Last week my husband and I headed to Michigan to spend Thanksgiving with family. This necessitated coaxing our thirteen year old cocker spaniel, Sandy, into the car.
Sandy hates the car. She has always hated the car--ever since I made the mistake of placing her in the backseat alone when she was a puppy. She acts now much the way she did then: hyperventilation and convulsive shivering that stop only when we hit the interstate and she passes out.
Yes, we have tried drugs. We have tried a crate. Neither made a bit of difference. This year was the first year we tried a Thundershirt. We followed the directions, getting her used to it gradually and offering treats so she could build positive associations. I wasn't expecting a miracle--she's thirteen, after all, and that's a lifetime of fear--but I was hoping it would at least help.
Shockingly, it did. There was no hyperventilation, and only a bit of shivering that stopped after a few minutes. She didn't quite look like Thundershirt's calm, comforted cartoon mascot, but she also didn't look like she was about to spontaneously combust. I deemed it a success.
And I felt more than a little jealous. I remembered the first Christmas after my brother died--how my eyes were animal-wide in every picture, my face swollen with the extra weight I'd gained trying to eat away my grief. My parents were the opposite: gaunt and grimacing, eyelids so heavy they were scarcely open. We could have used Thundershirts.
I could still use a Thundershirt.
The landscape of our family has changed, as the landscape of families does. After my brother passed we lost my grandparents, the family dog. My cousins have had more children, I've become an aunt three times over and lost a pregnancy of my own. These are changes easily buried during my daily life, but when the family gathers everything surfaces: the new, the old, the missing, the never will be. It isn't all bad, but it's still a lot to bear. Lacking a Thundershirt I wrap myself in other things: love, first and foremost. Quiet moments when I can catch my breath. Laughter and stories. Pie.
It isn't perfect. There is still some shivering. But I don't feel like I'm about to spontaneously combust, and I call that success.