When considering what actions widowed men can take in hopes of accelerating their healing, they may only have to reach down to the pet seated beside them. I witnessed the power of pets often during Michelle’s illness, especially during the final hours of her life when her son Jacques carried each of Michelle’s three golden retrievers, one at a time, from his car up to her hospital room. The nursing staff placed a gurney beside Michelle’s bed so her beloved Charlotte, Spencer, and Carolina could lie beside her one last time.
In this appendix, I’ll discuss the positive benefit of pets, and also direct you to resources for pets that are specially trained to provide support and assistance.
My first exposure to the phenomenon of pet therapy was back in the 1990s when my bank duties included leading KeyBank of New York’s annual Neighbors Make a Difference Day. On this day, the bank would close at noon to free up employees to go into the neighborhoods they served and perform community services. One time, bank volunteers took a group of dogs from the local animal shelter to a nearby nursing home. Some dogs were even invited by the seniors to jump up onto their beds. I still remember the looks of joy and comfort on the faces of the seniors when petting and playing with the dogs. Neither the home’s residents nor the dogs wanted the visit to end.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “animal-assisted therapy (AAT) can significantly reduce pain, anxiety, depression, and fatigue in people with a range of health problems including those suffering from a post-traumatic stress disorder.” AAT is the use of trained animals to assist patients in achieving established health objectives and is the first of two therapies grouped under the heading of Pet Therapy. The second is animal-assisted activities, which has a more general purpose, such as what the seniors experienced when the KeyBank volunteers visited them with the dogs.”
The Paws for People website (pawsforpeople.org) adds: “It’s well-known (and scientifically proven) that interaction with a gentle, friendly pet has significant benefits including releasing endorphins that have a calming effect and can diminish overall physical pain. The act of petting produces an automatic relaxation response, reducing the amount of medication some folks need, lifts spirits and lessens depression, encourages communication, lowers anxiety, reduces loneliness” and more.
Widower Mark R. Colgan had this to say about his two Labrador retrievers, Murray and Tucker: “The evening Joanne died my two Labradors proved to be more than companions, they were family members that were grieving the loss of Joanne. As I sat downstairs, reflecting on the day’s shocking events, I heard an unusual cry coming from the bedroom. The bedroom that Joanne had died in earlier in the day. As I peered around the corner of the bedroom door, I saw how the cry was coming from one of our dogs, Murray. He lied on the bed in the spot Joanne had died and was crying in a way that I have never heard a dog cry before. He was mourning.”
But it’s not only dogs that provide us support and solace. Some widowers are more the cat-lover type, and similar benefits have been attributed to cats and other pets.
Professor Carr notes that pets serve another important purpose: they give widowers a schedule and routine. For many widowers, especially those who are retired, days can feel long and empty. Some widowers struggle to get out of bed. However, a dog eager for a walk or a cat meowing for her morning kibble force us to get out of bed, face the day and set up routines that can be a healthy and important source of structure.
To read more… see page 187 of The Widower’s Journey. Available to all Members of WSN-MO at 15% discount. (www.widowerssupportnetwork.com/reserve-copy)