Baggage Check Live: Nursing is not a veto card

Jul 23, 2019

Licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Andrea Bonior will be online to take your comments about her advice column, Baggage Check, and any other questions you might have. These comments may appear in an upcoming column running in Express and online.

She’ll discuss her recent columns and answer any questions you may have about relationships, work, family, mental health and more.

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Welcome, all!

A break in the heat today. So grateful. How are you?

In today's column, we've got a guy who assumes he's not as hot as the exes of the guy he's dating. And in Letter 2, we've got parents who disagree on how much to disclose of their child's Autism Spectrum diagnosis.

What's on your own mind this week? Let's get started!

As the mother of (now adult) sons, one profoundly mentally disabled and autistic and another with ADHD, I firmly believe in sharing this information. I’m speaking mainly about my son with ADHD here. He was not hyperactive at all, but struggled with attention and impulsivity. For example, he knew to take turns, but would jump in. This behavior seriously affects playmates and schoolmates. I made sure to explain it from the beginning, and his friends knew he couldn’t help it, so they’d remind him nicely or touch his arm to distract him from jumping in. He would always helps his friend in whatever area they needed help in, too. None of us would use his dx as an excuse, but to explain and ask for help when needed. He also would do homework, usually perfectly, and not turn it in. (In his mind it was completed.) We had awesome teachers who would take roll by asking for homework to passed to the person in front, among other ways. Every single teacher was astounded how much better returns were among ALL the students! This next is the kindest, most important to share dx. Every single person gets labeled right from birth, right? Such a happy baby/fussy baby. Chatterbox. Bossy. Rude and lazy <what my son would have been labeled! Quiet. Punctual. Fat. Skinny. Sloppy. Pretty. Athletic. Whether we should or shouldn’t label is NOT the point here, either. Everyone has areas they need help with, so don’t hide an invisible dx label, especially if hiding it would adversely affect a child. And it will. Not to mention that getting that autism “label” got my child so much help, years earlier than if I hadn’t fought for it. Explain briefly, and emphasize child’s abilities first and last, with explanation of how to help and how helping benefits them, too. Enjoy and celebrate your unique child - and the friends you’ll all make because of him.

Thank you for this. You spell it out beautifully. When it can help your child be better understood, and lead to specific advice that will help them do their best in academic and social settings, it seems very clear that disclosing makes the most sense. You sound like you navigated this road particularly well!

My daughter didn't get a diagnosis of autism, but she's not neurotypical! I find that friends and relatives just "know" (and maybe actually assume she's on the autism spectrum) and have never asked for a diagnosis or anything else. They just go about treating her like her. I wouldn't worry too much about sharing or sharing the actual diagnosis. But sharing your fears and concerns is liberating, relieving, and can help you connect and find solutions that you just wouldn't have considered. Take it case by case. Don't talk with Nosy Aunt Gertie, but do talk with Sympathetic Uncle Dom.

How I LOVE that Sympathetic Uncle Dom! He's a peach.

Yup, you got it — there is a pretty wide array of people's abilities to "get it." And though I love that you have been surrounded by those that do, I'm guessing not everyone has that level of savvy, unfortunately.

Hello! I have always been more social than my husband. This was never really an issue before, I would go out with friends, make plans, etc. and he would stay home (even if he was invited, he generally wouldn't want to come). I understood his need to be home, he understood my need to be out. It worked. However, now that we have a young child, our time is just not our own anymore. Weeknights that I used to use as evenings out with friends are now for bath and story time. I LOVE this and wouldn't change a thing. However, it really means the weekends are the only times for friends. My husband feels "abandoned" if I want to make plans (he still wants to stay home) and says that I'm depriving him of time with his child (the baby usually comes with me since I'm still nursing and also because as a full time working mom, I hate to be away from him on weekends). I am happy to save some weekends for just us, happy to invite him to all activities, but still he wants all our weekends just us. I miss my friends. I feel like I'm being a lousy friend because I'm so unavailable. I know part of it is still figuring out life with baby, but I feel like my husband is imposing an isolation on the family that I just can't sign up for. He won't go to counseling. I feel like I either declare that "Baby and I are going out to lunch" or ...what?

Now THIS took a direction I wasn't expecting!

(For every one conflict of this type, I probably see five that involve a "YOU stay with the baby," "No, YOU stay with the baby" type of dynamic. So while it doesn't make your situation easier to deal with, just know that you at least heartened this particular psychologist that you both are clamoring for more time with your child, not less.)

But let me highlight something here that is gnawing at me: you admit your husband feels deprived of time with his child on weekends.

You say that you hate to be away from your child on weekends, so therefore you usually take him with you wherever YOU want to go.

Do you see a wee little problem here?

Why are husband's preferences falling short to your own?

