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Recovering From Loss: What Are You Focused On?

Posted on 12/19/15 16 Comments

Tragedy can be permanently scaring to those it touches. Disoriented, confused, mixed with feelings of anguish and guilt makes it difficult to know how to move forward.

Last night many people from my local agility community gathered here at Say Yes to celebrate the life of an Adrian puppy Fi,jpgawesome man, Adrian Rooyackkers, who’s life was cut short by tragedy. I considered Adrian a good friend, someone I could count on when I called…someone I would drop anything to help if he called. But he wasn’t just that to me. We could be in any country around the world and if Adrian saw someone who needed help he stopped and helped. He was father, a husband and a grandfather. But we in agility knew him as an agility judge, a seminar presenter, a member of five Canadian World teams, and most of all a man who loved his dogs.
Adrian made it “cool” to be competitive in Canada. He was known to start side bets at any local agility tooniecompetition. It was a given, there would be a “toonie” (our Canadian two dollar coin) on the line for any Snookers or Gamblers run you and Adrian were entered in…and any other run you would like to challenge him in. It mattered not that he knew your dog was faster…it was putting you under pressure to be at your best in order to beat him that mattered to Adrian.

The agility system in Canada has always been about being consistent. IMG_2891 copyNo where in our
program is there any reward for flat out speed. Ours is a titling based system where you will get more legs towards bigger titles if your agility dog is careful, because with careful it is easier to get a qualifying score. Our national championships are awarded to the dog and handler team that can be the most consistent performer in six rounds of agility. Not a criticism, just a fact. I’m not saying fast dogs don’t win, heck my dogs and Adrian’s have won that Championship many times, just saying it rewards those dogs who tend more towards careful than flat out fast. It doesn’t rewards a handler to be willing to “go for it”.
Adrian wanted to give Canadians a reason to learn how to “go for it.” So ten years ago facilityAdrian and his wife Susan started the “Canada Cup,” an event hosted at their gorgeous agility facility where he gave away $10,000 in prize money to those who would “go for it.” But as competitive as Adrian was, he was the first to greet you as you crossed the finish line with your dog. It didn’t matter if you beat him or he beat you, Adrian was there to high five you as you came out of the ring. At World Championship
events  it didn’t matter if you had a great run or a terrible one. Adrian was the first person you saw as you crossed the finish line. Yes, it was cool to be competitive because Adrian demonstrated how to do it with extreme elegance and grace.

To me, that is Adrian’s legacy, competitive grace. What I have to Course Map readingshare now is a lesson learned in his passing. Since Adrian’s death two weeks ago I, like many, have tried to make sense of what happened. For me that meant reacquainting myself with books and resources on motivation, learning, and choices.

I want to share what I learned because I think it could help not only those who knew Adrian but also anyone recovering from any loss or disappointment in their life. It all goes back to how our brain works and how it processes memories.

*Note, I am not a psychologist so what I am saying is “simplified science.”

Every time we have a fantastic experience, for example we had a “dream run” in agility, the thrill of that amazing run is over the second we leave the ring. We strengthen the memory of that dream run by getting congratulations from those watching, by us explaining how it felt or why we handled how we did, by telling someone who wasn’t there about how well it all ended. Each time we repeat the story we make that memory stronger and stronger in our brain. Weeks or months later when we tell a new person about that magical moment when it all came together we get to relive it again.  Even months later as we share the story our body reflects the emotions of the moment, we can’t help but smile ear to ear, we might even get the same “grip” of our heart, blood rushing to our head sensation as we tell the story. Every time we repeat the story is another chance to “relive” the joy, the excitement, the love we have for our dog. Tell it 20 times, we relive the emotions of our amazing, joyful experience 20 more times.

That is how our brain works. You see, our brain is like a computer. There is an event we experience like a “dream run in agility.” Our brain can only recall that event as it actually happened for a few short hours after it happened and then our brain re-writes the event with a new memory file…it is like our computer doing its nightly back up. Every time we tell the story we re-program our brain to store THAT version of the story. So maybe our dog turns a little tighter, maybe we beat our competition by a half a second more. It is real to us because we have re-programmed our brain with the latest version. That is how  weekend fishermen seem to grow the size a fish they caught every time they tell someone new about their day on the lake.

But here is the thing. Our brain works the same when we experience disappointment, loss or tragedy. Every time we re-tell the story we re-live the same emotional experience we had at the moment of the disappointment or tragedy. The same flood of fear, anger, guilt, sorrow, frustration, pain, and disappointment comes crashing down on us the same way the joy and excitement does when we re-tell the story of our “dream run.”

It is how people trapped in drama stay in their own trap. They post it to FaceBook, which stirs many “PM me for more details”…it is them re-living that drama and pain over and over every time they “share their pain.”

So now when I share my stories of Adrian, they are shared simply with the preface, “I lost a good friend recently, let me tell you why he was such a great man….”. Rather than starting with “My friend died tragically, let me tell you about the pain his death has brought our community.”

I am not meaning to negate anyones pain or experiences with my perspective. Nor am I trying to replace the
need for a therapist. If you are in pain there is help to find a way out, please ask, no one is meant to go it alone. I am just sharing why joy or pain stays with people and how we all can program our own brains to “grow the size of our fishes” in our own memory banks. What we focus on grows; I choose to focus on joy, love and gratitude.

golf cartToday I am grateful for Adrian Rooyackers, a friend I will remember forever. He changed the face of Canadian agility for future generations while showing us all how to do it with “competitive grace.”



