My Grief Journey Two Months In


Waiting for our vet to arrive

Two months ago I kissed my sweet BooBoo goodbye for the last time, one day after her 15-1/2th birthday. And since that moment I’ve been deep, deep in grief. I’ve shared a little on social media, both on my personal channels and on my business pages. As a result of that sharing so many of you reached out and shared your own stories of grief, your own stories of your soul dogs and I appreciated you opening your hearts and reaching out, being vulnerable and sharing.

I thought it might help others to know what I’ve been doing in the last two months to help my grief journey. Much like training, it’s not a linear journey. There’s days that are better than others and progress is never a straight upward climb. As part of my doula services, I’ve got this resource page which I update regularly, but I wanted to share some more personal notes about what I’ve been doing, what has helped for me, what hasn’t and some reflections. Grief is so personal so what works for me, may not work for you, but I’m all about sharing information. But here’s some of my early grief lessons.

I took off from work during her decline and leading up to saying goodbye, so I could manage her medical care and spend every moment possible with her. The first lesson in my grief journey was to take all the time you need. Do not let anyone rush you. I was so fortunate clients were understanding about my situation and all but one was willing to reschedule (some, multiple times!). I think had I not taken this time before when BooBoo was beginning to decline, I would have been dealing with a lot of guilt and resentment about not being there for her during this important end time. Instead I can sit with the comfort and peace that I was there for her every moment for those last weeks leading up to her goodbye. I recognize not everyone may have this flexibility or option but I encourage you to do whatever you can, if at all possible.

My husband John and I had long discussed what we would and wouldn’t do when our dogs were sick or old and what we’d be willing to put them through, so many of those decisions were already made up for us when the time came, but if you haven’t had those discussions with your family or you haven’t thought about those things, even if you have a young dog, I encourage you to download my free Advance Care Directive worksheet to prompt you to have conversations and think through some things. Thinking ahead and having conversations with your family before you’re in a heated emotional moment can really make a big difference and reduce stress or resentment or guilt later on.

A few days before BooBoo was euthanized, we had an end-of-life photography session. I recognize not everyone wants to document these last, sad days but I really wanted some beautiful, professional pictures of BooBoo with both my husband and I. We had done a short session the day before Mr. Barbo passed away and I am so thankful we did. So I really wanted to have BooBoo and us pictures, even know I knew I’d be crying and wouldn’t look my best. It was more about capturing our love and these precious last moments. We found an amazing photographer who moved her schedule around to accomodate us on a Friday afternoon, as we didn’t know how long Boo still had. And we are forever grateful. The images she managed to get captured both our deep love and sadness. Here are some of my favorites. I encourage you to think about this as an option, to let go preconceived ideas about looking good for pictures and to just document and have some precious photos of you and your beloved. You can find an end of life photographer, many of which offer services on a sliding scale or even for free, through The Tilly Project.

So here I am now, two months in, still crying every day. It’s not as intense as it was those first few weeks. The breakdowns aren’t as intense but they still happen every day without fail and they happen it seems, at unexpected, less predictable times. A few weeks ago I was at Costco picking up a prescription for myself and had been getting text reminders for BooBoo’s refills. So after I got my prescription I thought I would ask the tech if she could just turn off the texts for Boo, but in the middle of me trying to ask her to do that, I completely broke down, right at the Costco counter, crying hysterically. The poor tech didn’t know what to do and tried to reach across the counter to console me or hug me but couldn’t quite reach so ended up just grabbing my arm and telling me her cat had recently died. We had a moment, she took my information and said she would get it taken care of. I left, embarrassed and surprised that I still couldn’t tell people Boo had died without breaking down. These are the moments now that take me by surprise.

What’s helping me?

I’ve been doing a lot of reading and writing. I am terrified I will forget all the memories so I purchased a remembrance journal with some helpful prompts and have been using that to guide me to do some writing. I’m writing our story, a short version of which was recently shared on the podcast The Pet Loss Companion. You can hear it on your favorite podcast app or watch the YouTube reading of it here. I’ve been seeing a wonderful pet loss grief counselor for weekly sessions and that has been a tremendous help even though I felt like I had a really good support system and even though as a pet death doula myself I felt like I had a lot of resources of my own to tap into. But, as my very smart husband reminded me early on in this, “even doctors need to go to the doctor.” Having those weekly sessions has been so helpful to my grief journey to just have someone else to talk to, to not exhaust my support network of friends and to have another professional’s insight and to tap into her toolbox of resources.

