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Dr. Norman Brown
Dr. Norman Brown, Marriage Therapist
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Hello, My husband and I are devastated over the loss of our

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My husband and I are devastated over the loss of our little dog which was my Stepdaughter's childhood dog. This dog was very special and went everywhere
with us, vacations , dinners, movies, etc. SD must have memories of this.
We have beautiful memories.
She is 21 and has not spoken to us in two and a half years except for when attending
our best friend's wake with her mother six months ago. She then sat next to hugged us, etc.
When SD was in the bathroom her mother said to not give up where SD is concerned.
Hope you can see some of the background, but we did nothing to deserve this and SD
has told other family that she knows we have always been there for her and love her.
Mother told us in the beginning that it was because of a boyfriend break up.
SD was angry at her mother and then turned around and shunned us. She does not speak to
any family members on our side any more either.
So, mother was always crazy about our dog and I left a voice mail for her and to let us know
if SD's number is XXXXX same to be sure she got the message. SD 's Dad and I left a vm for SD to let her know we love her and so did our little one and that her Dad has something for
her ( graduation) and to get in touch.
So, knowing this, mother has not responded to me. Nor has SD to either of us.
Mother is heavily into yoga philosophy and this does not seem very kind after encouraging us. And after this is mimicking SD 's behavior ?
She called us for every emergency for a decade and we were always there for her as well.
SD and mother dress the same, eat the same, are building a house together, etc.
We have been very patient, but now we need an explanation. We don't want to do the wait for the person to come to us thing any more.
Do you think we are dealing with some type of game playing, emotional manipulation or worse ?
This lack of response does not make sense. We thought there had been a break through at
the wake, but now feel we are back where we were when this all started.
Our little dog was always full of love just like my husband and me.
How do people throw away love? It seems very cold and detached to behave this way.
Thank you for your time.

