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.
Sudden is reliant on donations. We are a charity-run service. If you’d like to contribute to our crucial work, particularly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, then please donate to Sudden. Sudden is run and hosted by Brake, the road safety charity.
Please share this blog
Interesting linksHere are some interesting links for you! Enjoy your stay :)
- About Sudden
- About sudden death
- Activities to help children through a bereavement
- Advice if suddenly bereaved
- Associate caseworker
- Become a supporter
- Bereavement care researcher
- Bereavement case worker
- Bereavement Guidance and Resources for Schools
- Bereavement Policy for Schools: free template
- Bereavement through suicide and the impact on young people – Shirley Potts
- Bereavement under the spotlight
- Bereavement under the spotlight: supporting people suddenly bereaved in high profile cases – resources for delegates
- Birchall Blackburn Law
- Birmingham ‘Supporting suddenly bereaved children and young people’ 2017 seminar – resources for delegates
- Birmingham ‘Supporting suddenly bereaved children and young people’ 2018 seminar – resources for delegates
- Brake’s work supporting suddenly bereaved children and young people
- Burials and cremations
- Call Back or Refer Someone
- Care during the shock period: Best practice early interventions to help people suddenly bereaved
- Caring for bereaved children after a couple of months
- Caring for bereaved children at school
- Caring for bereaved children in the early days and weeks
- Case study: Cheryl Barnett, Brake bereaved volunteer
- Case study: Tina Woods, Brake bereaved volunteer
- Claiming compensation
- Common emotions and reactions
- Contacting the family
- Coping with the shock
- COVID-19 bereavement
- COVID-19: helpline
- Criminal investigations
- Cultural and religious issues professionals may encounter following a bereavement – Yunus Dudhwala
- Despair or suicidal thoughts
- Email us for help
- Faith or spiritual connection
- Feelings a suddenly bereaved person may have
- Feelings of loneliness
- Feelings towards others
- Find a lawyer
- Free webinar for professionals supporting the suddenly bereaved
- Funders and partners
- Fundraise for Sudden
- Getting help if a life is at risk
- Give Campaign
- Grief support help
- Guidance for professionals
- Help for bereaved children
- Help with mental health
- Helpful resources for adults
- Helpline for carers and professionals
- Hodge Jones & Allen
- How children react to sudden bereavement
- Hugh James
- If helping someone
- Immediate practical challenges
- internal page template for copying
- Jobs and volunteering
- Keep in touch by signing up to the Sudden mailing list
- Key stages of response
- Legal and financial support for families following a sudden death – Deborah Johnson
- Legal panel standards of service
- localfuneral.co.uk directory
- London ‘Supporting suddenly bereaved children and young people’ 2017 seminar – resources for delegates
- London ‘Supporting suddenly bereaved children and young people’ 2018 seminar – resources for delegates
- Longer term issues
- Manchester ‘Supporting suddenly bereaved children and young people’ 2017 seminar – resources for delegates
- Manchester ‘Supporting suddenly bereaved children and young people’ 2018 seminar – resources for delegates
- Media interest
- Meet the expert: PTSD following sudden bereavement
- Meeting the psychological and financial needs of those suffering life-changing injuries
- Mental health conditions
- Minster Law
- Online form if you have been bereaved, to get help from Sudden
- Ordering Sudden bereavement books
- Organ and tissue donation
- Organ or tissue donation following a death
- Our services
- Pay tribute to someone you’ve lost
- Physical reactions and needs
- Post-mortem examinations
- Preparing your school to respond to a sudden bereavement
- Procedures and paperwork
- Referring a bereaved person
- Registering a death
- Remembering someone
- Reports and webcasts
- Seeing a body
- Social Support for Suddenly Bereaved People
- Sow a Seed of Hope
- Substance misuse and traumatic grief
- Substance misuse and traumatic grief webinar – resources for delegates
- Sudden bereavement directory
- Sudden Bereavement Helpline: Christmas 2020 Operating Hours
- Sudden Bereavement Service supervisor
- Sudden Podcast
- Sudden’s Give Campaign – Social Media Campaign Toolkit
- Sudden’s history and leadership
- Support literature
- Supporting bereaved children with special educational needs – Sue McDermott and Katrina Avery
- Supporting bereaved people with additional needs – resources for delegates
- Supporting bereaved people with learning disabilities
- Supporting children after sudden bereavement
- Supporting children in school after a bereavement
- Supporting families following sudden bereavement – resources for delegates
- Supporting suddenly bereaved children and young people 2016 seminar – resources for delegates
- Supporting suddenly bereaved children and young people, June and July 2016
- Supporting the supporter: vicarious trauma and support needs – resources for delegates
- Supporting the supporter: vicarious trauma and support needs webinar report
- Talk to us
- Thank you
- The Aftermath: caring for people suffering sudden bereavement or life-changing injury
- The bereavement team
- The Conquerer: set yourself a challenge to fundraise for Sudden
- Understanding sudden bereavement webinar – resources for delegates
- Useful organisations
- Viewing the body
- Views about support for bereaved children – Professor Jacqueline Barnes
- Volunteer case worker
- Volunteer researcher
- Volunteer supervisor
- What bereaved people say about us
- Wills and probate
- Why sudden bereavement is hard
- Do’s and Don’ts when helping
- Helping in the early days
- Supporting someone bereaved while social distancing restrictions are in place
- Helping over the phone or online
- Getting basic care needs met
- The risk of suicide
- If someone is in danger from someone else
- Worrying symptoms after the early weeks
- Grief disorders and PTSD
- Looking after yourself