And those resources have been amazing. Her recommendations have been so great. So many wonderful books that I’ve found insightful and healing. I’ve got them listed on my Grief Resources post. I’ve really struggled with some of the physical effects of grief on my body – brain fog, inability to focus, easily distracted, taking a lot longer to accomplish tasks, trouble sleeping, etc. So many of the books I started with were poetry books, because they were short and easy to digest and didn’t overwhelm me. I loved Sara Rian’s Find Me There. While this was written for someone who lost a human, it was easy to connect with so many of the poems and remember Boo in them. I began marking the pages with little stickies for the poems that resonated with me and I quickly realized I was marking more pages than not.

I also really enjoyed Mary Oliver’s Dog Songs, which was a New York Times best seller and a Pulitzer Prize winner. I loved all the little anecdotes of her dogs and the way she loved them. One of the opening comments was that one of her favorite things in life is watching dogs off leash being dogs and I immediately knew I’d love her. For longer form books that weren’t poetry, I’ve been opting for audiobooks a lot since I can concentrate more on listening than I can on reading words on a page. How To Survive The Loss Of A Pet (audiobook) and Bearing The Unbearable: Love, Loss and the Heartbreaking Path of Grief were two that I listened to on audiobook. I need to go back through the final chapter of How To Survive The Loss Of A Pet because I wasn’t ready to do the exercises suggested when I listened. I am currently working my way through The Other Family Doctor: A Veterinarian Explores What Animals Can Teach Us About Love, Life, and Mortality and have Mattie, Milo, and Me: A Memoir and The Blue Leash: A Year of Mourning in my reading list up next.

Hearing other peoples’ stories, on podcasts like The Pet Loss Companion and other pet loss podcasts like Animal Soulmates, All My Children Wear Fur Coats and Never Just A Dog. I’ve also been a fan for a while of Megan Devine, author of the wonderful grief book, It’s OK That You’re Not OK. I’ve also really connected with Beth Bigler’s social media content, on her Instagram account Honoring Our Animals. Her daily posts are always thoughtful and supportive and often include some sort of prompt to get you to think about an action item or reframe of thinking. She offers group and private sessions as well.

I’ve also been in a few group support sessions, some better than others. The first couple I did, honestly, weren’t so great. So, if you try one and it’s not a good fit, try one or five more. Don’t give up. For me, I would that the one run through Dakin Humane Society, was great. It’s free and helpful to connect with others having a similar experience and many people who attend lost their animals years ago. I think it’s great they keep coming back for continued support and just goes to show how long this grief process truly can be. I’m also attending a group support session that is specifically for pet professionals like trainers and vets, as we face some additional challenges that pet owners who don’t work with animals may not face.

Going through old videos and pictures, getting prints made to hang in our home and in my office behind my desk, so that when I’m working, Boo and Barbo are watching over me, has been soothing. I’ve been making Instagram reels and revisiting the good lives they had and that we shared. Sure, it makes me cry, realizing there won’t be any more new videos to come or memories to be made, but these pictures and videos are a big reminder of the incredible life we shared and what an impact Boo had in my life.

We are also planning a trip to Dog Mountain, to visit the Dog Chapel there in St. Johnsbury VT in the coming weeks. I’m not really a person of a particular faith but I know this trip will be very healing. I’ve already printed pictures of Boo, Barbo and Bandit to bring to hang, and we’re planning to visit many friends along the way. We had been planning to stop to see Sassy, Boo’s only remaining sibling, but it looks like she is in her own decline, so sadly, she may leave this world before we get a chance to say goodbye one last time.

And what’s not helping?

Well, I ordered a Cuddle Clone and while it did come out looking fairly realistic, it sort of freaked my husband out. And, more importantly for me, the texture of the fur was coarse and sticky. Apparently when they make them, to get the coloring right they airbrush the materials, resulting a sticky feeling. It wasn’t something I felt like I would cuddle with and the coloring was coming off a bit on my hands when I was petting her. So I sent her back. Their customer service was very good. They did offer me a discount to keep her but I declined. I also declined modifications, since that voids your opportunity to then do a complete return for a full refund. So I returned her and got a complete refund.