Deardebra : Thank you so much for your question and I am so sorry for your loss. Losing an animal is very heart breaking but remembering those moments that you created keeps the memory if them alive in your hearts. I am sure you remember many memories with your dog and I am sure your step daughter does too as well. I think a direct message too her is how you need to communicate because her mother might not be giving her the messages. Your step daughter knows you care and love her but she backed away.
Deardebra : The reason could be because her mother consumes her time.
Deardebra : If they eat the same dress the same then they sound like best friends as well.
Deardebra : Which does not make much room for someone else. When you went to the wake again I am sorry for your loss. You step daughter was upset and she went to you both for comfort what that shows me is she feels safe with you both. You are the ones she would go to if something went wrong. She loves you both but does not know how to create a relationship again. She doesn't know what step to take to start again with you both.
Deardebra : You both need to keep that door open making her feel comfortable to come back in to your lives. She sounds confused and dies not know what to do. Often times people back away from The ones they love the most because they feel they will understand.
Deardebra : But something has happened that altered this relationship between you both and that Ned's to be discussed for everyone to move on together.
Deardebra : You need to tell her that you love and care about her and that you really want to have a relationship with her because you live and miss her. You could send a letter too her or an email telling her how you feel. It is never too late to start again.
Deardebra : I just feel she does not know where to begin.
Deardebra : This is why you both need to take that first step and try getting her on the phone, email what ever way you feel is the best way to communicate.
Deardebra : Her graduating is a huge time in her life and it often is a confusing time on where their lives are headed. They often think if the future and what they want to become. She needs you both there but she doesn't realize it. She wants to keep her guard up. But she needs to understand how much you care and love her. I would contact her again about giving her something for graduation. That is a nice gesture and very thoughtful. I am sure she was happy that you both were thinking if her at such a huge moment in her life. But I think she is worried to start over. She might feel like so much has happened and it can't be repaired but you need to tell her that all you both want is to be in her life and nothing else matters.
Customer: Honestly that is all we have been is supportive .
Customer: She will not respond to any text, voice mail letter.
Customer: The message we left about her/our dog was again kind. She loved you We love you .Please get in touch. Your Dad has something for you.
Customer: Neither one has returned the calls. Never unkind to the mother. Always supported her when she was shunned.
Customer: SD knows she will not do anything. Now think that since our best friend's Dad was also her friend's father that she was just there for her and not us. Mother came to escort her since she did not know them at all.
Customer: I think what you are saying is true, but when the mother said don't give up and now does not respond to me it just feels like something
Customer: horrible. If SD can't leave a message or send a text about a sweet little dog that never hurt anyone. Well Imfind that chilling in nature.
Customer: Her Dad is completely devastated to have a hard person like this as a daughter.
Customer: We would love to talk to her, but we would have to lie in wait and ambush her somewhere .
Customer: She does not even email.
Customer: I think she had her mothe with her because it would be face to face and needed a buffer.
Customer: The ironic thing is we are the least demanding people on the planet, so if she is afraid to interact with us then what ?
Customer: Maybe the dog represents the sweetness in her that is completely gone. We were the only people she ever cried around.
Customer: My sis in law is fed up and asked the mother what is going on. She stated I don't know she'll figure it out. Meanwhile not knowing this pain.
Customer: I want to ask the mother what she meant by don't give up and what gives now? Maybe she can remember the pain of being shunned for two weeks and develop some empathy for us after two and a half years. Or maybe she is happy that she has a BFF. We don't need much. Dinner once a month a call . We would not be taking up time. SD must not be too upset . She is sitting by the pool today.
Customer: and went on a day trip all day yesterday.
Customer: So the memories of our time together and how sweet she was with our precious dog for over 10 years must be gone or are buried.
Customer: We fear that is the case with all her memories surrounding us and we see no way they can return .
Customer: Please let me know if you have any suggestions for a way to see her if there is never a response.
Customer: The only reason we are still trying is because her future looks bleak allowing this coldness to permeate her life.
Customer: I don't think anyone else cares. Mother said you hurt the ones you love the most to me during the two weeks she did not speak to her but I guess we are the ones . . .
Customer: I am not sure I read correctly when you said "sometimes you. back away from the people you love the most because they will understand " Is that correct ? If so please expand .
Customer: Can you explain how we could have more direct communication with this avoidance ?
Customer: A year ago she did not even open an e greeting . . .
Customer: We feel like our messages provide her a map to start again, but her new personality does not accept it.
Customer: We have completely kept the door open but the feeling we get is she doesn't care.
Customer: I do agree that if there was a major emergency , say the aliens were hostile and about to land, that she would call us because we are
Customer: the go to emergency people for her and were for her mother before all this .
Customer: We don't know how else to tell her we love and miss her after all of the attempts.
Customer: Again shocked that she did not at least text a message. You can even leave a voice mail without ringing the phone if she does not want us to pick up. It seems all too much trouble for her and our family is not worth the trouble. The loss of our dog really now makes us want to really shake things up with both of them and no longer be disrespected and ignored.
Customer: I know they will just bond more over it but someone needs to stand up for the memory of the animal they professed to love so much.
Customer: Thank you again for your time.
Customer: The nothing else matters part you stated is what we want to express but I think she is almost afraid of a message like that.
Dear Debra, Advice Columnist
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Dear Debra and other Relationship Specialists are ready to help you

As you recall I have worked with you before, and I can identify in many ways. We lost a toy poodle that our daughter was too disabled to care for several years ago--I was there while my daughter held the dog as it breathed its last breath. Our daughter bought a toy Yorkie too soon after the poodle's death, and that dog died of kidney failure in 1 year. Then she waited long enough before buying a new toy poodle, and we are caring for both daughter and poddle in our house in Atlanta. It is important to allow for grieving before just replacing the dog.


