Monday, February 16, 2009

Good Medicine

By Sarah Albrecht

The other night my four-year-old sat giggling on my lap as we watched our grey tabby kitten on the opposite couch. He lounged on his side with one paw raised, then swiped at our golden retriever’s plumed tail when it splayed into the air.

This scene of pet felicity might imply a family of long-standing feline and canine ownership. Not so.

About two-and-a-half years ago my husband and I first considered letting our younger son pick a cat from the humane society. He wanted one so badly, you see. We checked out books from the library, talked to cat lovers (and haters) and weighed the pros and cons. Pros won, and one hot July day we trundled down to the pound and our son chose an orange tabby he named Sparky. A couple of months later our neighbors had retriever puppies and we repeated the process. A year later our other son longed for his own cat. We repeated the process. Then the first cat punched out a screen and sneaked out the window one night to have a fatal rendezvous with a coyote. We repeated the process.

So we have a grand total of two cats and a dog, and when the boys forget to clean the litter box or the dog chews the rug or sneaks into the library, the only part of the house she considers “outside,”or we spend an astonishing amount at the vet, I still feel drawbacks to pet ownership.

The fact is, though, at least one of the pets makes us laugh every day. And after a stressful day at school, the first thing my teenager does is look for a cat to hug. When my preschooler is lonely while the other kids are at school, ditto (well, she might tuck the kitten under a blanket instead). As I sit reading in the quiet of the morning before the rest of the house awakens, I’ll look up and see the mature cat sitting squarely in front of me, squinting her eyes in welcome. If my ten-year-old son has too much energy, well, he’d better find the dog.

The pets have become good medicine with a few side effects.

Applying the pets to life in general, I find that the pros and cons in many of my choices morph into “medicine” and “side effects” after the decision has been made and the new lifestyle begins. Over time, if the benefits of the medicine continue to outweigh the detriments of its side effects, I can live with, and even enjoy, the situation. If negative side effects eclipse the benefits of the medicine, then it’s time to make a change.

Waxing philosophical about cats and dogs—medicine or side effect? I’m not sure!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Healing in a Jar

After a major loss in my life, I attended a grieving class. One concept I learned is that it's normal to be forgetful and distracted when you've experienced grief, even when you're not thinking about your loss. And that gave me hope that sooner or later ordinary aspects of my life would settle down.

And they did.
Then I happened to read a magazine article about a woman who gave her mother, "the woman who has everything" a unique gift. She took 365 small slips of paper and wrote memories of her mother on each. Then she put them in a pretty jar with a ribbon and presented it to her mother.

"Read one each day," she told her mother, who promptly reached in, took out one slip, read it, and smiled. They reminisced about the event on the paper.
Then, after the daughter left, the mother read each of the remaining 364 papers! She just couldn't ration herself to one a day, she enjoyed them so much.

I returned to my grieving class the next evening and one member said that her familiy was gathering in a couple of months to honor the life of her brother, who had taken his own life. They couldn't afford to do anything expensive or elaborate, but they wanted to do something significant that would bring them closer and help them heal. I thought of the "memory jar" in the magazine article, and told her about it.

Her face lit up. She said it was a great idea; she would ask family members to write favorite memories of her brother and bring them. They'd put them in a jar and take turns reading them.

I later heard that it was a great success. They pulled the memories out of the jar and they laughed and they cried and they began to heal. From simple ideas great things can happen. And in this case, I had the privilege of passing on a story, one that helped a family deal with their grief.