I really want to make sure that you aren't assuming that your need to be with the baby should eclipse your husband's needs. (I am presuming he works too.) And yes, you are nursing, but is pumping or squeezing an outing in between feedings totally off the table? And if so, why?

I know it seems like a cop-out answer, but it really is about compromise. Yes, it is unrealistic for him to expect that you will stay put the entire weekend every weekend, but it is also unrealistic for you to expect that you will go out every single weekend and take the baby with you. There's no magic answer here. But my guess is that part of the reason that your husband is digging in his heels is because he is getting a whiff of your putting your own needs with bebe first, even if that wasn't your intention. 

In my ideal world, you both sit down with a calendar at the beginning of the month, and you choose what events you will do, far in advance, and they feel mutually agreed upon. And then you brainstorm ways to spend time with your friends that don't involve taking the baby, and brainstorm ways of "being at home" — things like playgrounds and parks can at least be a little more social, while still allowing your husband the space to be more introverted — that can meet your needs a little better.

The good news is, the older the baby gets, the more reasonable it is that you will find your groove. Please do keep us posted.

If you hadn't written it, would you say your book about the history of psychology is worth reading?


No chance. It's hideous, really.

Eight years ago I divorced my ex-husband because he was physically abusive. It was a long recovery road, but I now have a great life and am really happy. This morning I saw a Facebook message (sent a month ago) from a woman claiming to be my ex's current wife. She says he is abusing her and using drugs, and asks if I experienced that while I was with him. My head is spinning. Part of me wants no contact with her or anyone connected to him. And frankly, a small dark corner of my brain is screaming not to believe the message (which I feel terribly guilty about). On the other hand, how do I ignore this cry for help? I live on the other side of the country, so can't do anything to physically help her. But I could tell her she isn't crazy and isn't alone. Making this harder, she says she is pregnant and I am too. I'm not sure if my mental health can take this right now, I feel on the edge of a panic attack just thinking about him. What do I do?

I am so sorry.

The key, to me, is this: you can be a good human being and also not take this on. Appropriate boundaries are important here. It is not up to you to save her, and as much as I sincerely hope that she gets out of this relationship and gets the support that she needs, it is not you who has the responsibility (or even the ability) to make that happen.

My vote would be a short, respectful message that directs her to a resource but then makes it clear that the door is closing. "I am so very sorry to hear this. Please do consider some professional support. There is a lot available, including as a good place to start. For my own mental health, I have put that relationship in the past and cannot revisit it, but I hope you know there are people out there who want to help. Though I won't be able to respond again, I really do wish you the best and hope that you can get support to do what's best for you."

I read last week's chat with alarm when the parent wrote about her four year old wanting to die. I said that to my mom at that exact age. Turns out I was being repeated sexually abused by neighborhood boys. I've been in therapy for years, and I've worked to become mentally healthy, but at the time I was freaking out over being punished for things (excessive crying until I vomited, screaming, tantrums, etc...) and my parents couldn't figure it out. This could be something else of course, but I would carefully evaluate what is going on in the child's life to be sure something like this (or something else traumatic) isn't going on.

Ugh. How truly sorry I am to hear of what you experienced. I am so glad that you got support and were able to do the work to get on a healthy path.

It's an important thing for OP to at least consider and not automatically overlook, and I'm glad that you all have brought it up. Thanks.

I lost my best dog ever on May 4th. I have been having such a hard time coping with it and I am starting to wonder if there is something wrong with me. I have tried to talk to a few people about how I feel but they all cut me off with comments about how old he was (15) or what a great life he had. He did have a great life but for some reason I can't stop thinking about having to put him down, I feel so guilty. How do I recover from this loss?

This is awful, and you are far less alone than you realize. And I think the death of a pet — especially one who lived a long life — is often trivialized, as you mention, which makes it even tougher.

But just because your dog lived a long life doesn't mean that it's magically easier to let him go. In fact, for every year longer that he lived, then that means he was even more intertwined in your life, and there was that much more history between you. So, how couldn't it be hard?

On top of that, you feel guilt about having to put him down. Though the guilt is misplaced and not deserved, it is still an understandable and natural (and common!) reaction.

The grieving process here will not be unlike that of grieving a loved one who happens to be human. It has not even been three months. Please give yourself more leeway — there is nothing wrong with you. But that doesn't mean you can't use a bit more support in moving through it. Poke around online for groups and message boards of people who will understand your feelings a bit more than the people you've tried already. Even reading other people's stories can help you feel less alone. I do think that allowing yourself to have your feelings and not have the expectation that you "should" be over it at this early date-- putting a bow on it and moving perfectly forward — will (ironically) help you move through them more smoothly. But if your daily life is suffering significantly because of this, there is absolutely no shame in seeking professional support as well. A therapist can help you process this loss and get you closer to the point of finding meaning in your dog's life rather than being stuck on the pain of his death.

Please keep us posted.

