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By: Mari Nardolillo Dias
(Written by Mari as told by Mercy)
Most of you know me as the grief therapy dog at GracePointe Grief Center. Many of you know through social media that I just had my first birthday, which I like to think makes me wiser. I am getting the gist of this grief therapy.
I always loved Mom’s office since I was a puppy. It is very peaceful. Maybe it’s the diffuser, or the lavender-sage candle. Anyway, the colors and the carpet make me sleepy, so the first year that’s what I did. A lot of sleeping. But since my birthday, my getting wiser and all, I feel like I can feel the same feelings as my mom’s clients. Mom calls it empathetic. I just know when someone is sad, I feel their sadness and feel a need to make them feel better. Well, maybe not better, but a little less sad.
My mom had a beautiful young lady in her office this week. She smelled like dogs. And she loved me. Mom told her every time the client pets me, she gets a dose of dopamine, the feel good neurotransmitter. The woman, let’s call her Sandy (Mom said I can’t use real names, and I love the name Sandy from “Annie” the musical). So anyway, Sandy kept petting me and talking in that high pitched tone of voice that people who love dogs use. Kind of like baby talk. I was getting tired, due to the lavender-sage and the ZEN candle, and I said, the carpet is just right for a great nap. I don’t understand human conversation, but I understand and feel emotions.
Sandy was talking to mom (I found out later her husband had died suddenly). I was surprised because Sandy looked so young. I could hear their voices through my stage 2 sleep, when all of a sudden the air felt heavy and sad: I jumped up from my nap and saw water dripping from Sandy’s eyes. I did what I felt I had to do, and jumped up on her lap to lick the dripping water from her eyes. (Mom told me later they are called “tears”. Sandy liked my licking and stopped the tears. I went back to my interrupted nap.
I was just about to go into REM sleep and ready to dream about running and catching my ball, when I felt the air get heavy and sad again. Sandy was making a lot of noise. *Mom told me later that she was “sobbing”. When I heard the noise, I jumped up once again, and climbed on Sandy’s lap. I licked the new tears, and she stopped. Again, I went back “to sleep, perchance to dream”. (Shakespeare – Mom reads to me every day). This time I went into a deep sleep and dreamed about swimming in the pool. I love water and swimming. Just when I was jumping off the side to catch my ball, which was floating in the water, that heavy air and sadness caught my breath and woke me. I was feeling a bit disgruntled, until I saw Sandy’s tears again. For the third time I climbed up on her lap and kissed the tears away. They were very salty, which made me thirsty.
Mom told me later about a famous study that had thousands of people watch a sad movie and those that cried (that’s what Sandy was doing!) collected their tears in a little cup. The researchers froze the tears. Then they had all the same people who cried during the sad movie and had them peel an onion. Peeling the onion made them cry too, and they collected those tears in another little cup. When the scientists looked at the two sets of tears under a microscope, they found that they were completely different! The tears from the sad movie were full of cortisol, a stress hormone. Which I guess means that when humans cry, they get rid of their stress! The tears from peeling the onions didn’t have any cortisol! So I guess crying is a good thing for humans. I know mother gives them what she calls “permission slips”, which are tissues that humans use to blow their nose and wipe their tears away (If I’m not there to lick them!)
I finally went back to my dream, and the air felt light and breezy the rest of the time Sandy was there. When she was ready to leave, I jumped up and she picked me up and we rubbed noses. She said I was a great help.
So, like the velveteen rabbit, (Mom read that to me today), I am getting not only wiser but “real”. According to the skin horse, it is a process, getting real. Mom calls it honest or authentic. Sometimes I just nestle on their feet and sleep. I feel a need to connect with them physically, touching them in some way, and they don’t seem to mind. I think I’m getting pretty good at this grief stuff. It makes me feel better too!
Not everyone likes dogs, and Mom always asks if I can sit in on the visit. (Although I’m hypoallergenic and no one sneezes around me. I don’t shed either! I came from out of state – Utah to be exact. I didn’t know what it was like to live in Rhode Island nor did I know anything about grief therapy. But like I said, I am 1 year old now and a great deal wiser… and real.
Dr. Mari Dias is a nationally board-certified counselor, holds a Fellow in Thanatology and is certified in both grief counseling and complicated grief. Dias is a Certified death doula, and has a Certificate in Psychological Autopsy.
She is Professor of Clinical Mental Health, Master of Science program, Johnson & Wales University. Dias is the director of GracePointe Grief Center, in North Kingstown, RI. For more information, go to: http://gracepointegrief.com/ . She is the author of GriefSpeak, vol. 1, Stories of Loss
Love your story with Mercy, that’s for sharing , it made me smile .
Thank you Lisa! I plan on writing more in the future!