I usually keep this blog focused on three things: poetry, children’s books, and arts education. But every now and then, I come across an adult book that begs to be shared.
This week, that book is Griffin’s Heart: Mourning Your Pet with No Apologies, by actor Reagan J. Pasternak.
As most of you know, our lovable Beagle Rudy died unexpectedly last December. The sudden loss hit our family hard and we worried for Rudy’s best friend, our elderly Schnauzer, Sam. Griffin’s Heart is a book I was meant to read.
Reagan’s book includes elements of memoir, covering the disenfranchised grief she felt when her companion animal, a Devon Rex cat, died at age seven. But it also has space for journaling, pockets and pages for photographs, and exercises to help readers sit with their grief.
My favorite writing prompt is: Write a thank you letter to your animal. How beautiful is that? After working through the entire book, the reader has a keepsake to remember their pet by.
Earlier this month, Reagan and I discussed the book over Zoom. It was emotional for both of us, as we talked about Rudy and the dog that Reagan’s family recently said goodbye to.
Since it’s Poetry Friday, you’ll find a companion poem (by Mary Oliver) to read alongside Griffin’s Heart at the end of the post.
Reagan has generously offered a copy of the book to one Poetry Friday reader! Please make a note in your comment that you would like to be part of the drawing for Griffin’s Heart.
5 Questions for Reagan J. Pasternak, author of Griffin’s Heart.
- What did you learn from the process of creating this book?
I started the book more as an outlet for myself. I was searching for the resource that I needed, and I just couldn’t find it. I started writing my experiences down. I’m definitely a storyteller, but I didn’t know what I wanted [the book] to be. One day, my husband just said to me, “You have to finish that book it’s so part of who you are.” It clicked for me. I wanted to tell my story as if I were talking to a friend. It just started flowing together in this way. It’s a friend and it’s a place to pay tribute.
- Why go with an interactive guide and keepsake elements rather than a traditional memoir?
There is this feeling of unresolve when–especially an animal, but–anybody dies, that you’re just supposed to move on. I thought that [readers] know when you close the book, you dedicated time … to have a place [for photos and memories]. They did something good for their animal in working through this book.
- What made Griffin’s personality special?
I wrote down everything I could about him. Because I’d been holding it in. I’d been so afraid to remember him because it hurt so much. And the reality was not remembering him was making it stay in me. He had an adorable smell, like a bean bag. He held my hand when he went to sleep. It was so healing to write down those things.
Griffin was my first adult responsibility. I had to pay the vet bills and make sure I was home in time [to feed him]. He saved me in many ways. He was the constant in my life [as a young adult]. He was a witness to all my ups and downs in those years.
- When a psychiatrist finally acknowledged your grief and showed how it was connected to Griffin, how did you feel?
That was a game changer. I wouldn’t have written the book without that encounter and her in general. It was very, very validating, of course. She listened to me. I told her a little bit about my life and things I’d gone through–almost as if I was on autopilot.
Then when I talked about Griffin is when I actually fell apart. It’s because he was the glue that was holding me together. She understood that me mourning Griffin would help the rest of the areas of my life. That was unbelievable for me and very freeing. That’s when I went home and looked at the photos and started journaling a ton, writing out the memories so I wouldn’t forget them.
- Why is the “no apologies” part of the book’s title important? What’s your response now when someone says an animal who died was “just a pet”?
I felt that I constantly was making disclaimers and apologies and saying, “I know it was just an animal, I’m just really suffering.” That’s disenfranchised grief. I wanted to create a space where you can mourn as hard as you want, and you can take as long as you want. There’s little tips and tricks and coping mechanisms that I learned that I shared.
The idea that mourning is an art is just so beautiful. To not apologize and not question why it’s hurting so much. It’s hurting so much because you loved them so much. There is a bond that forms when you really love an animal.
Reagan J. Pasternak is a Canadian-born film and television actress, singer, and writer. She currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband, son, and five rescue animals. Learn more about Reagan at reaganpasternak.com. Instagram: @reaganjpasternak
I hope you enjoy today’s poem from Mary Oliver’s book, Dog Songs.
LITTLE DOG’S RHAPSODY IN THE NIGHT
By Mary Oliver
He puts his cheek against mine
and makes small, expressive sounds.
And when I’m awake, or awake enough
he turns upside down, his four paws
in the air
and his eyes dark and fervent.
“Tell me you love me,” he says…
Listen to Mary Oliver read the entire poem.
See you next week, everyone. I am looking forward to hosting Poetry Friday!