Friday, June 28, 2013

Grief Project - The Helpful Healers

"Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened. "
~Anatole France 

I was crying.  I was always crying.  Weeping.  Sobs of sorrow flowed out of me at every direction as I lay curled in a ball on my king size bed.  Deep in my grief and excavating the depths of my pain.  I was fine being down there in the dark, lonely, and empty place where grief resides.  I planned on staying there awhile.

Then I felt the bed move and heard the clinking of his collar chatter as he walked the length of the bed towards me.  I tried to hide my tear stained face under the nook of my arm, but his warm, welcoming, wet, tongue found me and slobbered all over my salty tearstained face and nose. 

And with that, a slight smile grew from my grieving frown.  

I pulled him close and hugged him and caressed his soft, comforting fur and held his cute little body close to my heart.  He laid there and let me cry.

Until he thought I had had enough. I began to weep and wail as memories of her and feelings of unfairness filled my mind.  When I weeped. He howled. Aaaoooooh.  Aaaoooooh.  Soft and gentle his words of wolf comforted my soul.  For he was too was grieving.  And his empathy and timing made my heart glow as a laugh of joy escaped my mouth.

Dogs have always been my first love.  I fell in love with our first family puppy Lightning before I fell in love with any boy.  So in my grief it is no surprise that my one of my most helpful healers would be my second child, Georgie, my shih tzu.

Animals have long been included in healing practices and in the therapy world we have a name for them-therapy dogs--SURPRISE!  Therapy dogs are used for a myriad of different mental health reasons including war veterans suffering from PTSD, children with terminal diagnosis, teenagers with mental illness, nursing home residents, along with people in incarceration. Research shows that interactions with therapy dogs creates a positive endorphin response which can lower blood pressure and cholesterol.  Oh, and that feel good brain chemical I love to talk about, Oxytocin, well it has been proven that its also released when you are petting your furry friend. (And bonus, they get it too).

Therapy dogs also help with grief.  And don't just take Georgie and my relationship as proof.  Minnesota resident, originally a Newtown native and school psychologist, Holly Ryan was compelled to help her grieving hometown after the tragic school shooting and decided to take a Minnesota therapy dog from PawPads on her trip with her. Ryan describes Ranger's unique gifts of intuition about grief in the Pioneer Press report of her experience, "Ranger, normally reserved and unimposing, would go out of his way to focus his attention on certain people."  Only to learn later that those people Ranger sought out experienced some of the greatest traumas of that day and probably some of the greatest grief. 

And if you think dogs are the only animals in the kingdom who can experience grief, think again.  Elephants mourn deeply.

It is said that when elephants walk by the remains of one who has passed, the herd will pause in silence for several minutes.  To see an example of this deep respect for grief view this short video below. 

So I guess it is no surprise that George, using his intuitive superpowers is on his way to being a furry life guard of sorts.  He provides me with "unconditional positive regard" and sees me as just a human.  A human who was hurting.  When I am sad.  He cries.  When Nick is grieving.  He grieves.  When I need love and cuddles.  He loves and cuddles.  So my suggestion is, get a pet.  They are proven to be helpful in your healing.


You can tell I am an animal lover and if you are too, consider adopting one to help with your grief through the Animal Humane Society.  Can't take care of a pet but want some canine comfort?  Then volunteer with the Animal Humane Society, or better you could bring your pet and train them to be a therapy dog for others and always for you.

If you want to read more about the impact therapy dogs have on humans read a book recommended to me by a therapy dog handler, Transformation of the Heart.  One of the stories is about Avalanche and Susan.  Susan experience the untimely and unexpected death of her husband on vacation and tells the story of how Avalanche helped her climb out of the avalanche of her grief. 

For more information on pet therapy for a multitude of healing reasons visit Pet Partners.

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