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Book Review
Absent Friend
by Laura & Martyn Lee

Review by: Kate Connick, June 2003

There are a number of books about pet loss available in print. One good, British book is Absent Friend, authored by Laura Lee, pet bereavement counselor, and her veterinarian-husband, Martyn Lee.

This 131-page, nearly pocket-sized paperback is full of useful information. The authors begin by examining the pet-owner bond. Then they explore loss itself and its variations: sudden death, euthanasia, and separation without actual death. They discuss special populations - such as children, the elderly, and even other pets - and how they deal with grief. And they explore practical issues such as means of disposing of the body and when or if one should add a new pet to one's life.

The tone of the book is informative, factual, and practical but somewhat dry. The references to the case histories, for example, illustrate the authors' points very well but don't necessarily involve the reader emotionally. This is particularly true towards the start of the book:

"Sometimes, as illustrated in the next case, we direct our anger at God or fate for allowing our pet to pet taken away. After losing a cat that had shared many happy years with him, an owner bought himself a kitten which was soon tragically killed by a car right outside his house. The owner thought that he had coped well with his first loss, but '...felt angry that this time fate or whatever could so casually cut short the life of a delightful little kitten and cause so much sadness.'"

Neither giving the owner and cat proper names nor sharing details about them beyond one or two lines presents a more distanced and emotionally bland case than if more elaborate detail were presented.

For this reason, as I read the first few "textbook'y" chapters, I was thinking that the book would be better used to educate a third party about pet loss than to comfort a bereaved pet owner himself. That being said, this book shines when it comes to practical suggestions and factual information, and in that respect I can see it being of great use to a bereaved pet owner.

There is a good list of "do's and don'ts" for helping children deal with euthanasia of a family pet. Similarly, there is an eloquently simple example of how to explain death to a young child: "Your pet has died. This means that it no longer moves or breathes. We will bury the body. You can visit the grave and talk about it whenever you want to. We are all very sad and we should cry whenever we all need to."

The euthanasia chapter discusses what to expect and includes some possible situations that might upset an unsuspecting pet owner. For example, an animal might require sedation or muzzling, might groan as it dies, or the vet might have difficulty finding a vein. Knowing these things can help mentally prepare the owner. Oddly, the authors don't mention the involuntary release of urine or stool which some surprised owners might find disturbing.

Sometimes the authors drift from the topic at hand, e.g., discussing forms of pet identification or how to choose a suitable replacement pet for an elderly person. These small tangents are integrated into the overall topic well nonetheless.

The final chapter, title "Obituaries," shares cases in greater detail than found in the rest of the book. Although touching tributes, they would have been vastly more potent if incorporated into the book's content proper.

One owner, for example, killed himself after his beloved boxer died. A tragic story? Absolutely. But it kind of hangs there, rather than being anchored to the rest of the book's content. If would have been better to include it in the chapter on grief and explain how unhealthy and excessive grief is manifest, recognized, and perhaps thwarted. I found it disturbing that the authors say, somewhat wistfully and romantically, that this owner's "devotion to, and dependence on, Butch will never be forgotten."

Likewise, the obituary about the woman who beats all odds and nurses her cat successfully through what was thought to be an incurable kidney disease only to have it run over and killed in the street, would have been a compelling case to include in the chapter on sudden death. These kinds of detailed cases can breathe emotional life into an otherwise dry book, and they should not be sequestered into a separate chapter at the end of the book. The failure to integrate them into the rest of the book struck me as a mistake on the authors' part.

I like this book, and I would recommend it. It is useful and informative. It doesn't tweak me emotionally like Quackenbush's book does, but it has its own strengths. If someone seeks a well-organized, comprehensive, informational guide to pet bereavement, this is a good choice.


bonebonebonebone
Absent Friend by Laura & Martyn Lee.
Published by Henston, Ltd., 1992. ISBN: 1850540896

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