A strange and sad week
Last week was a strange one. A difficult one for close friends. It was a week that brought reflections both on, and caused by life’s ups and downs. A couple of evenings I sat in the quiet, cool of the garden contemplating death and how it’s never far away. Pet loss is hard. Talking and writing about it makes it no easier, but neither does ignoring it. So I’ll write.
Lying in bed early Monday morning I thought I’d catch up on some reading. I subscribe to a lot of newsletters, and one I enjoy has a Sunday round up of reading suggestions. Topics are wide ranging but usually connected to writing in some way. One piece stood out for me, an article titled ‘Seeing grieving as learning explains why the process takes time’.
Perhaps an odd pick to open on my iPad over the 6am coffee. By Thursday it seemed a prescient choice. Over the past few years, since losing my dad and Susie-Belle, events that fell within a few weeks of each other I’ve read a lot on the subject of grief. I don’t really know why I do apart from a wish to understand myself and my responses better. As I want to share my life with dogs and never be without a canine companion I know I’m setting myself up for bereavement time and time again. I’m not sure whether I am up to it. So I find myself reading in some anticipatory effort to lessen the upset in future. To tell myself I can love and lose a companion and recover from pet loss to do it again. At least I think that’s why I read what I do.
My reading is eclectic on what is ultimately a depressing topic but also part of being human. I’ve read countless ‘grief memoirs’, books and blogs on pet loss, dipped into the sciences; I can tell you a lot about different societies and mourning traditions from a spell of trawling anthropological articles. There’s mountains of fascinating reading about death in historical fact and fiction. But if I’m honest, while my knowledge on bereavement has expanded none of it helps much when it happens. Renae’s death at Christmas still feels sharp and stinging. If I dwell on what her loss means, how she’s not here to enjoy her twelfth summer it’s still searingly raw. Not being much of a crier in any other part of my life, I feel scalding tears threatening my eyeballs as I write this. I might take a break and give in to a few.
Back to the strange week which included a friend suffering a stroke. Shocking and scary and unexpected. The news of this came alongside other difficult events for another friend. It was a strange and sad week.
When I was reading the piece on Monday morning, my friend Kathleen was facing a major crisis with her dog Dora. As the week wore on the vet could nothing to make Dora better. During those upsetting and difficult days, Kathleen and I were in constant contact. I was determined to offer what I hoped was an understanding ear with a degree of optimism that wasn’t misplaced. As it turned out, Kathleen’s early sense of foreboding was right. On Thursday the sad and painful but kindest decision was made to put Dora to sleep.
I’ve cried this week for Dora and Kathleen and Mel. When close friends face the death of their dogs, it’s impossible not to feel some of their pain. Dora was an incredible character and not only have I felt the pain coming from empathy for my friends, that Dora’s life has ended is crushingly sad.
Kathleen hadn’t intended to adopt her when she did. She was collecting Cilla, her intended adoption. But out came Dora to say hello and the decision was immediate. Cilla and Dora went to their new home together that day. From day one with Kathleen and Mel Dora hummed with affectionate energy. She sought out physical contact with them at every chance. She had an extraordinary gift for always being where the cuddles were. Offering up her belly for a rub as she nestled into a warm and cosy armpit in a family huddle on the sofa.
The surprising thing is, is that Dora, like Kathleen’s other dogs was once a breeding dog in what was probably a puppy farm. But unlike many from similar backgrounds, she not only accepted human touch, she demanded it. She was unusually tactile even for a regular dog. Whenever I stayed with them, the overriding sense I always came away with was that Dora was a living, breathing, cuddly teddy bear of a dog. She was the happiest dog on a lap I’ve ever known.
When Dora’s desire to be close disappeared in her last days, preferring to seek her own space, away from contact with Kathleen and Mel, Kathleen knew things were serious.
Dora died on Mel’s birthday. Kathleen attended the funeral of a close, childhood friend on Friday. It was a strange and sad week.
All the reading I do in the world won’t make the death of dogs I love any easier. Pet loss is there waiting all the time I choose to share my life with dogs. But I’ll keep reading for now as I find comfort in words and knowledge. But I will start the new week selecting something brighter with my coffee.