When a loved one dies, from a Yogi point of view
At 5.15 pm on the 17th of May 2018, my husband died following a cardiac arrest at home. He had just been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer a week before and my world came tumbling down. We had been together for almost 28 years. For my son and I the loss is overwhelming and whilst the grieving process will take however long it does for us humans, how do I explain the loss of your best friend to a dog?
Throughout Tony’s illness, apart from the hospital stay, Yogi Bear was by his side. I nicknamed him ‘Greyfriars Bobby’ in one conversation, little did I know how apt the name would be. He never left that side of the bed until the paramedics came. Unfortunately (and I don’t blame them), Yogi was put in a different room on his own with the door closed as the team did their job. How confused and scared he must have been listening to all the other dogs barking downstairs and hearing all the unfamiliar noise upstairs. I was stuck in traffic so he was alone. As a human, this would be terrifying enough but for a dog? And not just him, the others were shut away in the kitchen or in the car with a frantic woman trying to get home.
Despite the amazing efforts of the London Ambulance Service, the decision to stop CPR happened shortly after I got home. Weirdly after all the machines were switched off, my first thought was, where is Yogi Bear? I found him in our bedroom, confused and distressed and he leapt into my arms and wouldn’t let go. He curled into me whilst I made the worst of phone calls to his family and mine. I found Simi in the spare room, she had tucked herself away as soon as the commotion started and then I went downstairs to calm the others. I think in my shocked frozen state, I just went into autopilot. The dogs needed mum and I needed them. And still Yogi clung to me like an abandoned baby. That night I crawled into bed and Arry lay alongside me placing his paw on my hand. “I’m here for you Mum” sort of thing. I lay there with five of our dogs surrounding me in a sort of protective cloak, Yogi still buried into my side.
My son arrived the next day and Yogi was beside himself with relief, he adores Callum. I had made sure that the dog walkers and I took the dogs out as normal to keep their routine. Oddly enough the daily morning walk has become a sort of therapy for me. It would be so easy to curl up in bed and shut the world out but focusing on others rather than yourself can only be a good thing. My dogs aren’t trained therapy dogs but their ability to distract, amuse, frustrate and yes, get me out of bed every morning is the best medicine for grief. And they never fail to make me laugh, the best form of therapy.
Over the weeks, I have seen how each of the 10 dogs cope with life after ‘that day’. Simi keeps an eye on me in the park now instead of wandering of as is her norm, Evee refused to get out of bed for the first week or so, Danny Boy chewed his leg (he did the same to his paws when Macgyver died) and Arry has become my protector and spent the first few days getting spooked suddenly when going through doorways. I think Alice is too young to understand and Gizmo, Neo, Mo and Coco seem unaffected but not Yogi. There are days when I find him curled up in corners and all his emotions show in his face. It is heart breaking at times especially we can’t just sit down and share our feelings. One can only imagine the fear he must have felt but I can’t speak dog. That will remain in his psyche forever.
As a behaviour consultant, it would be easy to assume one can understand how a dog is feeling when they lose a loved one but let’s face it, we can’t any more than my family and close friends can understand what I am going through. Dogs aren’t humans after all so how can we assume they feel the same emotions as we do? And yet it is obvious that they grieve just like we do. Perhaps all that we can do is be there for them, spend less time analysing and just be the lap they need when they need it. The process of grief is different for every one whether you be human or dog, you just have to ride it out together.
This blog is dedicated to the kindest, most gentle of humans who will be in our hearts forever
Tony Stewart 27.06.1961 – 17.05.2018