Friday, 17 April 2020

"The idea of mixing Jewish students, a Kabbalistic sect leader and a murder just popped into my head one day." - Author interview - Jo Fenton

Hello there Jo, I’m delighted to have you on my blog today!

Hi Rose, thanks so much for inviting me!

Congratulations on your latest novel! I'd love to hear all about "Revelation". Can you give us the first line and a little blurb as to what it’s about?

First line:
Yellow tape seals the doorway between the lifts and the east wing of the halls of residence – tenth floor.


Manchester, 1989

A student, Rick, is found dead in halls of residence.

His friends get caught up in the aftermath: Dan, who was in love with Rick; and Becky, who is in love with Dan.

Their fraught emotions lead them into dark places – particularly a connection to a mysterious Kabbalistic sect.

Will Becky discover who killed Rick in time to save her best friend?

Sounds fantastic! What inspired you to write this novel?

I was a student in Manchester in 1989, and although nothing like this happened to me (thankfully), I wanted to capture the atmosphere and some of the difficulties of the time. It’s often difficult to know what sparks a specific story though. The idea of mixing Jewish students, a Kabbalistic sect leader, and a murder, just popped into my head one day.

It's great when ideas just pop into your head like that! Can you tell me about that moment when you decided to sit down and write your first novel? How did you get over any hurdles of fear or doubt?

I’d been writing short stories for a few months, but had dismissed the idea of a novel on the grounds of full time job, husband and kids. 

But one day we were watching breakfast TV amongst the usual morning stress, when an article came on about NaNoWriMo. 

National Novel Writing Month is a challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in a month.

Surprisingly, my husband suggested I give it a go, so during my morning break, I started thinking about some ideas.

When the concept of a woman trapped in a religious sect popped into my head, I got really excited. I did a lot of planning, so by the time I sat down to write, the words tumbled on to the page.

The fears and doubts came out many times over the next 6 years whilst I wrote, re-wrote and edited – simultaneously attending writing workshops and joining writing groups to learn the craft.

That first novel was accepted by Crooked Cat on 15th December 2017 and was published in July 2018. I’m still very proud of it.

That's so impressive! I've never managed to do NaNoWriMo. Please can you tell me about your writing routine – how do you settle yourself down to write?

I’m rubbish about routine, but I do try to write before work if I can (my brain is a bit frazzled by the end of the day). If I’ve got 20 minutes to write, I’ll sit at my desk with a coffee, order Alexa to play some music (whatever I’m in the mood for – currently Meatloaf, Adam Lambert, Queen and Tom Odell, and start typing.

If I've got an hour (usually at weekends or holiday), I'll do the same. I occasionally have to read back through the last chapter if I've not written for a week or two. 

Do you have any tips for aspiring authors who would love to write but don’t know where to start?

I would suggest to start writing the novel that excites you. Some people are planners, some are pantsers (seat of the pants writers), many are somewhere in between (like me!) It doesn’t matter. The first draft should never see the light of day, except perhaps to be read by someone you trust who can give constructive critique. At some point in the process, do a course in creative writing – it doesn’t have to be an MA! I attended a series of brilliant workshops, which evolved into critique sessions, and is now a monthly writing group.

Most important though is to keep dreaming. Writing a novel is a long process, and requires persistence and determination. Having an aim or ambition is a good incentive to keep going.

What do you love doing when not writing?

I love reading (no surprises there), but also love running and hiking – both a huge shock, and my younger self would probably not believe it! I’m very slow at running, but completed a half marathon on the same day as I finished writing my first book. 

Lastly – a fun question: 

Can you tell us about a funny/ embarrassing memory

My dad was an entertainment agent, specializing in lookalikes/soundalikes. One evening, he invited all the family and some friends along to see a Tom Jones act (this was about 15-20 years ago).

‘Tom Jones’ asked my dad if some of the women in his party would throw some knickers at him (he provided the knickers – all clean, I hasten to add).

