Winter 2006

Dear Catherine,
For the last two years I have thrown myself into my work to distract myself from obsessing about the end of my marriage. However, I now find myself obsessed with my work! I’ve become very successful, but I’m now so completely invested in my work that it’s difficult to experience any rest or quiet. How can I escape from this madness!!!
Stuck on a treadmill
in Lake Oswego

Dear Stuck,
Sometimes a pattern such as you describe requires a deliberate intervention of planned down time. Make a vow to yourself to schedule a retreat or a vacation in as many time intervals as you can afford over the coming year, even if it means only a weekend away now and again – and plan nothing during that interlude. Let the days unfold on their own and don’t be afraid of being quiet. Otherwise, you could run from your thoughts and feelings until you drop, and all your successes will not have provided any peace, fulfillment, or enjoyment of life, only the hollow victory of having avoided yourself.
Catherine

Dear Catherine,
In your book Passionate Presence, I was very taken with your concept of healthy remorse. If only I could get there! Instead, I still have periods of intense anxiety and guilt when thinking about insensitive things I have said or done that I would give anything to take back, especially when I think about my mother and my husband, both of whom have died in the last decade. I can tell myself over and over that I didn’t realize how I would feel afterward, but it doesn’t seem to help. I can forgive almost anyone except myself. I would appreciate any insight. Thank you,
Dana.,
Portland, OR

Dear Dana,
Those feelings of remorse will likely serve to make you more thoughtful, kind, and careful in your speech to those of the living whom you love. However, I would also recommend, whenever strong feelings of remorse arise, to counter-balance them with remembrances of the loving and kind things you did do and say to your mother and husband while they were here – all the ways you did care for them. I would bet that, if one could converse with them now, they would say that they felt your love and would not want you to suffer for a moment over anything.
Catherine

Dear Catherine,
Our family cat, who is one year older than our 10 year-old boy (and is way beyond just pet status), is on her last legs. We may have to euthanize her if she takes any more of a downturn. We’ve all been alternately crying this past week. Would you have any advice on how involved we should have our boy in the process if we do have to put her down? Perhaps we should ask him? I guess I’m frightened of him being beside himself with grief. I also don’t have any philosophical or religious stories or ideas I could comfort him with as they seem to kind of fall apart in the face of death. For me death exposes a deep inescapable vulnerability, which I value. For a young kid, I don’t know.
SH

Dear SH,
While it certainly makes sense to include your son in the process of your dying companion animal, it may be more than he needs to see or know to witness the actual injection for euthanization. Perhaps your family can have a quiet time together as a form of memorial both prior to and after the death of the cat in which you share stories and appreciation. And certainly your son may want to be included in the burial or cremation. However, I think the actual moment of killing a beloved pet may be too much for a child. I also want to take this opportunity to say that I feel people are conditioned to think that they are responsible for and in control of an animal’s life because they happen to be its “owner.” They naturally don’t want their pets to suffer and feel it is their duty to put them down when they seem to be terminally ill. But what if we thought of ourselves more as custodians for animals who live in our homes and let nature be the force that is in control of their lives and death? Nature will take its course. If an animal is in great and unrelenting agony, euthanization is a viable option. But I feel that it should be used much more sparingly than it is. The death of a beloved pet will likely live in the heart of your son for the rest of his life. If there is any way to have that death be a natural one, it may live in his heart more gently.
Catherine