As the leaves fall from the trees and the days grow colder I find myself alone as I write this. My beloved companion lurcher, Poppy, passed away on the 23rd October – peacefully and in dignity. I wish I had been as dignified at her passing but instead howled the house down as I held her body to me one last time. She had been my silent shadow throughout the years I had her: always by my side as I wrote or read, my reason for going on walks, my trusted confidante and, at times, my clown. We were a team, me and her; always and forever. Or so I thought.
Although I had known she was approaching the end of her life after a diagnosis of TCC (transitional cell carcinoma) or bladder cancer back in May, I somehow managed to push it from my mind and concentrate on enjoying being with her. Well, I managed to forget it for most of the time anyway. Even through the start of her incontinence at night and the increasing regime of tablets, she still loved her life. Then, when she started to refuse food, I knew the end couldn’t be far away and from that moment on, I resolved to stay by her side, not leaving the house unless it was for one of our walks.
And she kept on walking right up until the day before she passed, although each day she became slower. On one of her last walks she insisted on doing a near normal distance – she was determined to have one last good romp. She also insisted on visiting certain neighbours who had been kind to her over the years and given her treats. When I say insisted, she actually refused to walk past their gates and then she pulled me towards their front doors. She knew she was dying and she wanted to say goodbye and thankyou.
The night before she passed she was weaker than ever and just lay on my bed, either sleeping or in a world of her own. That night I lay down next to her, covered us both over with a blanket, and cuddled and talked to her. I thanked her for everything she was, for coming into my life and changing it for the better. I thanked her for her unwavering love and just being there. I talked to her about all the things we had done, the fun we had had, and then I told her that she would soon be going somewhere where there would be no more illness and where she could run and play freely again. I told her that I would miss her more than anything, but that it was OK for her to go;that I would be OK.
The next morning it was clear that the pain medication was no longer working and she was suffering. Even her eyes begged for release as she looked at me. And they told me time and time again how much she loved me, but that she it was her time to go. I knew I had to make the most difficult decision that any pet owner has to make. The vet came just before noon, and there, lying on the settee, in my arms, surrounded by her family, she was helped out of this life and beyond all pain.
I thought I’d fall apart without her. That I’d just crumble into helpless depression. After all, that’s the sort of thing that happens to many pet owners afterwards – or so I’d read in the various books on pet bereavement. But no, it was mostly a calm acceptance mixed with a certain relief that she wasn’t suffering, and only now and again, a wave of grief that shook me to my soul. I was puzzled, and even a bit guilty. How could I be feeling like this if I truly loved her? Did this mean I was faking my feelings all along? I was still getting on with life, going for walks, eating normally, sleeping normally – even having a laugh at things now and again.
My times of grief told me otherwise. Of course I loved her: I loved her with all my being. I decided that maybe this was just my pattern of grieving. After all, it had been the same when my dad died too – I didn’t feel the terrible pain that I imagined I would – well not all at once anyway. My sorrow was then reserved for small, private moments in between remembering the good times. And so it has been with Poppy. It must also be said that on both occasions I grieved a great deal before the death occurred and prepared myself in many ways for when it did.
My personal beliefs have also helped. Although I have been a Wiccan and I sometimes go to church, I don’t think of myself as religious in any one way. I would describe myself rather as having a belief in spirit and spirits and the afterlife. I firmly believed (and still do) that my father, Poppy and all the other souls I have loved, have not left me for good… just changed their form and are in another place. After both dad and Poppy died, strange things happened around the house, and I have felt both of their presences with me now and again. This has been a great comfort.
And so, after compiling a memorial video, this blog and some paw prints/pictures for my wall, I am now happy that I have done her memory justice. And I am also content within myself that I did everything I could for her. There are no regrets. I will have another dog/s in time but for now I am happy to explore the new freedom I have, remember her with a smile and warmth in my heart, and enjoy the times she graces me with her invisible presence.
And one last word – I don’t believe I would have got through the last few months, and in particular those sad last two weeks without the support of family and friends. In particular, my mum who stuck by my side in the same way that I stuck by Poppy’s. She was my rock and comfort throughout it all, and my daughter who, although she had many other commitments, managed to be there when I needed her. My friends online, too, gave me so many words of love and comfort and support – I really discovered a deep sea of compassion out there that restores my faith in people. And there are two others who I ‘discovered’ in Poppy’s last few days but whose help and advice was invaluable: Pauhla Whitaker, Reiki therapist (yes, it really did help!) and Heather at the New England Pet Hospice. To everyone, I wish I had a better word than thankyou, but I don’t, so… thankyou.