Anyway, I offered to do the business, and when Delilah came on, I walked halfway to the stage (we were at the back) and threw a lacy pair of red unmentionables towards the singer – well that was the plan. I’ve never had a good aim. The lace attached itself to the ceiling. I returned red-faced to my chair. But it didn’t end there. The audience’s gaze remained transfixed to the knickers, which slowly detached from the ceiling, finally falling onto the table as Mr Jones hit the last note.

He confessed to my dad afterwards that he was so hysterical watching the progress of the underwear that he almost forgot the lyrics!

Brilliant Jo! I love it! Thanks so much for coming on my blog today and best of luck with your book! 

About the author:

Jo Fenton grew up in Hertfordshire. She devoured books from an early age and, at eleven, discovered Agatha Christie and Georgette Heyer. She now has an eclectic and much loved book collection cluttering her home office.

Jo combines an exciting career in Clinical Research with an equally exciting but very different career as a writer of psychological thrillers.

When not working, she runs (very slowly), and chats to lots of people. She lives in Manchester with her family and is an active and enthusiastic member of two writing groups and two reading groups.

Revelation is available on Amazon: Amazon

My other books are also available on Amazon: 

The Brotherhood: The Brotherhood

The Refuge: The Refuge

You can find me on social media at:

Website: Website

Facebook: Facebook

Twitter: Twitter

Thursday, 12 March 2020

Finding meaning in sadness

Grief is something that isn’t talked about much. It’s that quiet emotion – the one that’s tucked away behind closed doors – private, personal, introverted.

The raw grief that I experienced about Snowy lasted for several weeks. Sometimes I woke up in the middle of the night crying and then went back to sleep again. The silence and the emptiness in my apartment was overwhelming. I’m not ashamed to admit that I went to grief counselling to talk about Snowy. I needed a safe space where I could talk about him for a full hour without feeling like I was burdening people.

After only 3 sessions, the counsellor announced “I think you’re okay now” and it felt like a rubber stamp of approval on my mental health. I had been able to talk about what Snowy meant to me; what role he played in my life and about the traumatic way in which I discovered his dead body. I also began to talk about the meaning I could draw from the sadness. Clearly I was grieving so much because of how much I loved him. It seemed a shame that all this surplus love would just go into an empty vacuum – unused and evaporating.

I began to think about all the times I worried about Snowy – how that if anything happened to me – who would look after him? And then I thought of all those rescue cats – who were living in shelters waiting on homes. Perhaps their owner had passed away and now they were left alone in a cage, hoping on someone to adopt them. They no longer had the adorable charm of cute kitten status and might bypass the many families getting a new cat.

I wondered if I could give a home to one of these abandoned cats and therefore all the love for Snowy wouldn’t be wasted. All that love I had channelled towards him could now be channelled towards a cat in need. Suddenly the empty void of grief was being replaced by something else – a purpose or meaning in all this suffering. The grief for Snowy was still there – missing him, thinking about him – but it didn’t feel so raw. Now there was a plan.

I made a phone-call to Cats Protection. I enquired about adopting a cat. I was told about the procedure. A letter was needed from my landlady authorising a cat in the property. Forms would have to be filled out. Once the forms were verified, I could then pick a cat. There would then be a 24 hour resting period and I would return the following day to collect the cat.

The wheels were in motion. My landlady came round and signed the letter. After she left, I did a little happy dance around my living-room. It was the first time I’d felt genuinely happy and excited in weeks.

Then the first visit to Cats Protection. I admit, I went in with too-high expectations. I was full of excitement. I imagined all the cute cats and how wonderful it would be. I hadn’t eaten properly and we had trouble finding the place so I was probably more flustered and not as calm as normal.

A receptionist took my details and then another member of staff led me down to the cats. I hadn’t expected how overwhelming it would feel. All the little cats in cages, all awaiting homes. Some cats tried to put their paws out through the gaps to get your attention. Others rubbed up against the window as though wanting to be petted. How on earth could I pick just one cat when they all needed a home?

The guy who was showing us around led us to 2 cats – Darcy and May. He informed me that they had been in the shelter the longest and really needed a forever home. I started to feel even more overwhelmed. I hadn’t planned on taking 2 cats.

“I’m not sure which cat I want”, I told him.

“That’s okay,” he said. “We could fill out the forms anyway to get the ball rolling?”

