MrPets

Jack had been my number one companion. Without him, I realised I’d have to find other reasons to leave the house. The day after the kindly man from the pet crematorium had taken him away, I set off on a walk, marching around grimly and praying I wouldn’t run into a neighbour, or one of our many dog walking friends, and have to explain why Jack wasn’t with me. I didn’t know where to go or even why I was walking at all. Then I remembered it was the day of the local council elections. ‘I’ll go and vote,’ I told myself, relieved that there was at least something to be out for (tomorrow I’d have to think of something else). Stomping along with a wet face, I approached the polling station where – oh no! Nicola Sturgeon was standing outside. ‘She can’t see me like this,’ I thought in my deranged state. As I tried to barge past she smiled sympathetically and patted my arm. 

The next day I realised I couldn’t just walk around aimlessly, following our same old routes. So I came up with the idea of doing sketch walks instead. I love to draw, and figured that stopping to sketch would give my walks a new sense of purpose. I established a rule for myself: that the sketch must be finished and photographed in situ (to save me fiddling with it when I got home), and shared on my Instagram – @fiona_gib

It helped hugely as, even when I’d just popped out to the shops, I found myself looking out for interesting things to draw on future walks. And when I perched on bench, a wall or even the kerb to sketch, people often came over to see what I was doing. A local man spotted me drawing his marshmallow pink shopfront and photographed it for his own social media. He smiles and waves every day now. I got to know more owners of local shops and cafes and was asked to sketch coffee shops for a community magazine. As the weeks passed, I started to feel better. I was getting out and about, keeping up my step count and enjoying some human contact – just has I had on those walks with Jack.

That’s not to say there haven’t been bad days. One morning I made the mistake of sketching in the park where Jack and I had walked most days. Soon my tears were falling onto the page, splodging my watercolour marks. It felt so wrong that Jack wasn’t running towards me and chasing sticks. I wondered now if I had ‘let him die’ that night by the door; if something could have been done to save him. Crazy thoughts, I know – and before we’d adopted Jack I hadn’t understood how deeply one can love a pet. But of course we don’t really consider them ‘pets’ at all. Jack was a true friend – a member of our family – and we’d walked hundreds of miles together. I’d loved him as much as it is possible to love another being. 

After the park incident I started to feel better again. I’m convinced that crying is in itself part of the healing process; that ‘getting it all out’ helps us along that road to recovery. Gradually, I started to adjust. The pain wasn’t quite so raw and our home no longer felt strange and empty without him. 

Apart from my sketch walks I’m finding other ways to move on. I’m exploring new parts of town and have started cycling more, which I couldn’t do with Jack. Changing things up from our old routines has helped a lot – and, as everyone says, time is healing too. 

Jimmy and I are focussing on our new freedoms. Jack was a terrible car passenger, as prone to travel sickness as a toddler. We are now out and about at weekends, battering our National Trust cards and edging towards buying a camper van. I’m not sure if we’ll get another dog. I certainly can’t think about it yet. For the moment I’m making do with memories of all the fun we had, which started when our son Dexter pointed at the shy, skinny dog in the Dogs Trust enclosure and said, ‘How about him?’ And if that wasn’t lucky, I don’t know what is. 

Fiona Gibson’s latest novel, The Woman Who Took a Chance, is published by Avon 



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