Chatters, what has helped you through the process of losing a beloved pet?

Hi, Dr. Andrea. I moved in with a stranger my last year in college, and (surprise), we became friends. We kept in touch over the decades and got together a few times when she came back to town. We last met at the end of the recession, just after I'd lost a job. I tried to keep up cheery conversation; we talked about her twin sister and her father and how her husband's doing (her college sweetheart). I don't remember saying anything offensive, but I was pretty down (unemployed). She's been unresponsive since and hasn't replied to holiday cards. Her birthday's next week, and I want to write something nice about how I'll always remember her with friendship ... I want to apologize if I did inadvertently say anything bad, and restart this relationship, but not come off as needy or clueless. Any advice on how to do this?

Well, let's say that the worst-case scenario of this birthday card comes true and you indeed come off somehow as needy or clueless.

Is that so much worse than continuing to be ignored?

There could be innumerable reasons that she has gone unresponsive, from ones that have 100 percent to do with you to ones that have 100 percent to do with her to ones that have 100 percent to do with her new obsession with competitive dog-grooming. You really won't know until you at least try to address the elephant (or sheepdog) in the room — letting her know that you miss the contact, you hope that you did nothing wrong to cause a rift, and that you'd like to move forward. It feels so fraught and tricky but it really is that simple.

If she is unwilling to respond even to an earnest and good-faith attempt to try to make things right, then it may be time to understand that for whatever reason, she's likely no longer willing or able to keep up the relationship. But at least you will know that you tried your best.

Andrea, I have a friend that I've known virtually for several years who just moved cross country to my area. Once I met her in person, I realized she's an absolute disaster socially and is driving away my other friends. She's not a bad person, she's quite nice actually, but has absolutely no awareness of her behavior in social settings and how it affects other people. She completely dominates conversations and drives them toward herself and how awesome she is, she's constantly trying to one up everyone (we're all endurance athletes), she has zero volume control and is generally overwhelming to be around. She also really doesn't have much awareness of her surroundings and is downright dangerous on a bicycle. I've tried to gently bring this up and I know her husband has repeatedly talked to her about it, but she doesn't appear to internalize the feedback. I feel caught in the middle because I don't want to be mean or abandon her, but many of my friends have said if she's around they'd prefer not to hang out. Any guidance or resources on this one?

Hoo, boy.

I thought I had a decent answer for you until I got to the "I've tried to gently bring this up and I know her husband has repeatedly talked to her about it" part. So it's not like she's clueless her and just needs a thoughtful, clear conversation to give her insight into the situation. 

Instead, it's that she either can't change, or doesn't yet want to.

So, my question to you becomes: how much does it bother YOU, if it were just her and you? Clearly, it is upsetting that she drives these other friends away, but would you still be willing to spend time with her solo? That's the decision that you are allowed to make for yourself. But it is not your job to feel bad that others make their own decisions to not spend time with her. She is responsible for her behavior; you are not. If they don't hang out, they don't hang out. If she inquires, then you revisit the past conversation: "This is tricky to talk about and I don't want to be unkind here, but I've tried to bring up how you can sometimes be a little overwhelming in conversation. I think it's gotten frustrating for XYZ which is why they're not here. They're getting some space."

And if you decide that you don't want to spend time with her yourself, then you can have a similar — if nausea-inducing — conversation. "I've talked to you about this before, but it's sometimes tough to be around you because of how you can dominate the conversation. I think you are such a nice person, and so it pains me that it's been hard for you to see how this comes across to others. If it would be helpful, I can try to call your attention to it in the moment. If it's not something you're interested in working on, I understand, and that's okay. I'll just need to take a break for a little while."

Sorry for a week late suggestion, but if this person has been (grudgingly) accepting invitations for years, s/he needs to reciprocate and it can be very easy. Host a New Year Open House. If managing and planning freaks you out, then pay a catering firm to handle all the details from menu to hours, h’ors dourve prep and in one swoop, you can reciprocate in invitations from your business mates, the neighbors who’ve had you over for drinks or dinner and friends who might have never seen the inside of your dining room. A wide mixed party of associates from professional to neighbors to friends and family will make such a mix that as host, you’ll be able to drift about and not have to engage in any long conversations. An additional benefit of an open house is that you can, with your written invitations, stage your guests in two hour periods for receiving them, such as 1PM to 3PM and 3PM to 5PM, but make sure you include a mix each bunch of guests from work, neighbors, friends and family so you’ll be more comfortable in the varied company and not feel on the spot with your work associates. If you do become uncomfortable, you can always hit up Uncle John and relax as you talk about the mundane. No pressure! And enjoy the event, if you can. You can hide in the kitchen as you much as you want, “helping” the caterers or being the event bartender. Sweet because if you have one person after another, no civil guest is going to crank his elbow up on the bar surface, what ever it may be, and stay for a long chat I guarantee you, if you have upwards of 40 guests in two sessions, you’ll be too busy greeting and offering drinks and showing them to the buffet to have to endure any long conversations. Cheers and happy new year!

