When my son, Jonah, was stillborn at 30 weeks in January 2017, my beloved cat, Cally, was in her last months on Earth. Cally and I had an amazing bond, but at 22 years old, she was really, really old.
Cally had lived the longest and loveliest of kitty lives, from the time we found her wandering the neighborhood when I was 7 to living with my husband and I as I approached 30. She was there for so many moments in my life, comforting me in Middle School when the boy I liked didn’t like me back, following me around any time I came home to visit from college, jumping up on my lap during my husband’s marriage proposal, and finally, being there for me through both my mom’s unexpected and untimely death and through losing Jonah. Every night, she snuggled into the crooks of my knees, and every day, she was on my lap as much as possible.
Although I loved my cat with all my heart, my husband Colin and I really wanted to adopt a dog, and we knew Cally wouldn’t tolerate it. So, we held off.
Cally died on a Tuesday. I knew something was horribly wrong when she was so off-balance, she fell off the bed in the morning, then couldn’t seem to do anything besides walk around the house in a big circle, hugging the wall. The vet figured it was a tumor in her brain, and we made the decision to let her go.
I was so lonely and sad (I work from home and the house was just so empty!) that we went to look at dogs that Sunday, and by Sunday night, a doggie foster mom was coming over to our house, toting our little Freya.
From day one, this little snuggle pup has brought so much joy to my heart. Here are a bunch of ways adopting a puppy has helped me grieve:
- Her cuteness and playfulness easily make me smile. When you’re grieving, moments that make you smile are like moments that lift a weight off of your soul. Your face smiles, your heart smiles, and it feels so good. Sure, you might go right back down grief street, but it’s those moments that keep you going.
- I had something to take care of. Bereaved mothers have aching, empty arms. Freya may not be human, but this puppy needed me. She needed me to keep her from chewing on dangerous things, to keep her fed, to play with her, and to provide her with all the loving cuddles she wanted. No, she’s not a baby human, but it sure did feel good to have a baby of some kind to look after and care for.
- She helped me lay into grief. The fact that she, indeed, is not a human, made me think about what I was missing and really take it openly and head-on. I would think, “Here I am, taking care of this puppy instead of a baby, and that sucks, but that’s what my reality is, and at least she makes my heart smile. I’m alive and I’m here and I will do this.”
- She helped me heal physically. I was in pretty crappy physical shape after Jonah. Playing in the yard and taking Freya for walks really helped me get moving and feeling good again.
- She helps me heal mentally every day. Every day I look at this cute dog that I’m just head over heels in love with and I think about how good life can be. Just look how happy my dog is! Look how much she loves me! Life is okay. I’m okay. I’m going to be okay.
Sure, there’s frustrating times when she refuses to go to sleep or won’t stop being crazy with puppy energy, but those moments are healing in a way, too. Just like being a mom to a human baby can be hard sometimes but you learn from it, the same happens with a puppy. You get frustrated, but maybe you learn a little patience, or a little bit more about sacrificing your comfort because you love someone or some pup so completely.
Adopting a puppy is one of the best things I’ve done for myself and my grief.