WORDS: Gary Kelly
Without my dog I don’t think I’d still be alive. Seriously. I love my dog, but first some background.
10 years ago my friend Gavin decided to take his own life. We were close, very close, doing the eulogy at his funeral close. Gav dying so suddenly was a shock, any sudden deaths are, but there is something about suicide. If you have been through losing someone close to suicide and come out the other side -a survivor of bereavement by suicide if you will- then you may ‘get it’. You may understand the very specific and individual bereavement a person experiences.
The feelings we feel are desperate, primal, it’s almost as if everything you know about the ‘rules’ of life are wrong. A loved one taking their own life, that is something that happens to other people, and then it happens to you. And then the world goes dark.
In the days and weeks after Gav died I know now I was in shock, at the time I thought I was coping well. In reality I was running around ‘helping’, helping with the funeral, helping with friends, checking in on people. The thing is, I wasn’t checking in on myself. Slowly but surely my insides were turning into stone, little by little I was forgetting how to feel. At least anything other than anger, shame and guilt, as misplaced as those emotions were. The taboo of suicide can do that.
People don’t know how to engage with ‘it’ like they do if someone has died of a heart attack. So the loneliness we feel of the loss of a person of significance in our lives becomes magnified as people move away from the people left behind as if they have the plague.
We’re encouraged to talk about how we feel, and people do mean well, but it takes a special person, a person equipped to navigate a discussion on suicide. For many even the mention of the word is like garlic to a vampire. At least that is what I found. I hope you didn’t or never do. I was fortunate later on in my journey to have the support of some great people, including a counsellor. But that came years later. In the 3 years after Gav died I was lucky to survive, I contemplated suicide and was close to carrying it out on one occasion.
During this time I met Zebedee, Zeb for short, my dog. People overuse and often misuse the term ‘spirit animal’. It has become somewhat of a meme which means many different things. For me Zeb understands me and my needs on an almost cellular level. I know people have different spiritual or religious beliefs or none at all, I respect that, I absolutely believe with all my heart that Zeb was sent to save me. From whom I don’t know. One thing I am certain of is that he has saved me from myself.
Zeb is a rescue dog, a border collie, I think I saw something of myself in him and his situation, It sparked a light of forgotten empathy in me. I couldn’t leave him in that situation. I couldn’t leave myself in my situation. I know that now.
Before Zeb came to me, I could barely function, before Gav died I was a glass half full person, everything would always be alright. My career, a Manager in the Community Sector, was going well. I was delivering national projects, at a relatively young age too. An achiever. Things were on the up. My career and general life came to a halt due to periods of absence/sickness after Gav. My mental health was shot to pieces, my glass was not only half empty, it was smashed to pieces on the ground, and I was stamping on it, grinding it into dust. Watching the remnants of that glass, my life, blow away in the ill winds that had encircled my sad existence. Self harm essentially, I didn’t particularly care whether I lived or died. I didn’t particularly know what I was doing to myself. I am certain of this however: I didn’t care.
The thing is with dogs, well with Zeb, I can’t speak for your dog, or any other dog but I can speak for Zeb, Zeb just ‘knows’. Zeb would not allow me to mope, if I wouldn’t get out of bed he would pull the covers off with a joie de vivre and cheeky smile on his face which seemed to say: “I know you are irritated with me but you aren’t staying there. I love you, the universe loves you and we have fields to run in”. I couldn’t be angry with Zeb, he hasn’t got a bad bone in his body.
The thing is I didn’t care whether I lived or died, but I cared about Zeb, he got me up in the morning, literally. Zeb made me care about him and by extension about others, including myself. He rescued me, or did I rescue him? Sometimes I’m not sure.
One thing I do know is my glass is half full again. I know you will never be able to read this, because you are a dog, but regardless. Thank you Zeb. You saved my life.