field day with me because, while I do understand at some level that these creatures are not human, I still invest them with human emotions at levels no human could ever sustain. Dustin followed me from room to room, he was jealous of any attention I gave Lily and would physically insert himself between us if he could. And there was no guile, no ulterior motive. He was devoted to me (I tell myself) and how on earth could I return that devotion while he was around, or replace it now that he’s gone?

So I’ve been having these very Victorian urges to sleep with his collar and tags under my pillow, and save tufts of his fur as keepsakes. (Both of which I’ve done.) I know I’m not the only one who feels this way, just from a cursory search of the internet for “pet memorials” and it’s interesting (and takes my mind off the maudlin stuff) to think about why I feel this way.

And so I can’t help but think that my dogs have increasingly become my emotional mirrors, now that my mother is growing more and more perplexed. This situation in particular–my sadness over a dead pet–is extra poignant because the one person to whom I’d always go when my heart was broken is no longer available. I can tell she is aware that something has happened to upset me, but it’s impossible for me to understand what she thinks. She still reacts to my tears, but in an unsettled rather than a consoling manner. “What’s the matter?” she’s asked, keeping her physical distance. She doesn’t like it when I’m not “status quo.” And when I do manage to control myself she acts as if nothing has happened–she never mentions Dustin.

Actually, though, she did do something odd today. Eva had the day off so my sister spent some time with my mother. When she arrived at noon, she found Lily lying in the living room, surrounded by four bowls FULL of dog kibble. In addition, my mother had added water to the kibble, which caused it to expand to twice its size. She’s never done this before–I always leave the dogs’ “lunch” in the refrigerator, and she has always known enough to take it out and give it to them. Today was no different, only she told my sister that she had to feed “all of them” so she put the extra bowls out.

My sister called me at work to tell me this, and I’ll confess that we had a chuckle over Lily’s seeming paralysis in the face of her luncheon buffet. When I got home, the bowls were in the refrigerator. “What are these?” I asked my mother. She smiled oddly and shook her head, as if to say “Beats me.”

I talked with a coworker today about my mother’s reaction to Dustin’s absence. “How hard that must be for you,” he said. “It’s hard enough to go through it alone, but to be with someone who can’t see it must be extra tough.”

And I thought, That’s it. It’s like being on the viewing side of a two-way mirror and trying to get the attention of the person I see on the other side, while all she can see of me is a dark, imperfectly-reflective flat surface.

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