Personal information obtained on therapy visits is confidential. When applicable the name/location/sex/condition of persons visited may be changed to protect privacy. However, the interactions, conversations are true and did occur as written.
Gopher, Squirrel, Chad, and Carla are all volunteers. They do not officially represent any institution that may be mentioned.
Gopher has a very pronounced huff, he uses it when he is frustrated, tired, and even when he gets comfortable for a nap, and sometimes he uses it to let me know when it is time to leave a patient. Gopher also will whine softly when he is excited about a new location, or if he thinks he needs something and we are too slow in our response. We started visiting Ian a long time ago, he was agitated on our first visit, frustrated with his condition and where life had led him.
We would visit with him every couple of weeks. The months would pass and with each visit his agitation and frustration seemed to lessen. Ian would tell Gopher about his fears and his joys, his regrets and proudest moments. Ian divulged many aspects of his life to us, all while stroking Gopher who would happily hop into his bed, on a protective sheet.
Hours passed over those months of visiting, Gopher stretched out along his side, his hand gently stroking the golden fur. We learned so much about him, his biggest fear like many was not being done with what he needed to complete and leaving too soon. His biggest regret was his son, he had one, and three daughters, and he spoke with pride of all of his kids, but was saddened by his lack of relationship with his son.
Many years had passed since they last spoke and Ian blamed himself for the time that had passed and the words not spoken. When Ian was young and so were his kids he had another illness, addiction. One night his wife had sat him down and said he needed to get help or she had to take the kids and go anywhere that he would not follow. It was the wakeup call he needed, and after treatment had spent the last 50 years clean, only thinking about relapsing one time a decade before when he said his final goodbye to his wife.
His son grew into a man, became successful and then slowly piece by piece lost it all. Ian knew what was happening and recognized himself in his only son. He approached him and they battled, Ian used the same method his wife had and told him if he did not get help he was no longer welcome in his home. Ian’s son left that night, and did eventually get help, but the wounds Ian felt were too deep. When his son came back and was clean, Ian turned away from him and the years would pass without bridging the gap. He told Gopher and I that he was never mad at his son, never mad at his temper the night Ian approached him, nor the time it took for him to get help. Ian was mad at himself that he passed along the same struggle he fought with his own life, that he gave him something that took so much away from him. He was angry that all he had given his baby boy was a lifetime of pain and misery.
One morning we received the call. Ian had declined and he was in the final stages of life, would Gopher and I be available to come and visit. We arrived in the room and unlike our previous visits found Ian sleeping and breathing very quickly. As we turned into the room we were greeted by several members of his family, it would be the first time I would meet the people who I had heard so much. I introduced Gopher and myself and said we could come back later if they wished. His oldest daughter said, “No, please stay we have heard so much about Gopher we feel like we know him and Dad would want him here.”
Gopher took this as a cue, went to the cabinet, raised his paw and whimpered for me to grab the sheet. I did as the King asked and placed the sheet on the bed with the permission of the family. Gopher got up and assumed his regular position, laid his head down and closed his eyes.
It seemed like an eternity passed in silence then the silence was broken, a woman in the back of the room sitting in shadow said, “He is just as calm as Dad told us that is amazing.” We spoke a bit about therapy dogs, the training combined with an innate ability to perform the work. Silence fell across the room again and another eternity seemed to pass when he stood up, a man sitting in the shadows next to the last woman who spoke stood up and walked towards the bed.
When he arrived he knelt down took Ian’s hand held it over on Gopher’s side and with his other began petting Gopher. He looked up at me tears welling in his eyes, “I am Ian’s son.” He went back to petting Gopher, and holding his Dad’s hand on Gophers side. Someone in the back of the room said, “Look, Dad seems to be breathing a little easier.” It was true his respirations had calmed, and his breathing was lighter and more consistent.
Ian’s son looked up at me again and he began to tell me the other side of the story of a few weeks ago. “Dad called me a couple of months ago, it was weird as I had not heard his voice in years but knew it was him. He told me about Gopher and his visits, he told me that Gopher was a good listener, and that he wanted to say he was sorry.” His son paused as tears fell down his cheeks. “Thank you Gopher, I have gotten to spend a part of every day with my Dad these last few weeks.”
Ian’s son then got up, steadied his father’s hand on Gopher’s side. Time would pass again in silence. Gopher would be the first to break the silence when he lifted his head and let out a huff. I knew it was time to go, and feared what would be happening soon based on prior experience. Gopher hopped off the bed and I removed the sheet and bid our farewells, the whole of the room getting up to pet Gopher, and Ian’s son giving Gopher a long hug. It was during the hug that the familiar rattle came from Ian’s bed, his oldest daughter drew attention to it and asked if I knew what was happening. I lied, and said I would send the nurse on my way out.
Gopher and I left, knowing that Ian had passed, and stopped at the nurse’s station where a familiar face greeted us. I told her what had just happened, she gave a nod of mutual understanding, lowered her head, and went to Ian’s family. I heard an audible cry as we turned to leave.
With tears in my own eyes, I looked down at Gopher, a gentle wag of the tail, a strut and a smile on his face, he knew his work was done.