4 out of 4 stars
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Official Review: My Dad, My Dog, by Sheila Hermel
My Dad, My Dog is a memoir, where Sheila Hermel tells the story of how she loved and lost the titular characters. It’s a poignant love story, between the love of a daughter for her father, and the incredible comfort and joy that a canine presence can bring to one’s life. As we get to know the Hermel family, we soon become sorry that our time with Shelia’s kindly Dad is so short, and our fondness for Barney the dog mirrors our feelings for the pets of our relatives and friends, who become members of our families and circles of friends themselves.
Early on, we know full well that by the end of the book, both Shelia’s Dad and Barney will have passed away, but knowing their fates doesn’t spoil the book, so much as help us to understand Shelia’s emotional journey. Writing this book was probably a form of grief therapy for Sheila, allowing her address the emptiness that came about from two loved ones leaving her life. Despite the weighty material, the tone of this book accepts that loss is a part of life, and that grief, though real, natural, and necessary, must never dominate our lives for long.
There are many sad passages in the book, but fortunately, Hermel never lets the narrative become depressing. The prose is sweet and sincere, and as one reads the book, many scenes are peppered with humor that seems organic and never appears forced or out of place. Sheila’s Dad’s jokes are wry and clever, and a scene where the Jewish family talks about holding a “Bark Mitzvah” for Barney made me laugh.
Indeed, after reading this book, we never have any doubt that Shelia will continue her life, and that the grief will eventually continue to fade, though the love left behind will never lessen. Late in the book, Shelia writes that “Death is simply never easy,” and that fact is simple yet surprisingly profound. Many people assume that if one preplans one’s funeral, or tries to avoid a protracted demise, or if one turns one’s funeral into a big party, that such actions will make things easier and nicer for one’s loved ones. But this isn’t necessarily the case. I often hear people talk as if somehow making one’s final days and memorial services neat and tidy will solve a lot of problems, but emotions cannot be tidily set aside.
Emotional yet never manipulative, tearful yet warm, and clearly written from a perspective of affection, this book is a moving but not draining read that is a quietly joyous celebration of life and love. Yes, the price of love is eventually loss, but as the closing passages make it clear, no matter how hard it is to lose someone you love, experiencing real love in your life, be it from a spouse, a family member, or a pet, is worth it.
I give this book four out of four stars.
My Dad, My Dog
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