So we did that. He took me through a series of questions and then went to the office to check if my form was approved. Meanwhile I was allowed to have another look at the cats. There was a ginger cat who was rubbing up next to me and giving me sweet head-bumps but he was one of two and I hadn’t really envisioned getting 2 cats.

The guy returned and told me that my form was approved. This was good news but my head was spinning. I was hungry, overwhelmed and indecisive. I asked him if I could think about it and return another day. He said of course.

I went for food and talked it over with my friend. Then I chatted to my sister about it on Voxer. And then to another sister. I decided to sleep on it and return another day.

A week later, I returned to Cats Protection. This time, I was prepared. I went in with an open mind, low expectations and a full tummy.  This was a lot easier. Instead of seeing lots of vulnerable cats in cages, I noticed that in fact, quite a few cats had a “reserved” sign on their window. This meant that someone had chosen them and would return tomorrow to collect them. Why hadn’t I noticed that before? Also I noticed how clean the place was and how contented the cats looked. Many were curled up sleeping. I was also really pleased to see that Darcy and May – the two longest residents - had been reserved.

The ginger cat was all over me again. Rubbing up next to me and giving me gentle head-bumps. That was it. He had chosen me. He was one of two. Curled up in the corner was his buddy; a black cat with a glossy coat. I petted him gently and he curled around appreciatively, encouraging me to rub under his chin.

“That’s them,” I said. “They’re the ones”.

The Cats Protection guy smiled happily and off we went, saying that we’d return first thing in the morning to collect them. I had to rush and buy a second carrier as I only had one.

My excitement was sky-high and I was grinning from ear to ear. I also decided on names: “Toots” and “Soots”. “Toots” because that’s what I always used to call Snowy. And “Soots” because he was black like chimney soot.

That night felt like Christmas Eve – the excitement of knowing that the next morning I’d be collecting my new gifts.

The following morning I loaded my 2 carriers into the car with building excitement. I thought of the number of times this had happened – the day Snowy arrived in his cage carried by Paula. The day Ann carried Snowy’s body in her arms to her car. And now, the day 2 new cats would be carried in.

At Cats Protection, the staff looked jubilant. I think they were as happy to see 2 cats getting a forever home as I was to get 2 new family members.

A nice girl sat and took me through some paperwork. I was impressed by all the detail. Every date that each cat had been neutered, vaccinated, wormed and flea treated. Microchip details, insurance details, the whole heap. This was the first I learned that the black cat only had 3 legs but it made no difference to me. The wee critter needed a home and I would provide it.

One of the Cats Protection staff took the carriers and said she’d return with the cats. They were both meowing loudly when they returned. Obviously both were scared and wondering what was going on. I tried to talk softly and gently to them. When I put them in the back seat of the car, I placed their carriers in such a way that they were both facing each other. This seemed to calm them down and they settled on the journey home.

Safely inside the house, I opened the carriers and let them step out and find their own way around. They found the beds in the walk-in wardrobe. Snowy had used these when he didn’t like the sound of the bin men. And now Toots and Soots had discovered them too.

By the evening, after having time to relax and having been given tempting Dreamies and some cat food, they branched out into the living room and lay on the chair next to me. Having each other for company obviously seemed like a big advantage. They curled around each other which seemed to comfort and calm them.

For the first few days, we were tip-toeing around each other. I was trying to give them space and not to make any sudden or loud movements which would scare them. They, meanwhile, were hiding in the wardrobe most of the time until they started to trust that I wasn’t going to hurt them. In fact, they started to realise that I was the lady who would feed them and clean up their poop! After a while, they began to lie on the bed, or on the cushion on top of the chest of drawers. I felt so calm and contented having them around. Cats create a vibe in the home that is just so relaxing. I don’t know if it’s their ability to fall asleep at any time, or their soft purring sounds, or the way they look so cute when they’re curled up in a ball, but they’re a joy.