I love an open house myself, and this is a sweet suggestion. I do fear, though, that we are solving the wrong problem.... ultimately in my understanding, OP wanted less social time with their colleagues, period. So (although I agree that never reciprocating while still accepting invitations is not good) I fear that starting to host all-out hootenannies will actually prolong the long-term expectations of socializing with coworkers, rather than get them to go away!

I had totally blanked on actually filling in the website of the resource for people in abusive relationships — sorry about that! That's what happens when I procrastinate on something techy and then get sidetracked! I went in and filled it in now. Sorry about that. It is here:

[In response to last week] It may be too late, but if your MIL is still well enough, try to get her to file a funeral plan with whoever will be conducting the service (the funeral director, or her clergyperson if she belongs to a church, temple, or so forth.). Any reputable place should have forms on hand where she can indicate what music, readings, etc she wants. They will probably even come to the hospice or her home to discuss it with her if she's too ill to go to them. That would be a lot more effective way for her to get the service she wants, rather than her idea of asking one in-law to stand up for her wishes against all the rest of the blood relatives. Signed - a church secretary who has overheard a hundred of these family arguments! You are not alone, LW, everybody's family is a mess when someone dies.

Thanks so much for this. It makes a lot of sense.

I do think in OP's case that perhaps the MIL didn't necessarily want a formal service at all — or at least a church one. So there might not necessarily be a potential leader conducting the service who can take charge, but it's worth some thought!

To the person who said “Funerals are for the living? Seriously?” Um, yes, actually, they are. The person in question is gone. While the person is alive and dying, yes, absolutely, it is All About Them. But after, we are the ones left behind to deal with the pain and grief and loss. And for some, gathering, with or without speaking about the deceased, provides comfort and/or closure. For other grieving persons, this is absolutely the last thing they want. But each person left behind should have a right to grieve the way that works best for them – speaking or not speaking, alone or in a group. I understand the extreme desire, especially these days, to curate your life and control your image. But, you cannot control the narrative or feelings that other people have about you. Telling someone that they can or cannot speak at a memorial for you sounds perilously close to telling them how they can/should feel. Each person’s feelings are their own, and denying – or trying to deny – your loved ones the right to process and grieve in the way that feels best to them is not caring or compassionate. This turning inward is very common in people who are dying, as it is, very understandably, a selfish period in one’s life, I totally get it, it makes sense. But this is my PSA for people as they get close to death: please do not tell your loved ones not to cry, not to grieve, not to care that you are gone, and not to be who they are in the way that they grieve. This is outside of your control and not really a nice thing to ask of people. Disclaimer: I am not talking about the religious part here, just about the gathering and speaking. Of course someone should not be consecrated (is that the right word?) in a religious ceremony that they do not want.

I certainly understand this perspective, and there's a lot of merit to it. But I don't want to conflate not having a formal, churchy memorial service with silencing those who are grieving or telling them not to be who they are or telling them not to care or cry, etc. Everyone is free to grieve in their own way, for certain. But when it comes to actual event planning of "THE" memorial service, I do think there is a certain peace that comes from knowing that you respected the dying person's wishes. (And there's probably a certain ethical consideration as well.) And that doesn't have to negate the griever's own ability to have a private ritual that feels meaningful to them.

Tween changing schools due to overcrowding and chaos. Developed anxiety over the last year dealing with all the chaos. He's in therapy, we got a dog, seen a doc and is on gaba, l-theanine, etc., and we are very supportive but even after researching to my wit's end, it feels like nothing I do helps. I would welcome ideas from those who have successfully helped someone with anxiety or from those who are anxious and can point me to things that help them. THANK YOU!

I am sorry. I know I've said it here before, but the whole "You are only as happy as your unhappiest child" bears repeating because all too often we underestimate just how tough the road is of loving and parenting a kid who has some mental health challenges.

And it's so, so common to feel like you are not doing enough, or are failing your child in some way, or are doing the "wrong" thing — even when you are doing everything right and working your tail off in doing so. So, first things first, identify that "It feels like nothing I do helps" voice as being all-or-none/dysfunctional/catastrophizing. This is your own anxiety and sense of helplessness talking. This is not an accurate reflection of reality.

That said, if progress isn't seeming to come, then some tweaks may need to be made. What type of therapy is going on? Are there solid cognitive and behavioral tools that your son is learning? What are the tangible treatment goals? How is progress measured? Can you bring up your concerns to the therapist?


