When they have to go
August 10, 2012 § 5 Comments
The other day I had to get a plumber. The floats in my ancient copper header tanks in the roof gave up, and the overflow turned into a domestic waterfall. So here we were, the plumber and I, crouched in the narrow space under my roof, him exchanging ball cocks & fixing aluminium plates to the outside of the tanks, me handing him tools, and both of us chatting away about everything under the sun. My dog Tuhi was sitting in the hallway, wondering about our feet dangling from the trap door. When we were suddenly joined by her eager little face, after she had decided to join us and, somehow silently, clamber up the ladder, our conversation, naturally, turned to dogs.
“I had a dog once”, the plumber’s story of his little, loyal fox terrier x began. And it ended on how, when he died, the plumber was “really cut up about it, eh”. “To be honest”, he said, “I was more upset than now, that my grandmother is dying. And I really love my grandmother. There’s just something about dogs that somehow makes it different, worse in a way.”
After the plumber had left, I cried. About the dog I once had. Fin only died recently, less than 4 months ago. I still hurt with the shock of this still-there-but-just-not-there-any-more feeling after the death of a loved one. I’m still not used to Fin’s absence, and it still often just suddenly hits me and makes me cry. (I actually scribbled the draft for this post in the car in the supermarket car park, after one of those moments.)
Since Fin died, many people have shared their stories of how sad it is when a dog in our lives has to go. Or a cat. It still amazes me just how touched we are by the loss of our four-legged companions. The many different and deep ways of animal-human friendships.
When Fin was dying of cancer I was struggling. I was reading around, looking for comfort in the experience, and for how to help a sick and ageing dog. I stumbled over a blog post by Patricia McConnell (a most wonderful animal behaviourist and writer) about when her dog Lassie passed on. She was inspired by the famous story about Hemingway challenging his friends to write the shortest story possible. He won the challenge.
Hemingway had written: For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn.
Since then, summarising one’s life in six words has become part of life writing and storytelling.
Patricia McConnell wrote six words for her dog Lassie, and she invited her readers to do the same for their dogs and share it on this blog post. When I was hand-feeding Fin and we were in our grace period of being able to say goodbye, the many responses really helped me. Fin was my first dog, and I was shocked with how intense the experience of losing her was. I think losing our pets hurts so much, is somehow ‘worse’, because they are so much part of our being — just there, with us, around us, without words, without logic — that when they go they leave behind the memories of all the other losses in our lives.
People are still replying to McConnell’s invitation today — more than two years after the post. Recently, I added my six words for Fin and my life with her to Patricia McConnell’s post “Six Words”. Response # 335 :) Somehow it feels good to be on this site with so many beautiful expressions of the love dogs left behind — for us to continue to give.
I was going to add a photo of Fin in here. But then I remembered this drawing I made of her. A quick gesture drawing, done in maybe half a minute. In the evening of one of our last days together. She had had a good dog day. Snoozing in the sun, a day full of the pleasures of plodding at her favourite beach, being able to eat.
When I look at that drawing now, I can still feel her in my hands. My beautiful, beautiful kelpie. I hope I never lose that.
More stories about losing a dog and about how dogs touch our lives
A couple of weeks after I wrote this, I read this fine post about men and their dogs on Michael Baugh’s blog, about how the way men love their dogs might be different from the way women love their dogs.
A powerful piece of writing by Neil Gaiman about losing his first ever dog, Cabal, is here.
And then there is of course Fiona Apple’s Handwritten Letter About Her Dying Dog.