I kept thinking about Snowy though. I noticed little differences between each cat and I realised that the 3 year bond with Snowy will never be replaced. But slowly, we are getting used to each and that bond will grow too. When I see Soots hop along on his little 3 legs, my heart melts a little. And Toots follows me around with an inquisitive little face that is full of so much character. I love them, my two little rescue fur babies. xx

Thursday, 23 January 2020

Grieving the Loss of a Beloved Pet

This post is written in memory of Snowy McClelland 
29 December 2016 - 6 January 2020 


I took one look at Snowy and I knew he was gone. Panic set in immediately. Crouching down, I took a closer look at him; his body was lying far too still. I phoned my friend Joe who had just dropped me off. “Please turn back and come in. I think Snowy’s dead.”

I couldn’t bear to look at him. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I tried to phone my sister Rhoda but couldn’t get through. Joe arrived back in. We sat with Snowy, looking at his wee body; still and motionless. He’s gone. My panic kept rising. How could this be happening? He was only 3 years old. He’d been perfectly healthy. What on earth could have happened? I scanned around, trying to find evidence. Did he choke on something? Guilt immediately set in. Did I leave something lying around that he choked on? But I couldn’t see anything. And I didn’t want to think about what had happened to him; about what pain he had been in. More guilt; why wasn’t I at home with him? Perhaps I could have prevented it?

Joe tried to reason with me; perhaps when he was playing outside in the afternoon, perhaps he’d eaten something toxic and it was working on him?
I felt my body roll forward and my head curling onto the carpet. How could this be happening? How could my Snowy be gone?

Joe and I looked at his wee body lying there. We decided we needed to get him comfy. I got the little blanket that Mum had sent me for Christmas. Snowy had lain on it a few times whilst looking out the window, watching the world go by. I moved his wee body onto one side of the blanket, then wrapped the rest of the blanket around him, with his little face poking out. It looked like he was just lying there sleeping.

I lay down behind him and curled my arm around him. “Oh Snowy”, I cried. “I loved you so much”. I let the tears flow. I could hear Joe behind me; he was choking up too; obviously finding it hard to see his friend curled up next to her deceased cat.

Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love my Snowy. For 3 years, it’s just been me and Snowy. He’s my wee buddy; my wee companion. He’s been with me through my darkest times and he offers me unconditional love that no human can. He doesn’t care what mood I’m in. In fact, he senses the times when I need comfort. There have been nights where he has curled up to me and stuck to my side when I needed it.

Rhoda phoned back. “Snowy’s dead,” I said, the minute she answered.

“What?! No!!”

I told her everything. I was sounding much too calm. I knew it was the shock. I knew the grief was in the post and I was in for a rough ride.

Rhoda was crying. “Rose, no!” she was saying.

“But you know what,” she was saying later in the conversation, “You gave him a really good life.” Well, that was true. I knew I had spoiled and cherished him every single day of his life. I never went on trips because I didn’t want to leave him on his own. If I went out, I was sure to get back early to make sure he was okay.

Whenever he didn’t like the sound of the bin-men, I played him “relaxing cat sounds” from YouTube. I had a soothing cat smells plug-in which he loved and he rubbed his nose against. He had a selection of Tuna, Dreamies and Whiska biscuits – foods that he loved.

Phone-call with Rhoda over, I felt the tiredness hit me. Joe was still talking, trying to offer comfort but I knew it was time to be on my own with Snowy.
Joe was reluctant to leave me but I promised him I’d be okay. After he’d gone, the quietness descended. It was just me and Snowy; Snowy lying on the blanket, looking like he was just sleeping. It was after midnight by now. I knew it was too late to be phoning anyone else; but anyway part of me didn’t want to phone anyone. Talking about it would mean it was real. I wanted, just for one last night, to lie next to Snowy and to pretend he was just sleeping. To stave off the grief and to stay in the protective bubble of shock for a while. I knew what was coming; the having to tell people, the tears, the grieving – I wasn’t ready for it yet. I lay on the sofa with the duvet over me. I lay with Snowy and kept him company. He was lying on the floor on the blanket, facing away from me; the back of his head poking out. Sleeping; he’s sleeping, I told myself. I lay there, next to him, keeping him company while he slept.

I didn’t sleep a wink. Thoughts would spin around like a washing machine on a slow spin.