I have since ordered a custom felted mini from a seller on Etsy. I haven’t received it yet but her work looks amazing. It was a lot less than the Cuddle Clone, but it’s a mini. It will sit on my desk so when I’m doing my sessions Boo is still with me. I will definitely update once I receive her! And I plan to order a cremation ring made with her ashes and Mr. Barbo’s ashes very soon from Sugarberry Memorials. I’ve been following her work on Facebook for a while and it looks like she does beautiful creations. I got a ring made from Bandit’s ashes ages ago but that company no longer exists, so I’m happy to have found this one.

I will also say I struggled to find a therapist or counselor for several weeks and for several reasons. Cost was definitely an issue with a few that I spoke with. I found one licensed therapist who accepted my insurance and who specialized in grief, but pet loss grief is just different, and even though I was very clear about what I was looking for in therapy, after a few sessions I knew it wasn’t a good fit. I also attended a few group pet loss sessions that were not a good fit. I’m not sure if it was the way they were run or if it was just the group of people that happened to join at the same time I did. Most of these group sessions are free, so it can be a little hit or miss who joins, as there’s often no screening and is open to anyone, which is good and bad. But, The Dakin group I mentioned earlier was great and is run by Ken, from The Pet Loss Companion, and he’s a licensed therapist with a lot of pet loss experience, so I think that makes a lot of difference.

Back to what is helping…

I have also blocked out times and days in my calendar when I know to expect I will be sad or have rough days. One of the wisest things my pet loss counselor said to me was to give myself space to feel my feelings and be sad when I am and not try to block out those feelings or stay so busy to try to ignore my grief. It’s not healthy and eventually, it catches up to you because you’re not giving yourself time to truly feel and process your loss. Grief invites us to remember, not to forget. Ignoring a special day or trying to pretend that it is just like any other day is abnormal and actually can increase your stress. And, it takes more energy to avoid it than it does to confront it.  So I’ve been letting myself feel and cry and process everything, which is why I think I’m still crying every day. And some days or times are just extra hard. These “TUGs” – temporary upsurges in grief – may be an anniversary or a date or a special moment, like today…the 2 month anniversary of Boo’s passing. It’s a little harder today and that’s OK. I knew it would be so I made arrangements ahead of time for today.

Lastly, John and I decided to try to dip our toes back into fostering, just a tiny bit, and only for a week. If you’ve been here a while, you know that BooBoo was the one dog…my heart dog…the one that changed my life forever. Her legacy is Rescued By Training. She is the face of my logo and the the inspiration for it all. She is the reason I am a trainer and for many years before, during and after I was at The Academy for Dog Trainers, our family fostered over 50 dogs. So it seemed fitting to get back into that a bit as a way to honor her and to give John and I a chance to see how it feels to have an unfamiliar dog in the house now that BooBoo and Barbo are both gone.

I learned of a 5-6 month old fearful puppy whose foster was going on vacation for a week and needed a temporary foster, so we stepped up. I liked the idea of it being a short term commitment with an end date, in case we realized it was too hard for us to have a new dog in the house and we weren’t quite ready…at least it would be short term. And, a fearful puppy, reminiscent of Boo, seemed like a good place to start. Little Wendy has been with us since Wednesday and will return to her regular foster later this week, before she goes to her new adopter over the weekend, but she’s pretty fearful – more fearful than we expected.  And it didn’t help that on the day they moved her to us, the rescue scheduled a vet appointment for her including vaccines, so before she arrived, she had already had a pretty stressful day, made worse by car sickness and leaving her current foster home. So that trigger stacking slowed her settling in with us.

By Sunday, after 72 hours had passed and her cortisol level had returned to normal, she started to warm up a bit. She’s still fearful of John and she can’t go on walks, but we’re managing.

Puppy foster aside, it’s been hard to find a new normal, a new life and routine without BooBoo by my side where she’s been constantly for the last 13 years. Seeing clients has really helped and that’s been healing in its own way. Other parts of running a business have been a struggle but the face to face client work has been a nice reminder of why I do this work and that BooBoo is the reason for all of it.

If you missed it in my first post about Boo, you can watch this memorial video of Life of Boo, with music composed by my husband, John. Watch to the end. And, if you are preparing for the loss of your own dog, remember I offer my doula services here. And of course I’m here for your training needs.

Give your pups some extra treats from me and BooBoo, for free…don’t make them work for it, in honor of her two month passing. If you record it, please share it with me! Free Treats In Honor Of BooBoo!

And thanks for still being here.

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