Today, I am happy to be bringing you a guest post from Australian author Jody Crossley. I too am a huge animal lover, so this post hit me right in the feels. When Jody lost her best friend, Bear, she searched for a book that might help her work through her grief. She couldn't find one, so she wrote her own, hoping to help others. Lets find out more.
I write this blog in relation to grief associated with the loss of a pet. Pets make such an impact on our daily lives, and now more than ever, especially with the pandemic, they are a part of families. Not just here in Australia, but all over the world.
There are 5 main purposes why I am wrote my book called 'The Bear Project'. I was once asked why write a book? Why now? You are not a write. No, I am not a writer. I have never done anything like this in my life and to be honest, part of me is terrified. My reasons for writing this book are self-explanatory as per below:-
1. Foremost to help me process my grief. When I lost my best friend of 16.5 years, I tried to find a book from a person’s personal journey. After searching the market I couldn’t find such a book. I went one step further and wrote my own book.
2. What better way to honour my best friend Bear. She was my inspiration. She gave me courage, love, laughter, sheer happiness, loyalty, commitment, undivided attention, and never judged me. I could be exactly who I am. Most of all she gave me a purpose and even though she has crossed over to the rainbow bridge, provided me with an even bigger purpose to help others.
3. To help others process their grief, let others know they are not alone even though this journey feels like you are alone in the darkness, with no light at the end of the tunnel. I have found solace and comfort in complete strangers. There is always someone who will show you kindness and compassion, listen, and lend a shoulder to cry on.
4. Shine a light on our vet professionals – there is a high suicide rate and depression within the veterinary industry. These staff doing amazing things. People forget that vets need to be 10 – 15 doctors in one and what makes it harder, is that our pets can’t describe the depth of pain, or where it hurts. Our pets rely on us to provide the medical history and behaviours to our vets so they can start running the appropriate tests. I want people to realise how hard a job they have, the pressures, the ugly side such as abused and abandoned animals. I also want to highlight the process of euthanasia – this affects them too, especially when they bond with our pets and us as pet parents. They are the forgotten ones in this journey.
5. Corporations / Workplaces – I think it is about time we are treated equally and fairly as pet parents just like everyone else. I want to bring to the forefront to workplaces
to lose the stigma of, 'it’s just a pet, you can get another one'. Pets can take us on an incredible journey. Our fur babies are better than half the population out there in this crazy world. Greif is very real and workplaces more than ever need to acknowledge and gain a greater awareness to be able to support grieving pet parents.
What is Grief? Grief is an emotion that really can’t be described if you haven’t experienced it. It is an emotion only those who have lived through it can genuinely feel and describe. They say grieving for a person and a pet are different. I know a few people that have said they have lost a person and a pet and believe a pet is definitely harder. I can’t touch on this subject as I haven’t lost a person close to me as yet. I like to describe grief and break it down as below:-
G – Gut-wrenching – there are no words, you feel like you are broken, like a piece of you has died, you are shattered and can’t breathe. You feel like the wind has been knocked out of you, like you can’t move forward or even want to. How does life go on from here without your best friend by your side?
R – Relentless – the pain feels like it is never ending. It is a numbing sensation. You almost feel like you’re in a nightmare that you can’t awaken from. You wake up and go to sleep with it (if you can sleep) and it is there 24 hours of the day.
I – Inconsolable – Doesn’t matter what anyone says or does, who you speak to on the phone, how many hugs you receive, or even how much crying you do – the pain is still there and you can’t see how it will get better. You can’t imagine moving forward without your beloved pet by your side. You look around the house and there is a constant reminder everywhere you turn.
E – Exhausting – you can’t sleep, you can’t eat (loss of appetite), you are mentally and emotionally exhausted, you are running on empty. I know for me I felt like I was in a body going through the motions but not really there, and not really wanting to be present in the moment. It was like I was drowning and no one could hear me.
F – Fractured – you feel like you are lost, like you will never be whole again, a big part of you is gone, heartbroken and shattered. You feel like a piece of you has died and gone to heaven with your pet.
You honestly feel like you’re dying of a slow painful death and there is nothing you can do. I had a wise friend tell me that it is the small milestones that will get you through each day, like sitting in the sun, having a cry when you need. Not forgetting the simple things like making your bed, having a shower, combing your hair, and brushing your teeth.
I took time off work for 5 days, I know I needed to do this but it wasn’t good for my grief. I had no structure and sat around and cried and cried, and cried some more, to the point I could barely see out of my eyes. I found by going back to work I had no choice but to focus on something other than the loss of Bear and my grief. Bills and rent still needed to be paid. My grief would still be there when I had finished work.
Once I returned to work, I drew up a daily to do list. I started with the simplest things and then as each week passed by. I would add another one or two things to the list for example as below:
This is not set in concrete. Set your own small goals. What you feel you can achieve; it is normal if one day you simply find you are unable to accomplish the tasks.
There have been a few days where I just couldn’t get out of my pyjamas, or do my hair or make up, and that’s ok. The grieving process comes in stages and you go at your own pace. Remember there is no time limit. Grief comes in waves. One day you feel like you are semi coping and the next day you will be in absolute pieces and shattered. There are no rights and wrongs to grieving, everyone grieves differently and in their own way.
We can’t let grief win; we can’t let it drag us into that deep dark hole called depression. Once you get to that stage of depression, it can be very hard to overcome – I know I have been there and almost took my own life (I will touch on this later in the book).
That is not what our pets would want for us. They would want for us to continue on our path. After all, they were sent to us originally for a purpose. What that purpose was, only you will know. I know what Bear’s purpose was for me and will explain later in the book. I am not an overly religious person, but I do believe there is a god and do believe our pets go to heaven / rainbow bridge. I look at the precious bond and memories I formed with Bear and I know deep down in my heart she would want me to be happy, continue on with my life, and remember with fondness all the memories we created and shared.
The only rule I have with grief, is that you don’t give up, and you keep taking small slow steps each day – day by day. It is OK not to want to celebrate events, but don’t shut people out from your life. The greatest gift people gave me was their time, love and support, and this did help me with my grief, and the other thing was talking about Bear. I am still not at a point where I can talk about her and not cry and sob, but I know the day will come that I can talk about all the happy times, have a laugh about the funny things she did, and shed a tear, but it won’t be so painful.
Grief does take time; no two people are going to grieve the same way or for the same amount of time. There is no time limit, don’t let anyone tell you “You should be over it by now” or “you need to just move on and think of the happy times”. Take the time that you need. Do what you need to move forward day by day, step by step. I find the grief comes in waves. One minute I can feel Ok, then I can cry for the next few hours and not stop. Some days seem to be harder for some reason, I haven’t worked out why this is. Sometimes it can be just trigger factors like a song, or an add, or a favourite toy. I found myself waking up some days and just knew from the moment I opened my eyes, this was going to be one of those particularly hard days.
I hope this helps someone who is grieving, and look forward to my book being published. Please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for Jody for sharing her experience and the inspiration behind her book titled 'The Bear Project'.