‘What am I going to do about burial?’ the thought would come.

Then it would be looking on Google, doing a search for my vet, seeing what their opening hours were. 7.30am.

Then I would push that thought away and pretend he was just sleeping again and I would lie there, keeping him company while he slept.

Finally, when I could take no more of the thoughts whirring around on a slow spin, I decided to sit down and write out my thoughts. I didn’t want to write them, because that would mean it would be true, but I felt I had to do something. By this time, it was 4.30am and I’d had 4½ hours of lying next to my cat. As I wrote, I felt my heart hammering in my chest. People use that expression willy nilly but when it happens, it’s a weird sensation. My heart literally hammered like a drum.

The movement of my pen was slow and reluctant. I had to admit to the page what had happened. I could no longer sit in the comfortably numb bubble of shock.

After the words hit the page, then came the voxer to my other sister Debbie.
I sent her a voice message at 4.30am. This was common practice for us to vox each other and I knew her phone would be on silent so it wouldn’t wake her.

The voice message was 11 minutes long. It started off very heavy and slow. “I have some very sad news to tell you… Snowy has passed away.” And then as I began to recount the story, the tears came, tears that made it impossible to talk; so that most of that voice message was just me crying.

Then 6.45am came. I wondered if my other sister Ruth would be up yet; she gets up very early for her job. I sent a tentative What’s App message. “Morning Ruth, are you up yet?”

“Yes I’m up x” she replied straight back.

“Can I phone?” I asked. I knew that would immediately worry her because she’d know something was wrong but I had to check first if it was okay to phone.

“Yes of course”, she replied.

“Snowy’s dead”, I said, when she answered.

“What? No!” she started crying immediately. “Oh Rose! That’s awful! What happened?”

So I recounted the story to her, sounding much too calm. She was crying. “Oh Rose, that’s awful, I know how much Snowy means to you, this is just terrible.”

It was such a comfort to hear her reaction; she got it; she knew my pain.
On the dot of 7.30am, I phoned my vet.

“Good morning, Cornerstone vet”, a woman said.

“Oh hi” I said, my voice heavy. “I was due to bring my cat in today at 10am for his yearly injections but… he passed away last night.”

The woman’s voice changed immediately from early morning grogginess to complete concern. “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that,” she said.

I talked to her about my concerns; my guilt that he could have choked on something; my fear that he could have eaten something toxic outside.
“I doubt very much that he choked on something,” she answered me. “You would have seen evidence of something lying around. And I doubt he ate something toxic because you would have seen evidence of him vomiting it up. It was most likely his wee heart not ticking properly or problems with his kidneys – something internally.

Then I asked her, “Do people get post-mortems done to their pets to find out what happened?” I felt silly asking this question. Part of me wanted to know what happened and part of me didn’t want to know. I didn’t want to know of the pain he’d been in and I didn’t want his wee body to be poked and prodded.

“No”, she soothed. “No, people don’t generally get that done – there’s no point in doing that. It was just his time.”

It was just his time – those few words were such a massive comfort to me. In those few words she had wiped away my guilt – my fear that he could have choked on something; my guilt that I hadn’t been in the house that night; my confusion that he was only 3 years old and had shown no signs of sickness.

It was just his time.

The vet’s words soothed me but Snowy was still lying there, looking like he was sleeping. I still had to organise a burial for him and I knew I had to start telling people. I had to face the shock head on and start to hear people’s responses.

I work from home and my boss turned up at nine. I saw his car pulling up and I phoned him immediately. I thought it best to warn him what he was walking into. Snowy was dead. The curtains and blinds were closed. I had pulled on any old pair of jeans and a t-shirt. It was pointless to put on make-up as I was crying constantly. My face was red raw and my eyes swollen.

My boss came in and there was a discussion about burial or cremation. The outcome of the discussion was that there was no available land to bury Snowy. My heart sank further. It looked like I was going to have to take Snowy to the vet to have him cremated. I really didn’t like the thought of that but there seemed no other option. Just as I was putting on my boots to take Snowy to the vet, my friend Ann phoned in perfect timing.

I told her about my dilemma and she immediately responded with “But we’ll bury him here at mine!”

