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to have loved and lost

August 2, 2012

My friends, I owe you an apology. Since my father-in-law’s sad death in May, my heart has gone out of writing. I do want to, I will come back to regular posts sooner or later. I fear, though, that it may be a little later.

I promised you a final post about my wee boy and the day he saw the Queen. This is not it. Another blow has hit us, and my heart is too full to think of anything else at the moment. It’s not the worst blow, but it has shattered me nonetheless.

My darling spaniel, companion in all my walks, my best beloved, the most sweet-natured, loving and generous-hearted of friends, died suddenly on Friday following an accident.

I grew up with dogs and have loved each of them, but this one was special from the start. She was my baby, coming to us when I was heavily pregnant and she had just left her mother. Our bond was instant and unshakeable. She was the only other female in our household, giving me a little sisterhood of two in which to find solace amongst the small boys, big boys, businessmen, groundsmen, gamekeepers and all the other men who make up our extended household. She learned early the art of reverse gravity: oozing uphill so that a dog that had been lying at your feet materialised in your lap without your noticing any movement. She was patient to the point of martyrdom with overly attentive toddlers. She always knew who was in need of comfort: in these past two months since my father-in-law died, she went unerringly to whichever person was having a wobbly moment to sit in their lap, tucking her soft head under their chin or licking away their tears.

She delighted us and made us laugh by ‘singing’ off- (and sometimes even on- ) key when my husband played the piano. She shadowed me around the house, tripping me up occasionally and rolling over for a tummy rub at every opportunity, no matter how inconvenient. When she spotted me after an absence, her whole body would perk up and she would rush towards me in welcome and launch herself into my lap, spilling a mug of tea as often as not. She was my enthusiastic, tireless companion on every walk.

Who will walk with me now? What shall I be walking for, if not for her?

She was seven years old. Last Wednesday, I sat on the front step giving her an overdue haircut in the sunshine. Running her soft ears through my hands, I noticed grey hairs among the black and was rather cheered by the thought of the two of us growing together into middle age. On Thursday, the two of us walked through the woods and she stopped for a drink at her favourite watering hole, a pool of rainwater collected in the roots of an old beech tree.

That evening she managed to end up on my lap on the sofa as usual, looking up at me with those brown eyes that would melt a stone. When my husband took the dogs to bed, she turned back to nose me goodnight.

On Friday morning, when the dogs were let out, it was the westie who returned first for a change from the customary mad dash through the undergrowth chasing rabbits. When our spaniel eventually responded to my husband’s call, she came slowly, creeping, utterly unlike herself. Then my husband realised that she was bleeding from one eye. Something was very wrong. Her eyeball was sunken in her head and it looked like there was a piece of stick embedded in the socket. We knew she had to get to the vet immediately. As my husband carried her to the car, she became aware of my presence for the first time and feebly wagged her tail as she looked at me from her good eye.

By the time we reached the vet a few minutes later, she was shivering and salivating from pain. The vet acted extremely fast, thank heavens, giving her an injection of painkiller while I held her and stroked her and murmured to her. Within five minutes she was unconscious on the operating table. I knew it was possible that she might lose her eye; such a desperate thought that I couldn’t allow myself to think it, not yet. My last sight of her was of her looking back at me with that remaining brown eye, as she sat on the table just before the anaesthetic was administered.

‘It’s all right, sweetie, they’re going to look after you,’ I told her. ‘I’ll see you soon.’

An hour later, or perhaps less, the vet phoned me. The stick was several inches long, and had driven so hard and so far into our dog’s head that it had severed the main artery of her eyeball and ruptured the carotid artery in her throat. Her eye had to be removed. Her airway started to fill up with blood: the vet performed an emergency tracheotomy. She seemed fleetingly to recover but, when the breathing tube was removed, the damaged artery burst and she began to bleed out. You cannot clamp the carotid artery, as that would only lead to brain death. There was nothing the vet could do except to send her back into merciful unconsciousness. Our dog died there on the operating table, pumping out her heart’s blood through the hole in her neck.

Why does a gentle life have to end in such bloody violence? I cannot comprehend this. The cruelty of her death seems vindictive, as if a malign spirit resented how much she loved and was loved.

I know that worse tragedies happen all the time. The horror of violence – the violence of bloody birth and death and injury – is everywhere to be found. This was only a dog. If you can dismiss her death so easily, though, I know that you have never really known the love that an animal can give.

When I returned to the vet’s in the afternoon to bring her home, I tried to stroke my darling dog’s soft fur, but the grey hairs of her spaniel ears were matted and bloody. Since she was a baby, she had a habit of putting her velvet paws around my neck or of putting one up to touch my cheek. Now her paws were sticky with her own blood. I put my head down on her cold neck and sobbed, and sobbed.

My husband and a colleague dug a grave for her in the woods that she and I love best. It is just down the slope from the beech tree where she had stopped to drink the day before. The woods are full of rabbits and pheasants: she adored it there. Beyond her grave, the woodland gives way to fields and to the lochan where the heron feeds and the swans and wild ducks visit.

I brought her home from the vet’s wrapped in a blanket. The boys came to stroke her goodbye, the elder white and silent, the younger blotchy with tears. Our westie, who had been whimpering and looking for her all day, jumped up into the car beside her body as soon as I opened the door. He sniffed her fur, touched her cold nose with his own, started, then lay down beside her for a while. That seemed to be all he needed to accept that she had gone.