I feel less willing to hammer on your stepdaughter's door in my response than to write about the new dog you're planning to give her for graduation. The girl's dream (I want to use her name, because I counsel girls her age, and I love them like I love my own daughter (who is 25 and lives with us) I expect that she's unable to grieve about ANYONE, including you, her father, and the dog she left behind with you! Her mother has her in a vise-grip that is very unhealthy: after abandoning her at a young age she now won't let her grow up and away from her.


It is quite surprising that SHE of all people would text you not to give up on your daughter, while she's covering her like a blanket: I read the identical clothing as an intentional (unconscious) devouring of her daughter's identity.


I think that trying to give her a new toy poodle at her graduation (depending on how soon that's coming up) is pressing against a grief process that she can't cope with because of her mother's stranglehold on her personality development. I have to deal with issues with my own wife and daughter now, but I'll conclude this FIRST (not last) communication about your present situation with this: I would advise you both to show up for her graduation so that you will see them both face to face--and that may be very awkward and even painful. So planning carefully for what will happen would be valuable.

Customer: replied 4 years ago.
Hello again and thank you,
Yes. I waited three years last time and after the love of our life there may be no more. We are also not in a place to be happy and whole to properly train a dog with the human intrusions. That is what made our dog so special. Every day was full of happiness without heavy human problems for her to deal with. For now, I will write about her and maybe help others.
We were just in disbelief that SD did not acknowledge our voice mail about her childhood pet that she loved so much when she loved us as well.
Her graduation was in May and she did not show up. So with lack of communication or responses her Dad had a gift for her. Inantimate.
We would never give her a dog in her current state.
My main question was since the mother sat next to us at a wake saying don't give up where SD is concerned and now does not respond to my voice mail, what am I dealing with ?
She had no tie to the person that had passed but always went crazy over our little dog. And if SD can't respond to a message about a sweet little dog that only showed her love with at least a text, what kind of hope can we hold out on that she will come back to herself ?Maybe I am not explaining this correctly but the mother was outwardly fine at the wake and other than not contacting us about SD , acted the same. So for me to let her know and ask her to let us know if we have the right number for SD is normal. We are acting on her suggestion to not give up. Game playing, emotional manipulation, dementia ? I am now persuing the mothers lack of response and will get a face to face, but I have to know what I am dealing with . . . This just happened suddenly to our healthy happy precious dog.
She was just helping me with my Mom during the night and five minutes later her heart burst. No one knows why but since she brought all of the peace and happiness into our home , I think our hearts may soon burst as well. It is the worst pain we have ever had and magnified in having a cold stone for a human daughter . . . We are praying it is all a bad dream.

I was writing a major addition when you came on to accept my previous contribution. Now I have to edit that and paste it in here.


She most likely has no experience with grieving ANYTHING or ANYONE, so you cannot expect that she would react to what used to be her dog dying. [I just used a
very cold language about the dog, because I wanted you to notice that you would
never react so coldly to your own dog dying, as she is doing.] She's blocked ALL of her grief, about you, her father and the dog. But you have just begun to feel your grief about losing HER again, because the dog's death would naturally bring up your daughter's radical disappearance-death in your lives. Because you are real human parents.

You are deeply torn, between trying to banish her from your minds and hearts (by
using distancing language like "SD" for a girl you raised from a child), and trying to get her to open up a "normal" relationship with you both. You are facing the same emotional torture that many divorced fathers have faced, that leads them to move out of state and start or marry into another family: because they don't know how to cope with the pain of too many goodbyes with the children that they love. THAT'S THE SAME PAIN THAT YOUR DAUGHTER IS AVOIDING BY AVOIDING YOU! Trying to stave off grief from losing the parents who raised you is like running up a barren beach to get away from a looming (unconscious) Tsunami that seems certain to engulf and drown you if you can't get far enough away in time (and that's actually what many grief-deniers dream). Nobody teaches us how to grieve, unless we live in a normal traditional family that celebrates long-lasting funerals and wakes and
mourning periods.