Ann lives on a farm in Whitehead with the most beautiful views. There are donkeys grazing in the grass and you can see fields and skyline for miles. Relief washed over me. Why didn’t I think of that? Of course he should be laid to rest at Ann’s! I visit her every Sunday so that means I can visit Snowy every week. And he will be resting in a perfectly peaceful place.

Arrangements were made. Ann would drive down to get me at 12.30pm. She’d drive me and Snowy up to hers, we would lay him to rest and she would drive me home again. That’s FOUR times she was willing to drive up and down. FOUR times. People like Ann amaze me. I know for a fact that every morning when Ann has her bath, she gets on her knees and asks God “Please place me where you need me today.” Place me where you need me. And just when I had put on my boots that day, she had made that call. How amazing to be a person like that, who is willing to be there for someone in their hour of need. Please may I be someone like that. Someone who can offer help to someone when they need it most. I can’t tell you how much relief it gave me, to know that Ann was coming to get me that day. I knew that her calming presence was what was going to get me through.

While I waited for her, I wrote a post on Facebook: “Rest in peace my beautiful little Snowy. Every single day I felt grateful for you. Every single day I appreciated having you in my life. I only wish there had been more days.” 

I posted a few photos along with it. I knew this was all part of the “moving out of the shock” phase. I had posted regular photos of Snowy on Facebook and my friends knew how much I doted on him. Telling the Facebook world was part of my shock treatment. Likes and comments flooded in. People couldn’t believe it. Snowy was so young.

Ann arrived in at 12.30pm with an air of sympathy, love and yet taking a calm charge of the situation.

“Okay, let’s carry you boy”, she said, gently scooping him and taking him to the car. He was still wrapped in his little blanket and tucked in close to him was the little teddy bear that he liked to play-kick at times. I watched as his little head bobbed along towards the car. Tears streamed down my face. I remembered the day I stood at the same spot watching the day he arrived. My friend Paula carrying this little cage down the steps; inside the cage a bundle of white fur. That bundle of white fur was, five minutes later, stepping out of the cage, curiously investigating his new home, then purring and rubbing up next to me within moments. In no time he had decided he liked it here and he was going to stay.

And now, 3 years later, I was watching him being gently carried away.
Ann drove and chatted, I sat and listened, glad of her capacity to chat freely while all I had to do was sit there and listen. I was very conscious of Snowy lying resting in the back of the car, hoping that the boot door didn’t open, hoping that we got him safely to his destination. When we arrived, Ann showed me the grave she had dug so far. It sat up near a swing, the view of the fields and skyline beautiful. She had a plant ready to set on the grave; a plant that would grow into a bush with white flowers. She also had a cross and an angel statue. We needed to dig a little bit more of the grave to give him more room. The physical action of setting my foot on the spade and pushing it down felt strange. I hadn’t had a wink of sleep, I’d cried constantly. I hadn’t eaten and now I was moving down from my mind to my body, preparing this space for Snowy. When we had dug enough, we went back to the car to get Snowy. Again Ann took gentle charge of the situation. She scooped Snowy up in her arms; him still wrapped cosy in the blanket with the little toy beside him. I walked behind her as she climbed the incline next to her cottage. His little face bobbed along next to her. I remember in that moment, being blown away by her friendship. That this woman would help me so much in my hour of need; that she would carry my Snowy like a precious baby. I followed her along to the grave and she gently laid him down inside. It is a sight I cannot get out of my head. The sight of little Snowy lying in the grave. Tears flowed effortlessly.

“Awk Snowy,” I cried. “I love you wee man”. I stroked his wee face, not wanting to have to say goodbye.

Ann was starting to move the soil over him. I took the other spade and reluctantly had to move soil over him too. Little by little, his little white body was being covered by soil while tears lashed down my face. Ann kept a quiet dignified strength as she helped me along.

Then the soil was entirely covered. Ann was putting the plant in the soil along with the cross and the angel. She set stones on top to keep everything in place. My heart was heavy. I felt drained. And yet I knew he was resting in the right place. 

