Trigger / Content Warnings: Grief, Mourning, Loss, Pet / Dog Death
I spent the last two weeks intermittently spending time with my dogs, the four ears behind the name Three Ears Media. No, they didn’t take the big van adventure with me – they’re far too spoiled for the van life. Instead, they live in a big house with a yard surrounded by people who love them like crazy. Trust me, I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t know my dogs had a good life.
Yes, I would toss my van life CEO dreams for a dog. Two dogs, in particular.
My dogs have taught me about unconditional love. Patience. The kind of love that happens without hesitation and shows you they don’t know we can’t live forever.
I felt that pang, that fear of losing time, when I saw them this week. While they’re still young (6 and 7), I realized that time is short and it’ll never be long enough. So whenever I get a chance to see dogs at my little families’ homes during van life, it fills a different cup – the one that misses my pups, but also knows love can be big and unconditional – even between me and furry strangers.
See, dogs know about me. They know I’m the one that will be sneaking treats, rubbing bellies, and opening the door if they let out the slightest whine. In short, I’m a pushover, and I’m confident that dogs can smell it on me. They love me, so I’m good at this.
Dogs always command my attention – and my friend Franny’s dogs, Abby and Olive, were no exception. In fairness, Olive could command my attention whether I liked it or not with her awful gas. The dogs were a sweet accompaniment to a week filled with friends-quickly-turned-family.
A few days after arriving, I found myself sitting quietly on the grass with my new family as we cried. Here we sat with Abby, the wonder pup that wandered into their lives after a hurricane, as she was breathing heavy, final breaths. Each of us were echoing her unexpected goodbye in our own choked air between tears. “We live in a cruel world that makes it so dogs don’t live as long as we do,” I thought. In far shorter intervals, in fact, while we’re left behind missing them for the rest of our lives.
As we sat together, I wondered to myself if I should leave to allow the family time to grieve together. But for the first time in my life, I stayed present as the unpleasant reality unfolded. We understood that Abby was leaving and there would be so many feelings left behind. A complicated grief.
Whether we lose a character from this Earth or just from that special role in our life, grief keeps us guessing if we’re really ok. I hate it. For so long, that emotional gamble of missing someone forever wasn’t worth it to me. I didn’t let myself get close to people. I wanted to hide from those feelings of knowing it would never be quite the same if they left.
Whenever I wanted to cry, I would literally hide in my closet. Let it out and pretend some part of me could fix it. That I was just broken and it would be a matter of time before I was better. Turns out, I’m not a car and there aren’t emotional mechanics. We can’t just show up for a tune-up and have deep feelings of grief wash away.
However, this family didn’t function like I did. Each day after, I watched as they found it in them to be present by giving that quiet hug, whispering “I know,” and making more food than any human could consume in an afternoon. Each was a love language in and of itself.
While these moments may seem small, they are powerful and happened simply by showing up and being there. We are not the ones who have to find the right words or fix anything, but rather to find it in our hearts to feel in the company of others. To be vulnerable. To be present. To say “I feel sad,” and sit quietly, like a dog would on your worst days as they kiss away your tears. A kind of presence that is a gift I wish more people knew how to give. Especially after a week where the news has taken such a toll on each of us.
I’ve been trying it lately – just feeling the emotion instead of attacking it with answers. Being present. I am no expert, but I’ll tell you this: it’s so easy to treat every feeling like a curse and every problem like a priority, but it’s a shitty way to live your life. Our feelings can be connection points and moments where we get to move from who we were to who we can become.
However, we have to show up for ourselves and for our people with the kind of unfiltered love that a dog gives. The kind that is simply there to hold space and offer unconditional love without the right words. The kind of love that makes it so every dog goes to heaven.
Have a great week –
Kat Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.
Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster, Care.com, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.
Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.