But there's another major dimension to this story, and that's her OWN need for
relationship with her biological mother. With all of her mother's faults, SHE is the one your stepdaughter imprinted in early childhood. I talked with my wife tonight, who treated at least a dozen families like yours in her nearly two decades of individual & family therapy. I wrote the first time you asked about her that the girl is in the stage of pulling away from her birth-family. At the same time she's trying on identities for herself--and here comes her mysterious, long-lost birth-mother! An unorthodox woman with a really cool NewAge spiritual profession. So maybe it's not (just) her birth-mother who's making her copy her clothing, but (also) the girl herself who's shopping for an identity that's (radically?) different from what she grew up with, and
"radically cool." No grief there, no sticky, painful feelings to be dealt with--just a really cool mother that she could show off to her friends.

Those qualities we call empathy and compassion appear only selectively with people
her age. When it comes to you she can't afford to feel either of these. My wife told me that almost ALL of the girls & mothers she worked with who got a chance to go away with their previously absent fathers, or with a biological mother, if they had been adopted (which is a lot like your situation), dropped their "adoptive families" with scarcely a backward glance. And the only way to make it possible for them to come back--which would easily take 5 years or more--was for the family that raised her to LET GO and develop their own fulfilling life without the aching hole within it. In one case she told me about, the twenty-something young adult who learned that his
"former mother" had visited the state and not tried to call him: this seemed to have freed him from the guilty expectation that she was hurting because he wouldn't talk to her, and that she didn't need him anymore. So he called her up, and they gradually began an adult-to-adult relationship; and that is what can only happen after the letting go has happened ON BOTH SIDES of the relationship.

There's really NO way to terminate a very close childhood without a very painful
transition. It is a basic price of motherhood. And it's worse when there are compli-cations caused by abandonment, adoption, divorce etc.

There is one step that might make your acceptance more meaningful, and might
even restore some opportunity for occasional visits: That is to ask your stepdaughter to attend one or two sessions of family counseling with you and your husband, so that you can clear the air of some of the many feelings left unexpressed for 30 months. You could even offer to pay for a session with a designated family therapist For Her, Alone, so that she could discuss with the therapist what she thinks about meeting with you two with such a safety and guidance, with the agreement that if she decides she doesn't want to meet you that way, you will be thankful anyway that she was able to make use of the counseling you have offered her. She could then determine what parts of her discussion she wanted the therapist to share with you, IF ANY.

This route MIGHT lead to enough freedom from blocked emotions that a connection
might gradually resume; or it might not be time yet. From what you've written,
I would probably not try that for yourself: because girls are unconsciously
likely to have a harder time with ongoing loving of 2 mothers than with 2


have dealt with women who cry every day because their children no longer want
to keep up a steady connection. My wife dealt with hundreds of such women; and
I watched her also cry for over 6 months every day herself, when our (disabled)
daughter moved into a college dorm and then an apartment, and was only willing
to meet with me on campus (where I was a much loved professor, hence "very cool"),
but would not speak with her mother (8 miles away). And at the time our Hannah
told her mother she "might never speak to her again--she really didn't
know." (Now living with us for 4 more years after money and disability
forced her to return to depend on us, she doesn't want that rejecting behavior
even mentioned: doesn't want to cope with guilt!)


odds & ends from my truncated addition:


talked with many (esp female) students who dreaded their graduation because
they thought they were going to have to deal with parents and stepparents who
couldn't deal with each other--and they probably weren't admitting that it was
their own galloping anxiety that they didn't know how to cope with.


graduation moments are major crisis points for split families that don't
support each other; and despite her present appearance of "not
caring" your stepdaughter will deal with MORE emotional fallout from
this period through her lifetime than you will. A therapy session or two at
this time might move your family process forward and add clarity, tho it won't
"cure" anything that needs to happen, including separation.
I also wonder if you've suffered your own compounded grief from not having
a child of your own with the man you love--none of my business, but I feel it
myself: Despite the tremendous and lifelong burden of our daughter's incurable
disabling disease, I'm deeply grateful that I had a daughter, and that I've
been able to love many many other girls and boys as their psychology teacher
and sometimes surrogate parent.