I recently had one of my many attempts to talk to my spouse which ended badly. The first thing I did when I got in was type up a complaint for divorce. Then a complaint for separation. I am struggling as I know if my spouse moves out he will likely end up homeless. He earns far less than I and has been in a seriously spiraling depression for years. He refuses to see a doctor or a counselor and has deliberately ignored his health needs — suffering though abscesses despite having dental insurance (and a dentist who would let him go for free if needed). After much effort I found a male Vietnam Vet marriage therapist but no he won't go. He finally went to see a doctor a year ago for an injury and it turns out he had a ridiculously low vitamin D level. He took the prescription, improved greatly but never went back to find a correct maintenance dose so now he is back to suffering great pain for minor injuries. I need to reconcile that saving myself may mean watching him more actively descend into what I see as a slow road to suicide. My rational self (and I have said this out loud to him) is that I love him but I cannot save him. I have no issue with him living in the house, there will be a room at the back of the house he can have when it is complete. But I want the emotional, and perhaps financial separation. I am 61 with MS, I am in relatively good shape and I want to be able to actively live for whatever years I have remaining. How do I reconcile all of this?

There are probably not that many things more difficult in life than drawing a boundary with a loved one who refuses to take care of themselves, and watching them suffer and perhaps slowly kill themselves because of their inaction.

But you have tried and tried. And though his depression is obviously debilitating and greatly affects his mindset and his behavior, it is not like he has psychosis or dementia where he is truly incapable of grasping how he needs to take care of himself. Your responsibilities would be different in those cases, but here your responsibilities lie much more squarely into taking care of yourself. There is no rational reason why you should bear the physical and emotional effects of his refusal to take care of himself. That is on him.

You deserve to not have to beat your head against a brick wall every day. You are still willing to provide him shelter, and you can of course continue to beat the dead horse of trying to get him to see that he needs treatment. And you can of course give him some notice (or some would say, an ultimatum) about what you would need to stay in the marriage to give him one final chance to show that he is willing to do at least one small step in the direction of caring for himself. You can spell it all out for him and how much it pains you to watch what he is doing to himself.

But ultimately, how much more do you think you deserve to take? This isn't terribly unlike a spouse who refuses to take steps to recover from substance abuse.

For woman with the raging 4-year-old — please check into PANDAS/PANS. They are neurological/psychological reactions to strep bacteria (PANDAS) or other bacteria or viruses (PANS). They can lead to things like intense moodiness, tantrums, sudden-onset OCD, etc. And can be treated by antibiotics or antivirals. You may have to find the right doctor or psychiatrist to investigate, but it's become more commonly known. 

Thanks. I have been heartened to see PANDAS getting more attention in recent years. I will say, though, that in my experience the OCD symptoms are typically more pronounced than we saw in OP's case (where I don't recall there even being any OCD symptoms) but it could be worth a look.

Some of us know people who have been "in therapy" for years on end. The shrink almost functions as a parent or best friend. I would think that creates a kind of dependence that isn't healthy. What's your view of how long therapy should last? Do people come to you to work on a particular problem and you finish and send them on their way, or do you teach skills that people can apply for themselves, or do you expect to go on forever? What is your plan for a new person? (And do you call your customers "patients," "clients," "guests" or something else?)

Yeah, first, the patient/client/guest/fellow human thing... I've never found a great term I love. I tend to use client most of the time, unless the context makes me sound like I am being hired to walk their dog or decorate their living room, in which case I switch to "patient," which has its own drawbacks.

And I agree there is a fine line between making sure you work with someone long enough to truly solidify the changes they have made, versus creating a situation where therapy itself is their main coping mechanism and you are making it harder for them to fly on their own. I have had all kinds of situations where I start out working with someone with one issue, and then other life issues hit just as we resolved the original one. Or, we start out with one issue that turns out to be a red herring for the REAL issue. Or we start out with one issue and it gets a lot better but then there is a setback that triggers a flare-up of that one issue all over again. Or we start out with one issue and do good work on it and then take a break and then they contact me for a "tune-up" years later.

So, no hard and fast rules about how long it "should" last. My most important criteria are: are goals still being made and met? Are new insights being developed? What's the overall trajectory of what's happening, and has it stalled at all?

Can you have your attorney contact hers, in case your ex's current wife is planning to divorce him?

Could be that having a mediator to work through could help gain distance ... though I'm not sure how she'd even find out the information of whether this person has an attorney without engaging even further than likely would be good for her own mental health.

I read your book Psychology. I thought it was really interesting, had great examples, and dare I say it was actually entertaining?!!

I promise that this is not my husband writing in.

Or at least I am not aware that this is my husband.

Thank you so much!

It’s not unreasonable for the LW to go out for lunch with the baby once or twice a month, is her husband really moaning about being “abandoned” for a couple of hours? Presumably what remains of the the morning, afternoon, evening and the whole next day could be spend as a family unit? Andrea’s suggestion of pumping as a compromise is excellent though. And the nursing stage won’t last forever, if LW would be happy leaving the baby home with the husband occasionally to catch up with friends.

