A Year On
The first anniversary is here. Susie-Belle died a year ago. It seems longer some days as I scrabble to remember, to hang onto what it felt like to stroke her, to walk, with her tucked in close to my heels, to hear once again her gobbling up dinner with joyful greed. She loved her food, to the end she ate with gusto. If I let myself, I can remember in vivid detail her final afternoon with me, eating up her lunch just as she always did; before she slid into her rapid, horribly agitated final hours. I don’t especially want to remember those hours, I choose to recall the walks, the happiness she finally knew after many years of awfulness; the love she found and shared so generously. This weekend my mind has almost dragged me back to relive her last hours, but I’ve wrenched my thoughts away from that pit of sadness. I don’t feel the need to revisit the misery; the catharsis of reliving every detail of mourning and grief that some find helpful, isn’t something I have need of. Not now. I’m comfortable in my reticence.
I’m not avoiding memories. Far from it, I don’t want ever to forget the funny little, slurpy lip smacks she’d do each meal time, as her tongue slid in and out of the gaps in her gummy mouth, making sure not to miss even the tiniest trace of deliciousness. Or the nightly routine we shared, where she’d direct her sisters to take their places for the cheese bedtime biscuits. We only realised it was Susie-Belle who established and directed this ritual of each sitting in the exact same place, eagerly awaiting their biscuit, after she’d gone. Twinkle and Renae still had their biscuits each night and Cerise in time joined in, but the organised positioning of each dog hasn’t continued without Susie-Belle to orchestrate it. She had her sisters under control, she had me completely controlled. But I smile at this memory, there’s no sadness, just an inner warmth that comes from knowing she learned in her time, not only to live with humans, but to communicate and get what she needed, and just simply desired from us.
Where some days it seems much longer than a year has slipped by, without my best friend here, other days it seems it hasn’t happened at all. On these curious days she feels so close by and I remember with searing detail how she’d sit watching me with her huge, soul-revealing limpid eyes. And I look around, coming out of my day dream and it’s not Susie-Belle, but Cerise and Twinkle gazing up at me, and Renae tapping my leg, bringing me back to our shared world. It can be most disorienting but not at all disturbing. I’m sure psychologists have some grand explanation for these occasions, but who needs them? Not me. I accept, no, more than this, I embrace, the mystical moments that bring Susie-Belle to me once again.
Grief is a tenacious beast. It doesn’t give up its grip easily. At times this year it’s felt a colossal creature to grapple, made greater by the death of my dad, following a long final decline which, cruelly began the week after Susie-Belle died. It seemed Susie-Belle’s death set in motion the most painful, unsettling and demanding few months of my life. Out of which has come many changes for Michel and I.
It’s been a year of upheaval and transformation which is never easy but it’s part of being alive. Shortly after dad’s death, Michel retired, I gave up my clinical practice of two decades, a career I’d loved, and we shifted our priorities so we could spend more of our time in France. This was something we’d wanted to do for a long time and decided not to put off any longer. It means I can devote all my time to writing and campaigning for dogs like Susie-Belle, to continue her legacy.
I wish so much that she was here and part of it, but she’s not and there’s nothing that can be done except to continue working to end the industry that harmed her and which continues to harm millions of dogs around the world. She’d have loved the simpler existence we now live, being in France the majority of our time gives us a more peaceful way of life. She’d have had fun directing, controlling, dictating our routines, but, she left behind a great deputy. Twinkle has stepped into that role beautifully! And so the cycle of life continues.