In April, 2018, Graham Emmanuel had reached a crossroads. He was driving his campervan along the M4 when he reached Newport and looked over to the passenger seat where his little dog Lizzy sat and asked her: “Right, Lizzy, where are we going? Shall we go straight ahead or left?”
Lizzy, the young jug – a pug and jack russell hybrid – looked to the left and so the pair headed left and eventually drove all the way to Scotland.
But this spontaneous attitude and living day to day on the road wasn’t always how 68-year-old Graham had lived his life.
Graham met his wife Linda in 1980 at a nightclub in Newport where they talked non-stop for hours, it was love at first sight.
“I walked away and thought wow, what a woman. We married in 1981 and then barely spent a day apart from each other for 35 years. It was pure love,” says Graham.
The couple had three more children Owen, Kay and Anna-Marie after Graham’s first daughter Bethan, ran a company together and then moved back to their home in Kidwelly, Carmarthenshire.
Linda worked as a volunteer for Barnardo’s and worked with children with learning disabilites throughout her life.
“You know you meet some people and they just have an aura about them, that’s what she was like. She was this ball of light and had so much love and kindness to give. I was in awe of her, she was such an amazing woman,” adds the dad-of-four.
But in 2015, the unthinkable happened when Linda visited the GP with a headache and was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour at the beginning of June, 2015.
Four weeks later, on July 4, 52-year-old Linda passed away.
“She knew she was dying but I think she worried about me more. We’d been together so long that she knew I would struggle without her.”
“She said to me, you can fall in love again Graham. But don’t remarry,” he laughs.
“But she’d always known that I wanted to go and travel so that’s what she told me to do. She said ‘you know what you’ve got to do now. Go and travel.”
But after dealing with losing the love of his life, Graham found himself lost and not knowing how he could carry on without her.
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“I was really lost in myself and just buried myself in grieving. My daughter told me to get a dog so that’s when I got Lizzy.”
After Lizzy, Graham purchased a campervan and set about fulfilling his promise to Linda and travelling around the UK with his dog.
But loneliness and grief followed wherever he went.
“I really struggled to travel on my own at the beginning, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I was just going places but not seeing anything. I wasn’t meeting people or speaking to anyone.”
Then, in April, 2018, he set about a new tactic and listened to his little dog Lizzy and followed wherever she wanted to go.
At every crosspoint or junction, Graham would turn to the little jug and ask her which way she wanted to head, whichever way she turned her head he would follow.
The pair travelled through Scotland and then headed across to Ireland where they made their way across the Wild Atlantic Way – a route following the west coast of Ireland from the top to the bottom.
Through 2,500 kilometres of beautiful coastal landscapes, open roads and towns steeped in Irish culture and history, Graham said he also found a way to deal with grief and learned to love life again.
“I had been part of two people for so long that the only way I could get over the grief was to find myself again. I let myself live again by spending time on my own,” he added.
But the dad-of-four and grandad of 10 said the people he met along his travels also taught him so much about life.
“The people I met were incredible, they really helped me find a life after grief. I remember one person saying to me never say sorry for crying because the tears were a product of my love for Linda – that really stuck with me.”
The dad then set up a Facebook page documenting his travels with his travelling companion Lizzy and named it ‘Lizzy the Jug.’
Graham and Lizzy’s story soon struck a chord and pulled on the heartstrings of many as the page soon amassed a following of thousands and people started recognising Graham on his journey through Ireland.
“We had people following us and beeping us on the road and then people stopped and said we’ve been following you on Facebook. They’d say where’s Lizzy, we want to see Lizzy.”
“The trip really changed me as a person and made me excited about life again, I didn’t think that would happen after I lost Linda.”
Floods of messages from people also dealing with grief have been sent to Graham who says that the key to dealing with loss is to find out about yourself again and get out of your comfort zone.
“I like to think that I am helping people and I’m giving them some inspiration about life after grief. But there is no magic wand, spend time on your own, learn about yourself.”
After the pandemic cancelled his last trip planned for earlier this year, the grandad can’t wait to explore more of the UK and Ireland when it is safe to do so.
“That journey changed my life. I would give anything to have my girl back but I know she would be so happy and proud of what I’m doing.”