Well said. Thanks. I think the more they can zoom out and see the big picture-- looking at the whole month in advance rather than just finding themselves already immersed in the weekend and discussing it then-- the easier that compromise will come.

Your baby needs time with both of you — assuming you work. It sounds like husband doesn't get his own bath/play time with baby. As Andrea said, I do think you need to go out more without the baby. Dad also needs time parenting on his too. If your husband is a stay-at-home-dad, that changes the dynamic but then why wouldn't he be happy for you to have a few hours with the baby? Basically I think there's a balance here of time with baby that is out of kilter. Nursing is not a veto card.

Thanks. Yeah, the balance seems far off but I bet it is there and they can find it if they are empathetic and communicative with each other. (And again, I assumed that Husband worked as well, but if he is a Stay-at-Home-Father that does change the calculus a bit.)

You mean since 2008? You already know how she feels. Let sleeping dogs lie (whether being groomed or not).

Oh, wow. I just looked back and it seems the whole "after the recession" piece failed to properly trigger my timeline-creating abilities. (They must be overbooked with inexplicably remembering all the Number One Hits of 1986.)

A decade is definitely pretty entrenched; I mean, are we sure this person is even still alive? (Terribly morbid, I know). Though I still wouldn't discourage her from reaching out if she wants to.

When my dog passed, a good friend remarked that the death of her cat had been more traumatic for her than her own mother's death. Initially, that comment shocked me, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. As adults, our parents usually aren't in our day-to-day lives anymore. But pets absolutely are. We build many of our daily routines around them. I am so very sorry for the loss of your furry family member.

Thank you. I think grieving becomes so much harder when we try to quantify it or compare it or tell ourselves what we "should" or "shouldn't" feel. There's no shame in loving someone (even with fur) and having your world be rocked by their passing. There's no one-size-fits-all.

OP, you are not alone in your grief. There are pet grief support groups, both in person and online, that can help. I don't know where you are, but the Baltimore Humane Society offers bereavement counseling, support groups, and a Facebook group.

So good to know. Thanks so much.

Absolutely do look into online resources and communities (eg Facebook groups). Online community and sympathy really helped when I lost my beloved cat a few years ago. You’ll hopefully find fellow pet owners and animal lovers very sympathetic and supportive. I’m sorry about your dog :(

Much appreciated. I am sorry about your own loss!

I would do as Andrea says, but perhaps add a phrase saying you know what she's going through, you're so sorry she's going trough it herself and for your own recovery and mental health you can't revisit it. I think it will help her enormously for you to say that you have been there (and she knows you go away even if you don't say that).


Yeah, I hedged on whether she should actually confirm the fact that she suffered abuse herself. I don't think she has to if she doesn't want to, and I do think it could be harder for her to extricate herself (especially if the other woman wants to compare notes further to see if Husband has escalated, or wants to seek it out for legal proceedings, etc.) But it certainly could be considered a kindness if OP wants to do it.

"For my own mental health, I have put that relationship in the past and cannot revisit it" Please tell this woman you were also physically abused by this man. You don't have to give details but please tell her.

Sorry if this will be a duplicate because I just spelled out my reasoning for not absolutely urging her to disclose. Yes, it could be a kindness, but being that it could also invite more back-and-forth and open the door farther than is good for OP's mental health, I think it's important that she only confirm this if it feels right to her.

That's why I suggested that the OP have her attorney do the contacting.

Got it. Makes sense, thanks.

I just want to make sure that OP understands that she has the right to keep removed from this if it is too upsetting for her.

Maybe so, but it doesn't obligate the deceased to be the central prop for their festival of grief. At the very least, a decent person should be able to determine their last act on earth.

I agree that there is a balance here somewhere!


My wife is an immigrant of color in small town Trump country. Because of the surrounding demographics, we attend a church where she is the only person of color. Because of her accent, people directly know that she is an immigrant. With the recent "send her back" chants, she would like to quit this church even though most people have been generally respectful to her. But she doesn't want to be worshiping in a place on Sunday where it is obvious that some of these people would be the ones chanting for her removal if a Trump rally ever came to town. Any advice for waiting or staying? Because of my job, we can't leave the community.

Your wife, of course, should do whatever she is most comfortable with. I can only imagine the upset that immigrants and people of color are feeling in the wake of these vitriolic remarks and chants, and I don't at all want to minimize the serious emotional impact that they can have.

That said, I can't help but feel like hanging in there with this church is exactly the kind of thing there needs to be more of, to open minds, change hearts, and challenge bigotry. Of course it is not up to her to single-handedly turn a town from red to blue, or to be a one-woman tolerance-inducing machine, BUT — you said yourself that most people are generally respectful to her. In absence of specific incidents, does it really make sense for her to leave as some sort of presumed preemptive strike? And what if that means missing an opportunity to actually make it less likely that these fellow-church-goers would ever join in such a chant?

