This is a tired dog. Myles had a few months off from therapy dog work. After his first visit back, he headed straight for his bed. Our family has been grieving the passing of my father in February of this year and volunteer work went by the wayside for a short while. We tried getting back to it before we were really ready but that didn’t last long. There is nothing as motivating as the hospital calling and begging you to come for a visit, “The patients miss you both, please come back.” Even those requests had to be ignored. I finally sent an email to the director of the behavioral health unit letting him know what was going on, “I am sorry but my father died and the entire family is devastated. I am in shock. Myles is working overtime at home for all of us. I just don’t have it in me to show up right now.”
This is the great thing about working with counselors. They get it. There is no conversation about feelings or life circumstance that you can’t have and discuss. He was, of course, supportive and told me to take all the time I needed. Myles and I are welcome back as soon as we are ready. About three Fridays ago we were finally ready.
We’ve been visiting the behavioral health unit of this hospital for four years, every Friday regardless of holidays or weather. If patients are there, we are there. Time off to grieve though was necessary.
Myles was four when we started visiting. The patients used to throw the ball up and down the hallways. He would spend the entire hour running. Now that he’s eight things have slowed down quite a bit. Border collies tend to wear themselves out because they are type A dogs. Workaholics. Myles is definitely my dog.
Our last few visits have been more about getting the patients to pet him, feed him treats (If Myles had a broken leg, he would still find a way to get a treat), hug him, and cry into his chest. Visits are for the patients but there are many times I feel as though Myles and I are getting much more. They are about my listening to someone’s story, whatever they feel like sharing, and Myles is there to make the telling safe and comfortable.
I used to be so nervous for these sessions thinking I had to perform. Now I just head straight for the floor in the common room and invite whomever wants to join me to the floor as well. Some people sit in chairs while others roll around with Myles. Mostly it is about respect. Respect for someone’s process. Respect for someone’s grief. The profound respect I carry for anyone because they seek treatment. It is always a mental and emotional check of my own.
Society is tough on people that are suffering from mental illness. It is the one “dis-ease” that still carries such stigma. There are unhealthy places to be in society that make the sharing of your mental health issue unsafe. Behavioral health organizations like this hospital unit are a haven. These are the only places Myles and I do our volunteer work.
He is slower to rise at eight and has a front foot that is a little shaky at times. There is no more running up and down the halls. There is still no place, however, that he lights up with more vigor than on Friday afternoons when it is therapy dog time. As we have been told many times, he is there for the counselors too. Long days helping people that are suffering. They deserve their “Puppy Prozac” which is the name they gave Myles several years ago.
We are glad to be back to it. It’s helping me with my own grief. I miss telling my father all about the visits. He loved Friday afternoons on the veranda of his house welcoming Myles back home and petting him while I shared what I can share about his time at the hospital. Thanks Dad. I know you are watching and enjoying from another place. We miss you. Myles still lets out a howl for you when we come home.