Previous post:

Next post:

‘But it’s just a dog……’

I saw a stunning post today on Facebook.  This is a beautiful letter from Fiona Apple explaining to her fans why she must postpone a concert date.

It’s 6pm on Friday, and I’m writing to a few thousand friends I have not met yet. I’m writing to ask them to change our plans and meet a little while later.

Here’s the thing.

I have a dog, Janet, and she’s been ill for about 2 years now, as a tumor has been idling in her chest, growing ever so slowly. She’s almost 14 years old now. I got her when she was 4 months old. I was 21 then — an adult, officially — and she was my kid.

She is a pitbull, and was found in Echo Park, with a rope around her neck, and bites all over her ears and face.

She was the one the dogfighters use to puff up the confidence of the contenders.

She’s almost 14 and I’ve never seen her start a fight, or bite, or even growl, so I can understand why they chose her for that awful role. She’s a pacifist.

Janet has been the most consistent relationship of my adult life, and that is just a fact. We’ve lived in numerous houses, and joined a few makeshift families, but it’s always really been just the two of us.

She slept in bed with me, her head on the pillow, and she accepted my hysterical, tearful face into her chest, with her paws around me, every time I was heartbroken, or spirit-broken, or just lost, and as years went by, she let me take the role of her child, as I fell asleep, with her chin resting above my head.

She was under the piano when I wrote songs, barked any time I tried to record anything, and she was in the studio with me, all the time we recorded the last album.

The last time I came back from tour, she was spry as ever, and she’s used to me being gone for a few weeks, every 6 or 7 years.

She has Addison’s Disease, which makes it more dangerous for her to travel, since she needs regular injections of Cortisol, because she reacts to stress and excitement without the physiological tools which keep most of us from literally panicking to death.

Despite all this, she’s effortlessly joyful & playful, and only stopped acting like a puppy about 3 years ago. She is my best friend, and my mother, and my daughter, my benefactor, and she’s the one who taught me what love is.

I can’t come to South America. Not now. When I got back from the last leg of the US tour, there was a big, big difference.

She doesn’t even want to go for walks anymore.

I know that she’s not sad about aging or dying. Animals have a survival instinct, but a sense of mortality and vanity, they do not. That’s why they are so much more present than people.

But I know she is coming close to the time where she will stop being a dog, and start instead to be part of everything. She’ll be in the wind, and in the soil, and the snow, and in me, wherever I go.

I just can’t leave her now, please understand. If I go away again, I’m afraid she’ll die and I won’t have the honor of singing her to sleep, of escorting her out.

Sometimes it takes me 20 minutes just to decide what socks to wear to bed.

But this decision is instant.

These are the choices we make, which define us. I will not be the woman who puts her career ahead of love & friendship.

I am the woman who stays home, baking Tilapia for my dearest, oldest friend. And helps her be comfortable & comforted & safe & important.

Many of us these days, we dread the death of a loved one. It is the ugly truth of Life that keeps us feeling terrified & alone. I wish we could also appreciate the time that lies right beside the end of time. I know that I will feel the most overwhelming knowledge of her, and of her life and of my love for her, in the last moments.

I need to do my damnedest, to be there for that.

Because it will be the most beautiful, the most intense, the most enriching experience of life I’ve ever known.

When she dies.

So I am staying home, and I am listening to her snore and wheeze, and I am revelling in the swampiest, most awful breath that ever emanated from an angel. And I’m asking for your blessing.

I’ll be seeing you.




I love this so very much.

Whenever I hear someone say ‘but it was just a pet’ I cringe. Hard.  I was raised with pets as family members. No, not like family members.  They were and are family members. I was raised in a family where in the hierachy of importance to my mother I’m pretty sure the dogs beat my brother and I.  And I’m not even close to joking!  It doesn’t matter how someone else feels about my family’s pets.  It matters how I do.

There seems to be this generally accepted G.R.I.E.F.  scale of what is the most and least painful loss…..with pets being at the lowest, then grandparents, then siblings and parents, then spouses, then children.  Or something like that.

People can get very upset when others think they have experienced the same thing they have but haven’t been through the exact same death. People can get angry when a friend says they understand your loss of a parent because their dog died last week.  I hear people say  ‘I thought I knew what grief was but then my mother/husband/child died and now I really understand….and noone can understand unless they have been through the same thing’.

But here is the thing….EVERY experience of death is different for each person.  G.R.I.E.F. is a journey of meaning-making and the meaning each person attaches to a death is totally individual.  I have seen a friend whose grandmother died completely fall to bits.  I know some people who have recently had cats die who were, without a doubt, the most important figures in their lives and this has been a devastating experience for them.  And I have spoken to a woman who lost her baby who ‘knew’ that it was supposed to be the worst experience ever…..but found she wasn’t in the pain she expected….and felt so guilty and unable to tell even those close to her.  I have worked with a guy who needed to work on his elderly father’s death which, from the outside, looked a much easier death to manage than the ‘violent and shocking’ death of his sister, which didn’t have anywhere near the impact on him.  And a friend who told me recently that the death of one of her dogs was harder for her than the death of her father.  When my mother’s dog died a few years back he wasn’t ‘just a dog’.  That was her best friend.

