What Harriet Bremner learned after the loss of her partner in a tragic accident

With dogged determination, Harriet has found a way to survive and thrive

By Cloe Willetts
When Southland woman Harriet Bremner walked on stage to receive her Rural Champion trophy at this year's Rural Women NZ Business Awards, there was one onlooker cheering, or rather howling, the loudest. It was Poppy the sausage dog, Harriet's adorable miniature dachshund, who was among the guests invited to the illustrious ceremony.
"Poppy only barked when I went on stage and people were clapping, but not for any of the other winners," laughs Harriet, 32, whose pup is the lead character in her three-part Gurt and Pops children's book series. "She even came out to the pub with us after for a celebration drink!"
For former teacher Harriet,who's now an author, speaker and advocate for safety and mental wellbeing within rural communities, the recognition for her work is both humbling and emotional.
"I'm tickled pink and blown away by the win," tells Harriet, who lives in Jericho Station, around two hours' drive from Queenstown.
"I'm tickled pink and blown away by the win," says Harriet
"The Rural Champion category was the one closest to my heart because it shows I've been able to do something positive with my life, even though I've been through hell for the last five years."
In January 2017, Harriet was struck with immense grief when 27-year-old James Hayman, her partner of almost 10 years, died tragically in a machinery incident on his Canterbury farm. After she lost him, she used her pain as fuel to write her kids' tale Bob 'n' Pops in his memory.
"It was funny because James, whose nickname was Bob, was a big, burly Southern man with handlebars and holes all through his jersey, and if you looked at him and guessed what kind of pet dog he'd have, it definitely wouldn't be a sausage dog," she says. "The book is about the unlikely friendship between a Southern man and his miniature dachshund."
Grief over James led Harriet to write for kids
But for two and a half years, amid the success of her first book, Harriet hid her grief, until one morning she collapsed onto her knees in her classroom before school, exhausted and unable to breathe.
"That was a pivotal moment when I realised I couldn't run away from grief forever. There was a point where I didn't cry for a year because I got really good at pretending to be okay," recalls Harriet, who had by then produced her second book, Be Safe, Be Seen.
"I was a 28-year-old widow whose friends were getting engaged and married and having children. As hard as my friends and family tried, no one really understood what I was going through, and so I learnt to shove my grief down into a really far place."
Harriet talked to a counsellor and quit her teaching job, which was a hard decision since she loved her class. But two weeks later, she was offered a part-time job working for health and safety action group Safer Farms, freeing up time to focus on her third book, Use Your Voice.
"It's about kids using their voice, and writing it was really healing because I'd got to that point where I could finally use mine to tell people how I was feeling and coping," says
Harriet, whose award-winning story is a recognised resource by the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand. "I'm using children as advocates for changing behaviours when it comes to health, safety and wellbeing, since farmers are notorious for working extremely long hours. They do long days, and could be tired and struggling with their mental health, then they drive a tractor on the side of a steep hill. That's kind of asking for trouble."
As well as fulfilling her dream of becoming a writer, Harriet is embracing running a farm with fiancé Ed Pinckney, 42, who was a friend of James' and understands the role her late love still plays in her life.
As well as studying for her pilot's licence, Harriet visits schools, businesses and community events to talk about practical approaches to saving lives in her industry.
Fiancé Ed understands the immense heartache Harriet has suffered
She launched a blog-turned-podcast, The Raw Truth, which discusses real rural stories in order to normalise conversations around grief, trauma and mental health.
"The Rural Woman trophy and award represent not only my business, but everything I've been through and the people who supported me during that time," shares Harriet. "It gives me goosebumps when I look at it and think how proud James would be that I've managed to chip away at life, even though it has been really hard."
Harriet's books are available at harrietbremner.com
Need to talk? 1737 – free call or text24/7 to talk to a trained counsellor
Lifeline – 0800 543 354
Depression Helpline – 0800 111 757
Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865(0508 TAUTOKO)
Healthline – 0800 611 116
Samaritans – 0800 726 666
Information about suicide prevention can be found at mentalhealth.org.nz/suicide-prevention

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