Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

The Animal Story

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on June 21, 2012

Toobie, a seventy-year old female, saw a dog lying on the street. In her attempt to rescue the dog, the dog died at the scene. Toobie narrated this sad tale adding in personal responsibility and overwhelming guilt. She was sure that if someone else had tried to rescue the dog, the dog would have survived, even though she called for help, which is what anyone else would have done. “You know, I have never gotten over watching helplessly as my mother died from Huntington’s Disease thirty years ago, and I think seeing this dog die brought back all of those horrible feelings. “Maybe it is a really good thing that you saw the dog in distress, because maybe finally, that gives you an opportunity to work through the overwhelming guilt that you feel over your mom’s passing,” I say, feeling so positive that she could connect the dying dog to her dying mother without me having to make that link. Toobie looked at me with palpable relief. “You get it. You really get it.” Toobie says, expressing her trepidation over telling me the story. “Everyone else tries to reassure me that I did everything I could for that dog, but I know that is not the point. I take every opportunity to feel bad about myself.” “Yes, you are very good at that,” I say, chuckling together. “Maybe it is time to become less good at that,” I say, again seeing the relief in her eyes as we discuss this very painful event. Tears flow rapidly now. Toobie says, “you know I just can’t forgive myself for what happened with my mom.” She has already told me that her mom was dying and even though her mom insisted on no heroic measures, Toobie feels horrible that she did not disobey her mom’s wishes. “Further,” Toobie continues, “my brother is angry at me over my mom’s death, as well.” “I know,” I remind her, “he has never coped with her passing and so he takes his bad feelings out on you,” I say, reviewing previous painful conversations. “You see, that dog on the street has really helped our work. We have this opportunity to explore these bad feelings which stay so alive for you, all these many years.” I repeat, wanting to emphasize that sometimes triggers can be very helpful. “I hope so.” Toobie says as she leaves.

6 Responses to “The Animal Story”

  1. Jon said

    The pre-Socratic Greek Philosopher Protagoras is well known for having said “man is the measure of all things.” While open to interpretation, let us understand this statement to mean that what is important in the realm of morality or justice is how it relates to mankind.

    In this same fashion, Toobie’s experience with a dying dog can give meaning to a non-narcissistic phase that “the self is the measure of all things.” Here her recent experience can help her cope with previously unresolved grief of situations beyond her control. The two of you have gain insight and comfort. There is a sense of justice in this insight and comfort.

    • Thanks, Jon, for once again expanding this post by bringing in the “old folks” of knowledge and thought.

    • Shelly said

      Jon, I really enjoy your thoughtful contributions to all of Shirah’s posts. You are so articulate and your responses are so well put. Are you also a psychiatrist?

      • Jon said

        Shelly, thank you for your comment. No, I am not a psychiatrist, but a physicist, who earned a living as an engineer. As such, I have tried to think deeply about many things, to create new things, and to be able to express these ideas in a way that will resonate with others. Thanks again.

  2. Shelly said

    How very sad for Toobie that she feels that she didn’t perform heroic measures to save her mother’s life, even though it would have gone against her mother’s dying wishes. Now she has to live with her own guilt and her brother’s wrath–a double whammy. I hope your work with her will shore up her will to fight against both these forces to live her life and to say that she did absolutely the right thing for herself, for her mom, and for the poor dying dog lying in the street!

    • Yes, guilt is a terrible pain to live with. Toobie is an example of the walking wounded. She looks and carries on normally, but inside, she bears a terrible burden. Working that out takes time and pain, which in moments, is unbearable. Thanks for sharing your understanding.

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