Customer: replied 4 years ago.
I was satisfied being a stepparent because things were very nice until the split. All the parents had their strengths and all seemed to blend very well.
We did all of the milestone moments together and traded off the bringing to and from college. Sometimes stepdaughter would ask us to pick her up, etc. There were no real arguments , gifts were discussed so the spoiling was minimal and her mother would ask me to participate in almost everything a woman would like. I was the cool one then that left a fulfilling
NYC life for the country and love. My dog was very young and grew with her " big sister " . Her mother offered to take care of our dog if she could not go with us on a trip. She and her daughter talked about how wonderful life was and that we could all be together. Something snapped and we have no part in it. Now I think it is just as you described. She has never grieved anything or one. She did go to occasional counseling the first year as evidenced by bills received so maybe she would be open to that. Should she just go with her Dad? She
always wanted me around or asked where I was when I tried to stay behind but now it may be best. Do you think the mother is playing games or just changed her mind ?

You could give it a try to ask her to go for just her dad. At her age Dad has a more important role to play (of serving as role model for work-world attitudes and for what a husband should manifest to be worth trusting) than either of the moms (tho I'm still suspicious of her birthmom's mental health). But really letting go of her and building your life without her is going to be the most conducive to her maturation. As long as she can pick up the hint that she might be remiss in honoring her parents, she's probably going to invent any excuse to avoid the label of "blacksheep daughter. Even offering free therapy with NO STRINGS ATTACHED implies that "You NEED IT." Would YOU go if you DIDN'T think you needed it?


I wish you could make room for a new baby dog some time in the future, because ours mean so much to me (and my father wouldn't let me have one as a kid, so I had to wait for a girlfriend and then my wife & daughter to show me what I'd been missing). Dog is God spelled backward, a real subversive kind of God that nuzzles its way into our hearts from underneath, survives every mistake we make and conquers us with LOVE (which is itself an act of God). Since I don't get to sleep with Hannah's poodle (named for a favorite rock band singer-bassist), I'll even fondle my wife's Maltese about now, once I've finished boiling the dogs' chicken thighs for tomorrow.

Dr. Norman Brown, Marriage Therapist
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Experience: Family Therapist & teacher 35+ yrs; PhD research in couples
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Customer: replied 4 years ago.
I tried to edit and could not because you had been responding at the same time. Everything you said came together when I went over the imprinting in my mind. It is something I believe in so profoundly. All of this must be about SD not being able to explore the imprinting with her mother completely and now when she has the chance, the person she knew as a child has changed. Her personality and philosophy are radically different and these changes do not recognize mess. In fact, you are not seen as enlightened if you do have any real human emotions. Everything is to become one or the same. I never put this together. Her mother has only made this a religion for about the past three years. Before they had nothing in common. And now when SD is searching for identity she is drawn in to a cult of two. SD never cried around anyone but us. She must never cry anymore. It is not allowed. We are the parents with real emotions. That is why an occasional dinner is not possible. That would be a loose cannon event . Anything could happen. A feeling might surface. Thank you for sparking this revelation ! But we are still left without being able to spend a quiet evening talking and laughing with SD as before. The death of our dog I think will actually make letting go easier. I don't think SD sees us as not letting go because communication is down to every six months, but maybe more metaphysical. If we have an opportunity to suggest counseling her Dad can say it is for him. Funny our dog's breeder wants to send us a Maltipoo puppy this week, butwe will need a very long time to be healthy and whole to train a new dog. This was my fifth and the most unbelievable ,behaved,entwined in our lives never go anywhere without,full of love dog I have ever been with. Nothing will ever fill this void. I regret now spending time wondering about human behavior when I could have spent even more time with our precious girl . . .Thank you again !P.S. I wish I could prepare tomorrow's chicken now too though !