Marley and Me brings catharsis for those who have lost pets

May 28th, 2009 | By | Category: Columns, Movie Reviews

by Mike Courson

Marley & Me could have been junk. Most of us have lost a pet at some point in our lives. Why did John Grogan’s book experience so much success, and did they really have to make it into a movie just because the book made money?

I was skeptical about the book, so listened to it rather than reading it. Driving along the lonely roads of north-central Kansas, I listened to Grogan, seemingly nearing tears, tell about this dog. I got it.

At the time I listened, my dog was alive. Well, not really my dog. My sister originally bought Lily, the Welsh Corgi-Australian Shepherd mix that probably defied the odds of biology just to exist. The dog was such a mess, my parents had to adopt it to prevent her from going to the pound.

I see my parents on a nearly daily basis, and I was always greeted at the door by this hyper fox-looking dog that always had a smile on her face. We have always been cat people. My first pet was already four years-old when I was born, and the cat lived another 15 years before dying my freshman year of high school.

Except a few guinea pigs and fish, that was my first experience with the loss of a pet, and it was devastating. We had another cat that died several years later, and I remember being particularly troubled when I saw her food bowl in the trash can. What else my mom was supposed to do with it I cannot say, but it seemed cruel to just throw away such a vital piece of the cat’s life.

Dogs are a different story. Though I presently have a cat that redefines the word misfit, and though we seem to get along with each other but often struggle outside the safety of our house, even we are prone to hour long periods without seeing one another. Dogs are the constant companion. They can go outside and go for car rides. They seem pleased to sit and watch everything.

When something injects itself into your life so often, its absence is all that much greater. Unfortunately, Lily lived only a few short years. For a dog with so much energy, my parents knew something was wrong when she stopped bouncing around. I’m not sure we ever found a definitive cause, but kidney failure was the unavoidable death trap. Early on, I visited Lily in the vet’s office, thinking she would be home within a week. A few days later, while at a football game, we got a promising call that things were improving and she could go for a walk that weekend.

The hope turned out to be a false one, and she had to be put down just a few days later. Never one to handle death well, I avoided my parent’s house for a few days, knowing I could not stomach going through the door without being greeted.

Later on, I took a friend over to eat, and while we waited, I jumped on the computer. Minimizing the open window, I found a photo of Lily playing in the snow as the wallpaper. This, along with the empty food bowl still sitting on the kitchen floor, was just too much.

While my friend and parents thought I was avoiding the food, I simply needed to be alone for a minute. The “grown men don’t cry” society we live in did not apply to me at that moment.

Recently, I watched Marley & Me. After losing a dog myself, Grogan’s genius is revealed. There have been other dog stories, but few capture the essence of the imperfections of a pet and the relationships we build with them. Other than David Sedaris’s short story The Youth In Asia, a poignant story that uses a series of dogs in his life to parallel the loss of his mother, Grogan’s book may be the best example of just how powerful the pet relationship is.

A friend recently asked me how sad I will be when my cat dies. I think about that a lot. I sometimes regret that I ever took her in, knowing an end will someday come. Sometimes I wonder if I should get rid of her now, knowing the bond will only grow in the years to come. But that is no way to live. With great love comes great pain. There are too many good moments before we have to deal with the bad.

So why did they publish Grogan’s book, and why did they make it a movie? Because it offers a catharsis for anyone who’s ever lost a pet, but didn’t get the grief out of his system when he should have. Its success merely proves what we’ve all experienced.

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