Ann took me down to her farm to show me her new pony. I’m sure it was a diversion tactic. Then it was back to her cottage where we sat at the open fire and drank cappuccinos and ate a peanut butter chocolate slice laden with sugar and calories. The four dogs huddled around us and one of them curled up on my lap.

After we had chatted for a bit, Ann took one look at me and said, “Oh Rose, your eyes are swollen to the back of your head”.

I nodded in agreement.

“I’ll take you home soon, you need rest”.

So I went home and had a bath. I forced myself to eat and got a few hours sleep. But by 10.30pm, I was wide awake again and wondering if this was going to be another sleepless night.

Somehow, from somewhere, I was trying to find some “positives” in the situation. How on earth you can find positives in something like this, is beyond me. But perhaps it was my mind’s way of trying not to go completely insane.

The “positives” I thought of were this:-

That I outlived him.
I know that must seem strange but I always worried about what would happen to Snowy if I died. Would he be put in a shelter? Would some other stranger look after him? I knew that no-one would look after him the way I looked after him. He would’ve had to move somewhere else and he wouldn’t have been so content.

That I had given him a good life.
For 3 years of his life, I had treated him like a king. He had 6 different beds to choose from – including one that was high up on top of a chest of drawers so that he could look out the window and watch the world go by – and one that was low down tucked inside the walk-in wardrobe, so that he could feel safe and secure and hide from the bin-men. He had a choice of all his favourite foods – Tuna in spring water, Whiska biscuits and Dreamies – along with the occasional piece of fresh ham or chicken.  

That he had stability in his life.
We have lived in the same ground floor apartment in a quiet cul-de-sac for 3 years. He was an outdoor cat and he went out every night from around midnight to 8am. He enjoyed roaming around and playing and then he would quite happily sleep all day. I always worried that if I had to move one day, he may not adapt to a new area too quickly. So I’m glad that for his entire natural life, he had stability in where he was living.

He helped me through my darkest hour
Snowy arrived with me at a time I needed him most (although I didn’t know it at the time). He offered me unconditional love and he made my heart feel full in a way I didn’t know I needed. He became my little buddy; my little companion. I loved coming home to him and seeing his wee face perk up when I arrived home. He was a beautiful wee soul who chatted away to me in his own little language. I knew when he wanted outside, or when he wanted water from the bath tap. I knew when he wanted me to play with him or when he wanted cuddles.

All these “positives” were great ideas but they felt very short lived. Very quickly, lots of things felt very difficult:

Coming home at night to a quiet apartment.
It felt horrible to walk in and hear deafening silence. The flat, now devoid of a tiny bundle of fur, felt completely empty.

Adopting strange behaviours
I began to adopt strange behaviours. I’d still be peeping out the curtain wondering if he was sitting on the window sill waiting to come in.

The big pink fluffy cushion became a Snowy substitute. I’d set the cushion on top of the chest of drawers where Snowy used to sit and I’d go to it and cuddle it when I arrived home.

The “relaxing cat music” sounds from YouTube that I used to play for Snowy to drown out the noise of the bin men became the music that I’d play to go to sleep whilst cuddling the pink cushion.

People began to really irritate me
People who, when they heard the news, their very first question would be, “Are you going to get another one?”

I could feel the anger bubble up inside me at their insensitivity. Snowy was only gone 3 days and people were asking that question. 

Yup. Anger. Anger is one of the very prevailing emotions that comes with grief. Anger at someone yamming on about how wonderful their pet is, when they know full well that you’ve just lost yours.

Anger at people who you thought would have sent a message of support, but they haven’t.

Anger at Snowy being taken so young. 3 years old and perfectly healthy – what’s all that about? 

So, in summary, what can I say about my early experiences of grief? What have I learned? What has given me comfort? What has given me strength?

Perhaps you’re reading this and you have just lost your beloved pet. If so, I’m sorry – really, really, sorry. I know you must really love that wee pet – otherwise you wouldn’t be grieving so hard and you wouldn’t be looking for some comfort. Please remember this:

Grieving means that you really love
For the huge amount that you loved that wee pet, is relative to the amount you are grieving now. You grieve because you love. Thank you for that. Thank you that for the precious time you had that pet under your care, you loved him/her with all your heart.