Likewise you could go through the same death as someone else and have a very different experience to them.  You might have had your dad die in the exact same way mine did….and yet our experiences could still be completely different and on very different scales.

We need to let go of this ridiculous scale of  G.R.I.E.F. and the acceptable amount of (and type of – both negative and positive) emotion for each.

When I talk about 6 deaths in 4 months in my family the second death was a cat.  Our 18 year old cat who ran away to die about 3 weeks after dad died and absolutely devastated us. This death was no easier than any of the others, who were all human.  And to anyone who says to me ‘but that was just a cat. Surely that didn’t mean much in comparison to the other deaths’ I would say ‘just a cat TO YOU’.

Now for all of these deaths – for those open to and willing to do the work – they will be able to find just as much beauty and meaning in each and heal from them.  And again this part is just as individual a journey.

The real answer to ‘which is the hardest death’?  The one in your life that has been the hardest for you.  That’s the only answer that makes sense. G.R.I.E.F is too individual an experience for any other conclusions to be drawn.




Kelly July 11, 2013 at 2:42 pm

What a post! Thanks Kristie… animal lovers get this. I mentioned a bit in my last blog post around the fact that we have these crazy social norms around death; people have rigid expectations of others (and themselves) when someone dies. You really hit the nail on the head here.
I love what you said:
“The real answer to which is the hardest death? The one in your life that has been the hardest for you. That’s the only answer that makes sense”.
Bless Fiona Apple for being True to herself and her number one LOVE.

Charles Cowling July 12, 2013 at 9:32 am

Yes (and thrice yes), Kristie. People can take an accountant’s view of grief and attempt to reconcile it with the value of the love due to the dead person/dumb chum — grief being what love transmutes into when there’s a death; and the value of love for a pet not being = to the value of love due to a person. In the case of a bereaved person who expresses more grief than is due, that person is urged to moderate and manage it by being ‘sensible’. It’s a man-made model, isn’t it? A hierarchy of grief?

If only life were so simple. Reason and logic are all well in their ways, but fit only to solve little things. It’s unreason that makes us human.

Thank you for this piece. I am still really quite badly mourning my Ted (an English Bull Terrier).

Kristie West July 12, 2013 at 11:36 am

Thanks Kelly! This has been the quickest shared post and most-liked. This really strikes a chord with people as I think so often people wave it away if your pet dies. Just another one of the unhelpful beliefs and expectations and ‘shoulds’ that go on around death!


Kristie West July 12, 2013 at 11:47 am

Thanks Charles! The whole scale thing is so daft – ‘this is what you should feel here …and over here you should feel this…but not this’, ‘this is too much’, ‘this is too little’. It is very rare that people are actually permitted to feel exactly what they feel – both the ugly and the beautiful – as the conditioning around death is subtle but insidious and incredibly strong.
I don’t actually agree with the idea of grief being love though at all (not sure if that was your belief above or the accountant’s view). This is one of the beliefs that keeps people either really stuck in pain (as they think their emotional reaction to a death is their love so won’t give it up) or they don’t experience the pain they expect to and feel bad, guilty, like a heartless person. This is actually incredibly common – I get contacted all the time by people who can’t actually admit what they are feeling to others (for shame and fear of being seen as unloving) and suffer in silence pretending to be in more pain than they are…and creating it through sheer guilt.
Love is love is love. All emotion happens over top of that. I’m looking for a blog that says goes into and this is my closest
I’ll do another blog this week about it – you’ve inspired me. It’s a huge topic but very important!


Charles Cowling July 12, 2013 at 12:28 pm

I really like the way you think, Kristie, and what you write is very, very engaging and interesting. I don’t know that the term ‘grief’ is useful because it’s not a single emotion, it’s a self-strangling complexity; and it is experienced differently by different people. It’s more of an umbrella term. As you say, if grief is reckoned to be what love turns into when someone dies, that is very dangerous. No, I am not in agreement with the accountant. If grief is love then, as you say, who could bear to live without it.

I’m really looking forward to your next post on this. To be honest, my admiration for you just went through the roof.

Kristie West July 13, 2013 at 8:39 am

Ooo you’ll love the next one then Charles. I also don’t like the word ‘grief’- it refers only to a negative experience (and there is so much more going on and to be found in the experience of death) hence why I actually use G.R.I.E.F. instead. It’s here if you hadn’t seen it before –

Actually you’ve inspired me as to what I will speak about at Bomo!


Allie March 21, 2014 at 4:29 am

Just thank you so much.

Kristie West March 21, 2014 at 5:34 am

You’re welcome Allie xxx