Those nights, the dreadful, pain wincing nights staring up at the vast whiteness of the ceiling listening to the sweet low breaths of my dog Bodie. In the days immediately after my husband George died, I would stay up crying wondering how I didn’t know he was dying. Love is blind, you can trick your mind into imagining something is not real, although everyone around you can see the truth. The rose colored glasses protected me from the barrage of agony so I could stay hopeful and optimistic in his final days and hours. Though I am so angry at myself, I now believe my ignorance allowed for him to transition peacefully.

Bodie felt the emptiness and was grieving too. His favorite thing was to perch atop George’s belly while he laid on the couch. Gazing around and supervising his two bi-pedal housemates. But in his death Bodie would recover to the empty side of the bed to keep me warm and press against my chest to help heal the dead space behind my ribs.

On weekends, George would pull his guitar out and make up songs about Bodie and his infatuation with his squeaky ball. This little critter would wag his tail so hard his back legs barely touched the ground. George even made a Meetup group so Bo could make other terrier friends. This dog really hit the jackpot when he adopted George.

Though, I didn’t realize George was dying, Bodie knew. Bodie begged to stay with him one evening and was being rather contentious about it. I’d pick him up and put him on the bed and he would hop off and run back into the living room to be with his favorite man. I wasn’t in the mood to fight with a 20lb cairn terrier. So lifted him up onto the hospital bed which was the newest addition to our living room set up. He circled around twice then rested his head on George’s knee. I kissed both of them goodnight. The next morning our man was gone and our pack was down to two.

Those days afterwards were brutal, almost like a constant ringing in my ears, but there was no sound to lock into and it became maddening. I felt like a stranger in my apartment, living amongst weapons that cut me so deep but never enough to kill me. Pictures on the walls laughing at me and showing me once upon a time I had it all. Cancer stole George and my life.

Bodie started jumping off the couch or bed and tuck behind the door, whimpering. His high squeals were like a fire alarm. I’d rush over to him, collecting him in my arms and rock him like a baby. Kissing his head while my tears fell on his snout. I’d call my parents or my sister, because the pain was so profound. Never realizing the hour of the day it was. 3am or 8pm, it all seemed the same to me. Time stopped being time, it was just wasted moments where I had to figure out what happens next and spin around the same thought of “why am I still here?”

I didn’t know what to do, but Bodie knew what I needed.

My social worker wrote a note for me to bring my little guy to work to help comfort me. I was coaching lacrosse at a small university in New Jersey. I went back to work a week later because, well, because I didn’t want to stay in the apartment that no longer felt like home. Sitting in the living room where I had to watch my husband die wasn’t exactly my idea of paradise. So I went to work with my most precious cargo, my dog.

Bodie loved going to work. When we went into the office, he’d run laps greeting all the other coaches. He was like a loose piglet at a rodeo, running around and around. Having him with me made days more bearable, and I became more social. I talked to people simply because Bodie would run up to them to say hello. Bodie re-socialized me after the trauma of losing George.

Though, driving to work I battled with mental demons of whether to drive my car off the bridge or not. But looking at my bearded passenger and how eager he was to see all his bi-pedal friends, my fantasies of bridge driving stayed locked in my head. These wonderings were real and consumed my thoughts more often than I would like to admit.

At work, when grief got the best of me I’d take him out for a walk in the forest and he would chase squirrels and other rodent things. One time a ground hog refused to run away and nearly two feet from it, Bodie stopped barreling towards it and ran back to me. The ground hog was fearless and my little guy showed mercy and it made me chuckle. I started developing a routine and Bo gave me a reason to wake up each day.

We moved to an apartment across the street from the school and there we rebuilt our lives. My insomnia was more productive in a safer neighborhood. Those nights staring at the ceiling listening to him breathe, I’d wake him up and take him for a walk. He pounced at the opportunity, regardless of time of day.

Wrangling an excited cairn for a walk is tough, but once the leash was secured he’d grab it by his mouth and walk me instead. In the morning when I had 6a practice, Bodie would be hopping and running in circles ready to make the practice plan and see the players. He adopted all 20 players that season and chased them on the lacrosse field. I couldn’t help but laugh. Bodie helped me realize it was okay laugh.

On weekends, we would walk to grab a cup of coffee at a local shop and the owner allowed me to bring him into the store. He’d lean against my legs as I ordered, like a scared little kid trying to hide behind their mother. The kindness of the owner showed me how to be grateful even on the darkest days.

Parents would stop us on walks to see if their kids could pet him, and Bodie always sat down at my feet, gazing up at me with his big brown eyes while little hands patted him all over and sometimes tugged his ears. He taught me patience and acceptance.

I needed to accept this new life because the old one was never coming back. As many tears I shed, tantrums I threw, nights I stayed up wide awake, my old life vanished. But I can take the lessons from the past and apply them to bettering my new one.

We would go on 3-5 mile walks a day, and our bond became stronger. Even those days where it was pouring rain, he would look at me earnestly and knew leaving the apartment would be best for both of us. Walking wasn’t just for his stimulus and exercise, it gave me the opportunity to look around me. Soon enough, I felt my head lifting a little higher toward the sun and finally allowing the shadows to fall behind.

Bodie trained me to accept the fact life pushes forward and everyday there’s two options:

  1. Hide behind the door whimpering. OR
  1. Grab the leash and take control.

But then one evening while at the dog park, he wandered away from me. When I caught up with him, he had adopted a new man. And that’s when I realized all those painful nights, staring up at the ceiling, barely breathing, it would lead me here. Lead me to finally feeling at home and falling in love.


Julia lost her husband in 2013 to a rare liver cancer when she was 28 years old. In the months and years afterwards, Julia continues to use her grief into a positive lifestyle change. She has been involved in NCAA Athletics for 14 years, and has continued to document her fitness, athletic and grief journey in her heartbreaking and honest blog The Unwanted W. Julia's journey has been featured in US Lacrosse Magazine, SoulCycle, and The Guardian. She currently writes for an online fitness and nutrition journal and works as a professional fitness instructor in Navarre, FL.

To contact Julia, please visit her website or visit her Instagram for health tips at @juliasteiercoaching