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Sometimes surprises come early

In some Buddhist traditions after death, prayers are conducted every seven days for seven weeks. These Buddhists believe that rebirth takes place within 49 days after death. So these prayers are conducted to facilitate this journey of the deceased into the afterlife.

Yesterday marked 49 days since I lost Sammy. Somewhere in my exploration of Buddhist philosophy over the years, this concept nestled deep in my bones and has never left me. In the past 49 days, especially in those early days after his passing, there were sleepless nights and grief-fuelled dreams. It felt so foreign without the presence of a dog in my life. I have had at least one dog by my side for the past eighteen years. I felt adrift and strangely vulnerable suddenly being in the house and totally alone. I sent up so many prayers for my beautiful boy and they are ongoing, imploring the powers that be to offer him a beautiful transition to wherever it is he is travelling.

I kept a grief journal through those early days. I poured my heart out in words, and the words flowed as freely as the tears. It was the only way to get it out of me. Just words and tears, and long, long periods of silence and isolation as my body, mind and spirit processed the loss. Ironically, I had signed up as a volunteer counsellor for Griefline just before Sam was put to sleep. I needed to work through my own grief before I could turn up fully present to help someone else, so I put it all on hold.

Grief is such an inhospitable houseguest. So unpredictable and messy. It comes and goes as it pleases. And as often as it likes. In the first week, I was so lost and I knew I couldn't and didn't want to live without a dog in my life. I began looking at rescue sites. The logistics of finding a rescue felt hard, especially living on the island, getting to the mainland to meet and greet, etc. And all the sites I looked at were big dogs. I couldn't manage a big dog, and I didn’t want to take another dog with issues. My PTSD from Sam’s aggression is still very much present in me now. I needed a dog I could 100 % trust again. The whole thing became so overwhelming.

Navigating his loss has been difficult. Grief is so isolating. You know people are there for you, but they can’t reach you. You are off in the limbo land of deep sadness. It feels like no one can reach that place where the murkiness sits, where the deep dark misery sloshes about inside of you. It can seem like no one and nothing can smooth the waters.

I sat at my computer one morning and stared at my screen where I had a picture of Sam looking back at me. Those big, dark, beautiful soulful eyes stared right through me. I wanted a dog in my life, but was it too soon? I wanted a rescue dog. I wanted a female dog. I had so many conditions about the dog I wanted. But I had zero control. I worried about grieving one dog while falling in love with another. Was it fair to me or to them? Would people judge me? So many what-ifs running through my head. I looked at Sam on my screen and I started to cry uncontrollably. I didn't know what to do.

There is no manual when it comes to grief. And there is no manual for losing a loved one. We write our own and follow our own path that leads us to acceptance and healing. It's not always the path other people might choose and that’s okay. As I cried at my computer desk, looking at the picture of Sam, I told him I couldn’t do the dog thing. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what was right and what was wrong. I knew I wasn't replacing him, but I needed someone to get out of bed for in the morning. Another sentient being to care for - a warm-blooded purpose.

Sam had been everything to me. I told him I was letting it all go, letting the whole dog thing go. It was too hard. And if he wanted me to have a dog, then he needed to find me the right one and send them to me. I remember feeling relieved, saying it out loud as I cried. And that I really was just going to let it all go and hand it over to a higher power to sort. If it happened, it happened. But for now, I was going to step away, stop looking, stop worrying, and stop not knowing what to do. I pulled myself together and went back to work.

About half an hour later, my phone rang. I was not in the headspace to answer and so let it go to voicemail. When I listen to the message, it was my neighbour across the road. She didn't really leave a message, but she sent through two photos. I heard them ping as they arrived and when I checked them, it was two photographs of a puppy. This tiny little redheaded thing in a blue jacket. Bewildered, I called her and asked her what was going on.

She told me her dog's brother had his evil way with a young poodle. The result was this little guy. He was a mistake, an oops, a fling. But to me, he was a miracle - this tiny little singleton pup. Its owner offered it to my neighbour as a second dog, but my neighbour declined and called me instead. Long story short, I met him later that day. And the rest, as they say, is history.

I held him mostly in secrecy during these past 49 days, out of respect for my boy as he transitioned. But I now want to introduce the new man in my life.

His name… Frederick Theodore Paddington Bear. Fred Bear will do. Or Freddy, Bear, Freddy Bear, Frederica, Fredalicious, Frederocious, Frediculous... I could go on…

He has been my heart-stealer grief healer. But by no means a replacement for Sam. I'm still grieving my boy every day but having Freddy has taught me that my heart has ample capacity to grieve and love simultaneously. With every breakdown I've had over Sam, Freddy has run to me to be right by my side. Paws on my face, licking my tears. His sensitivity amazes me every day.

I wanted to show him to the world, but I was worried about judgement. The “ isn't it too soon" brigade? And to be honest, I've done it myself. Judged people for getting an animal so soon after the death of another. But I will never do it again because now I have lived it and I know it's different for everyone. Grief and how you manage it, is as unique as a person's DNA. You can only do it your way and for your reasons, and whatever you choose is perfect for you.

This is the lesson I've learned. Judge no one in grief. Yesterday is 49 days since Sam's passing and I have no doubt at all that Sammy was instrumental in bringing Freddy into my life. Freddy has been sent by an Angel. And he is an Angel himself, and something I wasn’t expecting. Sometimes the best surprises need to come early and before you realise that you're even ready for them. I couldn’t be more grateful that this little guy and I found each other. Let there be Fred Spam !

Long live Freddy Bear...

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