Did you have some sort of a ceremony of memorial? It doesn't have to be a song and dance or have more than a couple of people but I found it helpful in the way that these sort of rituals help with human loss. Perhaps some levity might help. When my dear, full of character parakeet / budgie died, the vet got him cremated and a box. I went to collect him - the bill seemed a bit large, but what do I know? When they brought him out, I understood why: he was in a beautiful box with an engraved nameplate ... but it was a gazillion times bigger than him. When my husbands it, he said "I see Gatsby has a full on mausoleum." Please find people who understand what you're going though

Thanks for this!

Gatsby went out in style. Grinning here!

I lost a pet a couple of years ago and made a “memory” scrapbook. I got some photos printed and stuck them into the book and wrote out some happy memories. I found it to be somewhat of a healing process, as I was allowing myself time to grieve and remember. Take it one day at a time and eventually you’ll be able to think of your dog and your best memories without getting upset

Thank you! I think such a thing can go a long way toward helping connect someone with the meaning of their pet's life ... which is ultimately the best way through the pain.

That's always how I see the "goal" of the grieving process ... there is no "getting over it," there is no being "back to normal," there is no grief getting smaller but rather there is getting bigger around it — and getting to the point where you can remember the person (or pet!) with more love than pain.

My vet's practice invited my spouse and me to a grief group session after we had to put down our dog. We both found it cathartic and much more helpful than we expected. It also gave us some perspective on what others go through and how they cope (or don't). I'd ask your vet whether they have something like that available, and if not, whether they'd be willing to try having one.

Lovely. Thank you.

Recommended book "Goodbye My Friend" by Mary Montgomery and Herb Montgomery, ISBN 1879779005. Sadly out of print, but available used.

Thank you!

Aw, man. Just reading that title and then looking over at Buster is going to do me in!

I'm not hearing your son's voice here. How does he feel he's doing? Does he feel the meds / therapy is helping for example. Does he feel like he has tools to start a new year at a new school? Is he frustrated and angry? Does he voice feeling lots of anxiety that he has a hart time handling? Have you been able to chat with him about what you put in the post and how he's doing — perhaps not, it might be difficult for him.

Great point. Thanks.

Unfortunately, I don't have time to vet this, but a quick glimpse at the website looks promising! Thanks.

Thank you, this is beautifully put. My younger son had a learning disability (language processing disorder) and ADHD. I remember in early elementary he said something about that he couldn't so something because he had a learning disability. I asked him what would happen when he was an adult and he gave that excuse to his boss. He said he would be fired. (It's amazing what little kids know.) I said that is right, your learning disability is a challenge for you to work harder not an excuse for you to get out of things. He did have an IEP all through school although he used it less and less as the years went on, and not at all in college, and is now a successful professional in an area that does not require work in the area of his disability. All because everybody knew and were open about the issues.

Thanks. I think these types of conversations are so important, helping your child really understand what to make of their OWN diagnosis and how it fits into the world around them. Of course, I have a knee-jerk reaction of clarifying that people with learning disabilities are sometimes subjected to unfair criticisms about it being used as an "excuse," so it's important to tread lightly around that whole verbiage.

Hey now ... I said we last got together after I lost my job after the recession. I think that was 2012-13. Not *that* long. We weren't in much of an economic recovery, which is why companies were still cutting. I sent the card a few days ago and as you said, fingers crossed.


This is what I get for not majoring in economics!

My fingers are crossed for you, for sure.

It could be that she got busy, didn't respond to your initial efforts, and now feels it's too late or she feels guilty and won't reach out. I have been (am) that person, and I feel like a jerk. I don't think one more guilt free (try "I've been thinking about old friends" not "where have you been") would be out of line. But I'm biased and hoping for forgiveness.

That's great wording. And yes, since it's been so long, it may very well make more sense to come at it from that angle.

Inertia and guilt are powerful things, and combined together they pack a wallop. I can't tell you how often I see relationships made worse by the fact that the guilt that someone feels about not responding makes them disappear even further.

I tell you, between that and how to do Kitchener Stitch to finish a sweater, my brain is at full capacity!

Oh, my goodness! If you are working full time, you are pumping already. Save some of that breast milk for the father of your child to have some one on one time while you get some baby free time (even if you don't think you want it) with your friends (who almost certainly do)!

Good point. She probably already has quite a stash. And although I can understand that she wants the actual experience of nursing as much as possible, it doesn't seem that giving her husband a bottle for her to go solo to a lunch date is that unreasonable. Thanks.

I love this. Can it be the title for this week's chat?

I don't make those decisions, but I agree that it was quite the line!

Hahaha I love it too! I also liked Andrea's quip about "the elephant (or sheepdog) in the room," but this is a top contender for chat title of the week. 

