When Austin-based musician John Pointer’s dog Benny passed away, he tried to deal with his grief by writing a parting letter from the Boxer’s point of view. He started with the words “Yesterday was weird” and continued to tell Benny’s last moments in a stream-of-consciousness style.
John posted the letter online and went to bed.
When he woke up the next morning, he found that the post had been shared more than 10,000 times and had received 1,500 comments. As Benny’s moving letter continued to go viral, it was reposted by Ashton Kutcher, George Takei, and the Today show, and it was soon translated into 11 languages. At that point, John decided to turn Benny’s story into an illustrated book titled Yesterday Was Weird. He started a Kickstarter for the project, which quickly became fully funded.
“It has been a surreal way to grieve — Benny went from being right next to me to completely surrounding me,” reflected John, as he began to tell Dogster about Benny, who died of cardiomyopathy and cancer in February.
Dogster: What was Benny like to have around?
John Pointer: His personality was just awesome. Dogs are great teachers. How you treat them is how they treat others, so an observant owner can learn a lot about himself or herself. So it would come as no surprise to hear that his personality was very much like mine: supportive, snuggly, and gregarious. But he had absolutely none of the baggage that I carry around as a full-grown human.
I remember the night before Benny passed, I remarked to a friend that I learned from each significant death I’d been through. With Creed, my dog before Benny, I learned to find reflections of myself in my dogs and learn from them. With my father, I learned that he is very much alive in me and comes out anytime I do or say anything the same way he would. But with Benny, I had to learn to get rid of my baggage. I had to learn to be more like him. Benny was the person I wish I were.
So even before he was gone, I told my friend, “I’m going to have a lot of work to do.”
Once Benny had passed away, what motivated you to write a blog post from Benny’s point of view?
I really was broken, mentally and emotionally. The doctor had told me the night before and again the day of, “I’ll put the first shot in his leg, and it’ll make him feel good and sleepy. You can just love on him till he’s resting. Then when he’s asleep, the second shot will stop his heart, lungs, and brain.”
That made no sense to me. He was the Energizer Benny. You couldn’t stop him. I’m a Type I diabetic, so every shot I take saves my life; it keeps me from dying and it cures me. But also, Benny had a lot of friends. He was always at my shows, and he was an unofficial mascot for the Austin music scene. When he first got sick, about 25 of the best musicians in town came out to do a Bennyfit Concert.
So all of these people loved him, I felt a responsibility to them, and I couldn’t imagine a shot killing Benny. It was straight-up denial.
I also needed desperately to be like him — to experience the perspective of someone who was so full of love that he didn’t even know his body was failing. Or even if he did, it was more confusion than dread. He was infinitely compassionate and empathetic, but he just didn’t seem to have an acute sense of sadness in his emotional vocabulary.
So as I sat there, totally broken, I just typed out, “Yesterday was weird, I couldn’t get myself out of bed …,” and it all flowed from there in one long stream of consciousness.
What sort of emotions did writing the post bring up?
All of them: desperate loneliness, anger, powerlessness, depression, and just overwhelming sadness. But I also felt a profound sense of love, devotion, acceptance, and, most important, compassion. I could look at myself grieving and think like Benny: “I don’t want you to be sad. I love you. I gotcha covered. I gotcha, buddy.”
But I’ll be honest, at the time it was mostly just soul-crushing grief. That’s why I needed to get it out and why I wrote it down.
What was the hardest thing about writing from Benny’s point of view?
It was a total stream of consciousness. The trickiest thing was making sure my sentences made sense. I was crying so uncontrollably, I could barely think. But in some ways I think that helped: Dogs are not complex, and it turns out that when you’re absolutely falling apart, neither are you.
How did you deal with writing Benny’s final words, just before he passed away?
They flowed naturally. I first said that to Creed — “I gotcha. I gotcha, buddy,” and I knew he felt the same way. So from the time Benny came home, I always told him that, too.
The first I knew anything was wrong was when Benny collapsed at the park while we were playing fetch. That was just about three months before his final, weird day. He started twisting around and rolled on his back. I thought he was trying to scratch something, but then I knew something was really wrong. I ran over and put my hands on him, and he let out a groan. Then he stopped breathing and went completely limp.
I started calling to him and shaking him. I lifted his head, and it felt like when I’d had to put Creed down. There was only one other guy in the park, and he came over with his Rottweiler, who sat very calmly about 10 feet away.
He asked, “Did he just …?”
I got really calm, and said, “I don’t know. He’s not breathing, and he’s totally limp.”
I thought Benny was leaving me then. He wasn’t responding to his name, from either me or the other guy, who was trying to help. He wasn’t responding to the shaking or the tapping. So I just picked his head up, looked in his eyes, and started repeating softly, “I gotcha. I gotcha, buddy. You’re okay. I love you. I gotcha ….” I was not going to leave his side, and I wanted him to know that.
So Benny’s final words to me were really just my final words to him.
What do you hope other people get out of reading Benny’s story?
I want them to know that they are not alone, that other people feel that way when they lose their pets or their loved ones, and we all get stuck in our own heads and wrapped up in our own emotions when we’re grieving. I really hope this helps people see things from another perspective. I hope the story helps them heal.