Recently my father passed. He would’ve been a hundred in a couple of months. My mother died six years ago at ninety-three. Both times my wife showed her concern and support for me but pointed out to me what she knew was detachment at my lack of affect. She said that it would hit me eventually. I never cried at either of their deaths. Five years ago, our gold tabby died, and I cried my eyes out. I would do the same if the two cats that we have now passed.
What’s the difference between losing a parent or a pet?
Mulling the above over, a number of answers came to me. Both of my parents, whom I loved and respected, lived full and active lives. Moving from their home into an independent one bedroom apartment was a form of death for them. Most of my siblings and I recognized this. I saw my mother, who was always active in her family and community sitting in a chair and reading or watching television. My father moved around more and took care of my mothers bathing in the year before she died. My two elder sisters moved my father closer to them in another retirement home, where he was missing my mother and needed his own assistance to bath and dress. My mother died in her sleep next to my dad, my father died in the company of two of my sisters, both peacefully.
Secretly, I was happy and relieved when they passed. I knew both my mother wanted out, and later dad. They loved each other, had six children and brought us up with love, and taught us early on to be independent.
A pet depends on you. Parents, unless their sick or unstable, don’t. A pet gives us unconditional love and asks very little in return, They are for many of us with no offspring, our kids who we talk with others about with no shame, at times retelling the same stories. We come home to them after a long day, wagging their tales in their excitement to see us or softly purring as they nudge our legs.
If we are lucky, we have our parents into our adulthood and the relationship takes on the polished patina of good company. Our pets, not so. We enjoy them more, sneaking them treats on the side and if the property is there, we bury them under a tree in the backyard.
John Shinavier, MA, L.C.