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We’re All Together

Articles Inspirational articles from Hay House authors

We’re All Together

Facing loss unites a family.
Daniel  Gottlieb Ph.D.
Daniel Gottlieb Ph.D. More by this author
Apr 02, 2011 at 10:00 AM

Spooky was a big black dog, a mix of Labrador and German shepherd with pointy ears, a flat head, and a long nose. He was spirited, happy, and very friendly, with the kind of tail that could knock you over if you got in the way of its wagging.

When Sam came along, Spooky was getting on in dog years, but they took to each other beautifully. Sam would throw his arms around Spooky’s neck and hug him recklessly while the dog just stood there, eyes widened in blissful enjoyment. When Spooky lay down for a nap, Sam would nestle alongside him.

Of course, living in a bustling household with an energetic young boy and a semi-tolerable cat named Bullwinkle, Spooky was also subjected to a fair amount of torment in his retirement years. For example, Sam had a handheld laser light. He discovered that if he made the beam of light dance around, Bullwinkle would chase after it. Sam learned that if the laser light played over the hind end of the sleeping Spooky, Bullwinkle would pounce on the septuagenarian’s hindquarters. Spooky would jump up in alarm, wakened from his slumber by the impact of cat’s claws on his resting behind.

If Spooky resented the hard treatment, he never let on. Perhaps somewhere in his dog brain, he wondered why his backside held such an attraction for Bullwinkle. But he didn’t blame Sam. On Sam’s part, there was delight in knowing that he could control an interspecies rivalry with nothing more than a beam of light. But clearly he adored Spooky.

Spooky had been part of Debbie and Pat’s life for many years before Sam came along, and as adults, they knew that a big dog was not likely to live more than 15 years. Sam was just 7 and Spooky was 18 when Debbie and Pat found out he had cancer that was destroying the bone in one leg. Soon he would be unable to walk. His life was coming to an end.

Debbie and Pat decided to tell Sam on a Friday night. They explained that Spooky would die soon, so they needed to get all of their loving in quickly. Sam cried and cried. He cried until he almost threw up. And then he stopped. The next day, he didn’t want to talk about it any more. When the vet came by a couple of days later to put Spooky to sleep, Sam seemed removed from what was going on. He played with Bullwinkle. He asked a few questions. But basically he had done all his grieving.

Not so his parents. Both were in great pain. Debbie had been attached to Spooky for many years, and her grief was deep. Pat cried, too. Looking at his grieving parents, and Bullwinkle, Sam grew thoughtful. He seemed to be working things out. And finally he announced his conclusion.

“The important thing,” said Sam “is that we’re all together.”

Sam’s comment was partially an observation and also, in part, a wish that everyone stay close during these painful times. He was giving voice to a universal human longing that is expressed around all the rituals, but mostly grief. That longing is to be in a nurturing community.

The Jewish ritual of shiva reflects that beautifully. When my sister, Sharon, died, shiva was held at her house. It was the first time I had experienced such an outpouring of support from a community. Food appeared. Then people appeared to serve the food and clean up. People came to talk to us about Sharon and their experiences with her. We all felt held together by her community.

I experienced this again when my father died. That was years later, and since I was the last immediate family member, shiva was held at my house. This time it was my synagogue community and my personal friends who swept in and supported me. And I felt cared for and loved. It felt safe to be in community focused on my welfare. This was the first time in my life that I had no responsibilities, which allowed me to just mourn. I could feel my pain while surrounded by people who loved me. Yet, at the same time, I felt extraordinarily alone because I was literally an orphan.

Such is the human experience. The longing to be together, to be fully understood, to be loved and taken care of when we need it most—such is the heart’s longing in all of us. But at the same time we can never be understood because of our uniqueness, because the deepest parts of our beings cannot be described in words. What I’ve learned over the last 30 years is how that uniqueness, which can make us feel so alone, also shapes our unique personalities and gives each of us the freedom to become who we are. At the same time, we live with the feeling of being alone in the world.

About Author
Daniel  Gottlieb Ph.D.
A practicing family therapist as well as author and talk-show host, Gottlieb lives in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, where he has a private practice in individual and family psychotherapy. Continue reading