In this guest blog, personal recovery coach, Julie New, talks about how pets helped her family after the sudden death of a loved one.
I am just back from a walk in the bright winter sunshine with our dogs Ben and Nigel. I knew I was going to be writing this afternoon and my mind had drifted to what I might say.
It struck me as I walked how well I feel, how much time has passed since that fateful day almost 12 years ago and how wonderful life is right now. How I am personally so happy and also how my work as a personal recovery coach is now beginning to flourish and grow.
If we go back to the day our lives changed forever it would be in February 2009. Our world stopped. The phone had rung and it was a nursing sister on the line saying she had some terrible news to share with me. You hear about difficult and sometimes traumatic life changes like that in books, films and TV dramas but until you have experienced it the impact cannot really be felt.
Even from that phone call I knew the wider impact Richard’s death was going to have on our children and although we were no longer married, we had shared life for 17 years and he was the best Dad.
I remember the drive to Exeter with our children not having a clue at that stage how he had died or what awaited us. I remember staying with the children and going in to see him in the chapel of rest. Kissing his forehead and feeling how cold he was.
Polly saw that her sister and I felt better for having seen him, and although she had made the decision to not see her Dad she changed her mind. I asked if she was sure and after agreeing I led the way into the room. As I opened the door all Polly could see was the image of her Dad’s head. She ran off screaming and that began the nightmare.
Polly has always been someone who doesn’t easily share her inner thoughts and emotions and by the Christmas of that year she was bulimic and self harming. I knew something had to be done and quickly got some help in the form of a psychotherapist called Ian. He called me the day after her first appointment and told me she was a high risk for taking her own life.
That bright eyed baby girl I had given birth to and had a pyjama party for her 13th birthday, literally days before, had become a dark shadow of her former self.
The years passed and Polly was able to begin to speak about her experience to a wonderful counsellor called Diane, but it was when I made the decision to surprise her for her 18th birthday that things really started to change.
The surprise was in the shape of a little tiny puppy who she called Nigel. Polly had always wanted a little dog and so her dream came true – and the love affair continues!
You may be wondering where Ben comes into the story?
Well, we had a black labrador called Ollie who died in August 2011. He was 17 and such a wonderful boy. My husband Rob was keen to get another dog but I wasn’t ready and Rob had been very poorly for three years. I just couldn’t face getting another dog, however, late one night I popped out to give Rob a cuppa — quite a common occurrence in our house and it was also quite common for him not to be sleeping that well. Rob was paralysed in a motorsport accident many years before we met and his health had been deteriorating before our very eyes.
Anyhoo! He was looking at a picture on a screen of a rescue, very scruffy six-month-old white Cockapoo with the biggest meatball nose. By 6pm that evening Polly and I had arrived in Yorkshire and he was jumping into our car.
Rob died in my arms on 8 November 2012 and it was Ben who lay with me at night as I sobbed and got me out the front door when I had no strength or desire to do anything. Caring for someone is exhausting, but loving someone that died is even more debilitating.
In my work with people after difficult and sometimes traumatic life change, I talk a lot about ‘watering you’. In fact, there is a whole chapter about it in my book ‘The Grief Garden Path’. When we experience a sudden death, it is more than devastating and we forget to do even the most basic things – top tip: ‘basic watering YOU’ – ‘Eat, Sleep, Breathe repeat…’ During these times we can quite simply forget to eat, cannot sleep because there is so much whizzing around our minds and also even forget to breathe, which can lead to increased anxiety and even panic attacks. Just remember – ‘Eat, Sleep, Breathe, REPEAT.’
Ben will be ten this year and Nigel seven. They are the very best of friends and they continue to give us so much love, joy and laughter. I would recommend anyone to consider getting a furry four-legged friend. They are simply the best.
Much has been written about the restorative power of a furry friend – if you don’t already have a dog and are not quite ready for the full-time commitment, you might like to consider BorrowMyDoggy membership. BorrowMyDoggy connects dog owners with local dog borrowers for walks, weekends and holidays.
About the author
Julie New is a personal recovery life coach helping people through difficult moments. You can connect with her via her website.