On Loss, and my Canine Therapist
This weekend will mark five years since I lost my Mum to cancer. The emotional journey which I faced after saying goodbye to her is not something I have every shied away from talking about, despite being a very private person. The rollercoaster of feelings that I experienced during her illness and in the days, weeks, months and years since her death is an ongoing battle which I doubt I will ever see the end of. When I’m sad or have had a bad day I wish I could hear her words of wisdom and feel her arms hug me and hold me up. When I’m happy and life is good I wish she was there to celebrate with me, ever my biggest fan and cheerleader.
There’s no doubt about it, when I lost my Mum, I lost a piece of me. I am lucky in that I had a Mum who told me every day how much she loved me and was proud of me, so I never have any doubt that she would be proud of me if she could see me now. She may never have imagined that I would end up moving away from the world of fashion and beauty to become a dog blogger and writer, but she would have revelled in it and told me regularly how wonderful she thought it was. She would have loved being pestered, licked and hounded by Bruce, and would act every inch the crazy dog lady, sending her grand-dog presents and treats whenever she could. Of this, I am sure, and I wish I could thank her for that.
There is something which I never appreciated before losing a parent, and that is that when you lose someone who you love and who is an integral part of your life, everything changes. You don’t just have to adjust not having that person in your life anymore, you have to adjust to an entirely new life altogether. I felt like I also had to get used to suddenly becoming quite a different person too. Not all of it was bad – I became more assertive and less afraid to stand up for myself. Even now I sometimes surprise myself by refusing to be the doormat I used to be,
However, lots of other things changed too. Without having Mum there to encourage and guide me through life I suddenly felt very grown up, and very alone. A few months after her death, I lost my biggest client as they took the role in-house, and that’s when things started to go down hill. I took on small writing clients here and there, but I was temporarily living in Dubai at the time and convincing people to take a chance on someone who wasn’t on the same continent was tricky. I also simply didn’t have the motivation for my subject that I once did. I no longer found pleasure in writing about fashion week, skin care launches and lipstick. In the state that I was in, engulfed by grief, my career suddenly felt insignificant and by extension, so did I.
This morose about my career continued for a long time. Too long. There were many, many tears. Writing is the only thing I have ever been good at, or had success with. In the months after we moved back to London from Dubai, I would frequently bawl my eyes out over the fact that I didn’t know where my career was going and that I didn’t love it any more, but I couldn’t see myself being anything but a writer. It was always important to me, from a very young age, that my job would be something that I loved and not just something to pay the bills. I always wanted to be self-employed and the thought of working in an office filled me with dread. In my late-twenties, I was faced with the stark reality that life doesn’t work out that way for the vast majority of people, and I was nothing special.
Less than a year after moving back to London, we bought our first house and moved in three days after my mum’s birthday. I spent the day sulking about the fact that she would never see it, and didn’t take a single moment to be proud of myself or enjoy the fact that I was moving into my first home. I missed out.
The first order of business in the new house, was to get a new family member. Not a baby. A puppy. We had been talking about it and planning it for years, and now it was time. After two months we had found the breeder, and on the 4th January 2014 we brought him home.
I had no idea how much this tiny little fluff ball was going to change my life for the better.
Having Bruce meant that I no longer had the option to be selfish and wallow in self-pity. Suddenly, I had something that required all my attention and focus. He needed me and depended on me, and couldn’t be without me. There were no more late lie ins because I wasn’t motivated enough to get up early – I had to get up, whether I liked it or not. I couldn’t spend all day hiding inside and hoping not to bump into anyone anymore – Bruce needed a walk, and I soon found talking to other dog walkers was a wonderful way to brighten up my day. I immersed myself in learning all about puppies, dogs, dog care and health, and spent hours upon hours every day reading studies about canine psychology and the latest training methods. Finally, something had dragged me out of my slump, I had discovered a whole new passion in my life – one which truly gripped me and filled my heart.
However, the first six months to a year with Bruce was no picnic. I had been warned that Airedale Terrier puppies are notoriously difficult, but nothing could have prepared me for his energy, defiance and naughty streak. There were moments when I had to leave the room to stop myself from shouting at him, there were nights that I cried because I couldn’t get him to stop mouthing everyone who tried to pet him, I panicked that I wasn’t doing it right. I kept up with the training, the praise, the play time and showering him with love, and after a while I began seeing small changes in him. The mouthing stopped, he learnt not to jump on people, he was no longer stealing everything off the kitchen counter. He was developing into a happy, confident, well-trained and socialised dog. The consistent effort that went into the monster was paying off, and for the first time in a long time, I felt proud of what I had achieved.
The changes in Bruce were so slow and steady that it was hard to notice them day by day, but I found myself looking back and saying ‘a few months ago, I wouldn’t have been able to introduce him to someone without him pulling at their clothes’ or ‘this time last year he would never have listened to me in a busy area like this’. He had seemingly changed right under my nose without me noticing, and the same could be said for myself. I found myself saying ‘getting Bruce has been really good for me’, and it’s true.
I’ve changed a lot since we brought that boisterous pup home to join our family. I am a more patient, calm and laid back person than I ever thought I could be. I worry less about the little things, and tackle the bigger things head on. I know that hard work and determination reaps rewards. The biggest thing however, is that Bruce taught me how to be me again. He showed me to enjoy every moment, in a way that only a dog can. He is such an exuberant, joyous and happy creature, that his enthusiasm for life could only rub off on me. He taught me to appreciate every day and moment. He taught me to be happy, again.
And I am happy.
I honestly never knew if true happiness was attainable after the death of my Mum. But I look around me right now, and I am working away on my own successful website in a field I adore, my dog is snoring next to me, I am sharing my life with my best friend of 14 years in a house we own together, and life is good. I am truly happy, and I am grateful for that.
Bruce may not know how much he has changed my life, and me, for the better. He may not know that if I am having an anxiety attack all I need is to stroke him and talk to him, to calm me down. He might not realise that, while he hasn’t filled the hole in my heart that my Mum left when she died, he has made his own space right next to it, and made me realise that gap isn’t a constant reminder of my mum’s death, it’s a reminder of her life. He might not know why I sometimes get sad, like I have been this week as I think about the final days of my Mum’s life, but he knows that he can make me smile by bringing me his favourite toy or rubbing himself across my legs for a cuddle.
He looks out for me, and I look out for him. At the end of the day, Bruce just wants to see me happy, and he’ll do anything he can to make that happen. He isn’t just the dog that taught me how to live again, or made me a better person. He’s my best friend. He has helped me come to terms with my Mum’s death better than any human ever could. He’ll always be there for me no matter what. I only wish he knew how much that means to me.