You fed him, watered him, gave him a comfy bed to sleep on, took him for medical care; gave him cuddles and love. His time on this earth was precious and loving; all because of you. You gave him a good life.

Be super-easy on yourself
Your emotions are raw at the moment. It feels like all your nerve endings are inside out. You are super-sensitive. It only takes one comment from one stupid person to arouse anger in you. Let that anger out in healthy ways. Punch a cushion, or go out running; anything that will expend that extra energy that is bubbling up inside you.

Adopt comforting rituals
Repeat habits you used to have with your beloved pet. You might open the blind for him to let him look out; you might play relaxing sounds when the bin-men visit (because the noise scared him) or you might switch on his relaxing smells plug-in. It’s okay to still do these things for a while.

You might have a fluffy cushion that you cuddle at night pretending that it’s him – that’s okay.

Your Love will be needed again
I know that at the moment you can’t even think about another pet but in time, you might consider it. Look at how much love you had to offer that pet. Look at how much you loved and cared for him. Some other pet deserves that love and care someday. It would be unfair to deprive another pet of that love.

Cherish the memories
This is a good time to go through the many photos you have of him. You can print out photos and put them on a designated space in your home or set up a Facebook album and put the photos on there. Whilst assembling the photos, you could listen to inspirational speakers on YouTube. There are a lot of speakers online who give great advice about coping with grief.
I also used this time to remember the positives in his life: 
He wasn’t sick.
I never left him with anyone.
I looked after him well.
I gave him a good life.
I gave him 6 beds to choose from.
I gave him Dreamies & Tuna & Whiska Biscuits & fresh ham.
I got his wee ears all fixed.

You are a special person
You are a loving, giving, caring human being. You helped another wee soul on this earth. You grieve because you love. 

Try not to react to others
My emotions are raw + People make stupid comments = Bad Combo.
Try not to react; to know that some people are just stupid and make thoughtless comments. Emotions are raw at the moment.

Allow yourself time to switch off
Grief is all-consuming. You will want to look at photos and videos of your pet constantly. Allow yourself a window of time to switch off from the grief. Allow yourself some time to watch some crap TV just to switch your head off for a while. 

Keep messages short and sweet

People are well meaning and will be texting wondering how you are. You don’t have to send long convoluted messages about how much pain you are in. You can keep it short and sweet. In fact, you don’t have to reply if you don’t want to. Keep your own boundaries around your emotional space – you don’t have to over-share as it just leaves you feeling raw and vulnerable. 

Of course you can’t imagine feeling grateful for anything at the moment but dig deep. There is always something to feel grateful for. Your own physical health; a roof over your head; food in the fridge; your job; your salary; friends and family who support you.

Live in the moment
The sunlight on the flowers.
The vapour from the tea.
This too will pass.
It won’t feel this raw forever. 

Easy Does it
Be gentle with yourself.
Bubble Bath.
Good food.
Don’t feel you have to reply to every message straightaway.
You can keep replies short & sweet. 

Self-care is so important
It’s okay to set time aside to look after your physical needs.
Take time to organise a food shop delivery.
Spend some time on your clothes washing.
Set time aside for a relaxing bath and hair wash.

Be patient and gentle with yourself
Grieving takes time. Some people will expect you to “get over it” quickly – avoid those people. Take however much time as you need to grieve. 

Keep your life as simple as possible
People don’t think and they come out with stupid comments. Bodyswerve them. Don’t bring up the subject of your pet to people who won’t understand. Set yourself a simple plan for the day –
Eg. Get through work, have a bath, have an early night.

Try to find meaning in your suffering
One day this raw pain will pass.
You will never forget your pet and he will always hold a special place in your heart, but the pain will not be as raw as this forever.
One day, down along the line, you will get another pet.
Perhaps a rescue cat whose owner has gone on to a residential home.
Perhaps you can offer the love and care to a wee cat whose owner can no longer look after them - the way that you worried you might not be able to look after your pet one day.
Now you can turn that pain and grief into something positive and you can offer the love to some poor elderly woman’s beloved cat.

You grieve because you love.