If you aren't the therapist, you have no idea what the treatment plan is and you need to butt out. Would you second-guess a friend's physical diagnosis like diabetes? Sorry, this is a hot button for me.

Understood. There was a lot of presuming on OP's part there.

Also, many people whose death we grieve also grieved for their own pets. So it's not disrespectful to feel as you do, IMHO.

Yup, we are all interconnected in this big, beautiful, messy and (this past weekend in DC) downright sticky world.


Martha Tousley, who is a bereavement counselor, has a number of articles and books on pet loss here. 

Much appreciated!

I knew you chatters would come through.

Interesting question where the guy's thoughts went instantly (after months of dating?) to not being attractive. Coincidentally, I was corresponding this weekend on a dating site with someone. Suddenly he wrote that because of hours-long gaps between my comments, I must be seeing multiple men and he didn't stand a chance. I asked why his mind went there and said FYI, I had been to the gym, library, and a volunteer meeting. Major red flag there. He wrote back three times in the next hour. I didn't open them; that much writing usually indicates someone out of control.


We all look through our own lenses, and sometimes the lens is so skewed that it is a red flag in and of itself. I hope LW can see how that could be a problem for themselves.

And, in the case of an entirely different lens, I am glad that you dodged that bullet in your own right!

This portion of the earlier poster's comment is exactly what I was going to write in. I am VERY open about my own diagnosis with anxiety and depression with friends, family, even virtual strangers, because I want to help destigmatize mental illness and talk about that it looked/felt like for me (more people doing that around me may pushed me to get help BEFORE being suicidal for 18 months. Turns out it counts if you don't care if you wake up in the morning, not just if you have a plan in place). That being said, there are a few people that I'm otherwise close and open with, that DO NOT know about my diagnosis based on their previous comments about other people's mental health issues. I'm not going to give them that rock to beat me with when we can otherwise still maintain our status quo

Yes. Every person has to find the right balance for themselves. And much like speaking out and helping with destigmatization is overall wonderful and admirable and noble and needed, everyone has to protect their own mental health as well, and allow themselves full autonomy in deciding what to say and what not to.

I am so glad that you have come into a better place.

Why can't OP say something like "What you are describing to me does not surprise me at all and does not sound out of character for EX". That validates the new wife's experiences without opening the door for OP to re-hash her own experiences.

I like this!

Are we really sure it's the new wife writing and not the ex-husband trying to find a way to get in touch with OP, especially if she moved far away? I would be really wary of giving any type of information that could lead to an abusive ex in finding out where I'm living or what I'm now doing, especially if you are pregnant... I might sound awful, but I think I would not answer at all or ask for an intermediary to contact the new wife.

It's a good point. Thanks. Caution is warranted here, and another reason why I don't think she should be disclosing anything she doesn't feel comfortable with. 

Make sure he's eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep and preferably not consuming caffeine. These things all make a tremendous difference in my anxiety levels.

Excellent points. Thanks.

For the parent with the anxious child — Seattle's public radio station, KUOW, is doing a series of pieces on children and anxiety this week. The one I heard from yesterday was pretty interesting. May be a good place to get some ideas.

Ooh, very cool. Presumably this is accessible with some googling, even for those of us not in the Seattle area.

"Most" people?! What has been your pastor's (and your) response to the few who are -not- respectful? Unless it's been disapproving, public, and -loud-, you can't expect her to suck it up and go to church anyway.

Very true.

It was hard to know what was meant by that — were that active issues of disrespect? Or just that there were a lot of people that she hasn't interacted with one way or another?

OP, a recent article stated that animals are more stoic than we know, so that by the time they make it abundantly clear they're suffering, their maladies are further along and they are in greater pain living longer. So know that you did the right thing by your dog.

That could be an important aspect of processing the guilt part. Thanks.

"Goodbye, My Friend" is another resource. 

Another resource! Again unvetted, but appreciated.

My mother stated she did not want a funeral. She asked all her friends to visit her in hospice to say good bye. She held court for a full week before she became too weak. Before she went into hospice, she filled her freezer with frozen hors d'oeuvres and left money for champagne and instructed my sister and me to throw a party in her house  — it was a true expression of joy and a celebration!

That sounds like that worked out beautifully for all of you.

My condolences on her passing!

And now we've come to the end of the road (Boyz II Men, 1992 — see what I mean? It's a sickness) and our time is up.

Thanks, as always, for being here and creating such a supportive community! I'll look very forward to being back next week. In the meantime, see you in the comments and perhaps on social media of various sorts!

In This Chat
Dr. Andrea Bonior
Dr. Andrea Bonior is a licensed clinical psychologist and the voice behind Baggage Check since its start in 2005. She serves on the faculty of Georgetown University and is the author of the Publisher's Weekly best-seller "Psychology: Essential Thinkers, Classic Theories, and How They Inform Your World" and "The Friendship Fix.”
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