  1. Mark says:
    Thursday, December 24, 2015 at 1:47pm

    A great teacher always finding the teachable moment. What a wonderful gift you are to all of us. I hope you hold that happy smile and those great memories through the holiday. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.


  2. Linda Barton says:
    Monday, December 21, 2015 at 12:06pm

    Such wise words!

    I learned trauma and loss can be embraced, like all important and significant events in our lives. And I know we can decide how to think about and describe these events. Our choice of words has enormous impact.

    Adrian was indeed a remarkable man, who helped many embrace a bold game of agility that shaped so many lives, directly and indirectly he touched us all. Adrian challenged us to be better than we thought we were!

    Susan, I love that you challenge us to think as our better selves. To push joy into the space that pain occupies. To think better that we thought we could!

    It is the highest honour for our friend who left us, that we would allow the competitive spirit he showed in his life to achieve the very best, to inspire our own.

    Thank you Susan!


  3. Carol says:
    Sunday, December 20, 2015 at 11:27am

    Written from your heart. Thank you Susan for illustrating life’s picture … Always great lesson you share.


  4. Lee Waterhouse says:
    Sunday, December 20, 2015 at 1:06am

    Beautifully written Susan. I was sorry that I couldn’t attend Adrian’s Celebration of Life yesterday but I was there in spirit. I remember the 2010 FCI ATC trip to Germany. Every evening at dinner, Adrian took great glee in informing the servers that I wanted “toilet” water whenever I tried to ask for non-carbonated water. When Jessica was standing in first place going into the final round, we were all cheering madly. one instant Adrian was in the stands with us and the next, I swear to God he must have transported himself, because he was at the finish line congratulating Jessica on her winning run. That man could cover ground in a RUN. Even though it has been a few years since I have competed at Rooyacker’s, in my mind it will ever be the ultimate agility playground. RIP Adrian.


  5. Katie Gingrich says:
    Sunday, December 20, 2015 at 12:23am

    I agree 100%, Susan. When Sophia died it was also a shock as I had just Skyped with her a week earlier. How? Why?

    I think the one thing we can give the people we lose is the honor of sharing our memories of them for he reasons you stated, to create what we felt as we made them with those we have lost.

    I also must stress how important it is to be kind. To those who are struggling please reach out. You are loved, you are important and you matter.


  6. Bonnie S says:
    Saturday, December 19, 2015 at 5:54pm

    It is so important to grieve…grieving helps you grow as a person..grieving in community and sharing what Adrien meant to you and others helps everyone wrap their head around this loss..it makes you feel like you actually got to say good bye…thank you Susan for helping all of us do that


  7. debra n Snap says:
    Saturday, December 19, 2015 at 5:47pm

    Your post brought tears to my eyes, Susan. I did not know Mr. Rooyackkers, but your blog brought him to life in the good things he did. You are so right regarding telling a story over and over – I can relate to that on a happy note… when Snap found a lost person alive.

    I love how you made his tribute – it brought happy tears.


  8. Suzie G says:
    Saturday, December 19, 2015 at 3:59pm

    Lovely ……. So true we are what we think.
    Incredible man incredible loss ????????xx


  9. Stephanie Noonan says:
    Saturday, December 19, 2015 at 3:01pm

    I love what you wrote. I did not know Adrian well, but I will always be grateful for what he did to help me with Possum. Adrian would take the time every time I went to help at a show at Royakers to try to make friends with Possum. He finally told me to forget everything that everyone had told me to do with him, and proceeded to tell me that Possum does not have to love the world, just me and those he chose.

    It was such a relief. I was able to start to move forward, and no longer put Possum in situations that were too much for both of us. I could then ignore all the other bits of advice. You then referred me to Dr. Landsberg , who reiterated what Adrian said.

    I will remember Adrian for his generosity with his time, and his patience. Both Possum and I were so much happier due to Adrian.


  10. Bev Johnson says:
    Saturday, December 19, 2015 at 2:49pm

    Wonderful tribute to a wonderful man. Adrian will be missed by everyone in Canada for his wonderful sense of humour his offering of help to many who were new to the sport by just being him.
    twoonies away.


  11. Susan Knox says:
    Saturday, December 19, 2015 at 2:12pm

    What incredible words of wisdom Susan. So well written, so inciteful, and helpful. Thanks so much for sharing this!!


  12. Loret says:
    Saturday, December 19, 2015 at 1:56pm

    That was beautiful! Thank you. He will be missed by many. I loved spending time with him every year! Still having a hard time believing he is gone. Sending hugs to all that were close to him!


  13. Sue Meier says:
    Saturday, December 19, 2015 at 1:39pm

    What an incredible man that must have been an inspiration to all who knew him. I am sorry for everyone’s loss. I am happy for all who knew him. Thank you for sharing a piece of his life.


  14. JanV says:
    Saturday, December 19, 2015 at 1:26pm

    A delightful tribute to your great friend. Thank You!


  15. Wendy CR says:
    Saturday, December 19, 2015 at 12:46pm

    Wonderful way to remember Adrian! He inspired so many and surely leaves a lasting legacy.. At a trial last weekend, we had a “toonie” run each day, in honour of Adrian.

    I think I speak for many who couldn’t be at the celebration last night, when I say that knowing it was happening and that the community was coming together to remember, smile, and share the very best Adrian stories, gives us a sense of a good send-off. Thank you!


  16. Suzanne W. says:
    Saturday, December 19, 2015 at 12:21pm

    What a thoughtful and kind tribute to Adrian. Your post hit a close to home with me as I am sure others. Off now to grow more fishes 🙂 <>


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