We formed a ragged procession down into the woods, me holding her dead weight in my arms. While our other dog – our dog – pottered blithely about in the bushes, the boys helped us to fill in her grave. I pulled some bluebell seeds from their stalks and scattered them in the soil as we finished shoveling. We outlined her grave with smooth pebbles and laid wild forget-me-nots and a pheasant feather on top. I found a slate and scratched her name on it, to make do until the local stonemason can carve her a more beautiful headstone.

Such a little hole in the earth, to contain so much love.

That afternoon, last Friday, I had found myself wandering through the house with empty arms, looking for something that she had left, some memento to cherish. There was nothing, no object but what we had given her: a basket, a water bowl, a collar which she never wore. Animals tread lightly on the earth.

She did leave something, of course. All her life, she gave us love unstintingly, constantly, without reproach. If I can take anything with me into a future without her by my side – if I can learn any lesson from her bright life – it is her example of full-hearted, generous love.

Thanks to my friend Liz for this lovely photo of our dog, taken on a happy day at the riverbank a week before she died.

My spaniel starred in a happier post, Just walking the dog.

42 Comments leave one →
  1. August 2, 2012 9:24 pm

    Awful to hear your sad and very shocking news. I am so sorry for the loss of your sweet friend. Thinking of you x

  2. August 2, 2012 9:52 pm

    I do look forward to reading what you have to say. I was getting ready to leave work when your most recent arrived. I have to say grief is the most difficult thing I’ve had to deal with in life. If we grieve so deeply speaks to how much we have loved and have been loved. I lost a twenty year old cat two weeks ago. I feel with each death of my beloved companions a piece of my heart goes with them. My life will never be the same. You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers. Another spaniel will be waiting for you. Melinda

  3. August 2, 2012 9:53 pm

    I cried for you reading this. Such very sad news. Katie

  4. August 2, 2012 10:14 pm

    dear hugs for you.

  5. August 2, 2012 10:16 pm

    my heart goes out to you.

  6. Helva (Julia) permalink
    August 2, 2012 10:30 pm

    Oh dear ‘Beastie’, what a ghastly thing to happen. I cried earlier this week when Friko wrote about losing their dear Benno, and now I’ve cried again about your loss. You have had such an ‘annus horribilis’ this year – I pray that things will turn around for you from now on. We cried for weeks after we lost our last 2 dogs, but now have 2 brothers (miniature poodles) who, while not exactly filling the holes left in our lives by the other 2, are giving us much joy, and have created their own niches in our lives, as dogs do.

  7. hmunro permalink
    August 2, 2012 11:02 pm

    What a heartbreaking post — and what a beautiful, stirring eulogy you’ve written for your dear friend. My thoughts are with you and your family.

  8. August 2, 2012 11:15 pm

    my tears – streaming down my face at my desk at work – are shed for your dear sweet dog. my heart sends waves of love to you and your family.
    my words are inadequate to express my sympathy with you in this horrible time.

    having lost several animals – my latest was a year this week – i know the depths of your pain… mine were cats (apt life is hard for a dog) which is a different kind of love .

    i had dogs growing up and remember each and every one of them. (and always wanted a spaniel) dogs are so much more affectionate than cats – they simply adore and give and give and give .. these days are hard for you – eventually you will be able to remember more fully without so much pain – but for now, cry when you need to, share more memories with us … now is the time to honor her life.

    we are here for you.

  9. August 2, 2012 11:47 pm

    Dear DB – my heart goes out to you and aches with you. Sudden and traumatic deaths like this are the worst to deal with, especially when you are left with that last heart rending picture in your mind.
    I hope that the image which now brings such painful grief will in time fade into the background, and that those joyful and delightful images of your dear creature will move forwards to overlay it.
    But for now, only the empty heart. Know that it is held and its healing fervently wished for by those who have read your beautiful tribute.
    I send my love to you and yours. xxx

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      August 3, 2012 12:23 am

      What comforting and compassionate words everyone has written here. Thank you so much: they do help.

  10. August 2, 2012 11:55 pm

    I’m so sorry, D.B. Losing a pet is losing a member of your family, and it hurts. I hope that the person who attacked your dog is found, because that is a very sick person.

  11. dancingbeastie permalink*
    August 3, 2012 12:22 am

    Thanks for your sympathy, Gerri, I appreciate it.
    One small comfort is that I am positive that there was no one else involved and that it was just a ghastly accident in our peaceful woods. She must have run full tilt into a branch, not seeing it until too late.

    • August 3, 2012 10:53 am

      That acceptance, rather than seeking revenge and anguishing about what happened, is a tiny gift. I can remember watching over Sparkles body, and hearing my husband dig his grave. The sound still sears my mind. My heart goes out to you, and we who have lost beloved cats or dogs, weep with you.

  12. August 3, 2012 4:01 am

    Oh, oh. It is so hard when they try to wag tails and look you while you are frantically carrying them to the vet. It’s like they are saying “I have always trusted you and you have never failed me – I will have faith you will do right by me now.”
    Your spaniel wouldn’t have been anywhere but with you. That picture of her looking at you show her adoration – and it was returned gladly.
    Nothing to do but send hugs and deepest sympathy.

  13. Jeanz permalink
    August 3, 2012 5:49 am

    My heart goes out to you and your family. I know how hard this can be. It doesn’t help now, but you will love another. Never in the same way, but it is our burden to love and lose our animals. Our pets are the easiest to give love to and accept love from. That unconditional love should never be under estimated.

  14. August 3, 2012 6:46 am

    I was so, so sorry to hear about your dear dog, K, and my heart goes out to you. All our dogs are special but there are some who . . . well, there are some with whom we have an exceptional bond. Your moving tribute to her shows just how deep that bond can be – and how deep the grief when they leave us, especially when death comes suddenly and unexpectedly.

    We learn so much from the animals with whom it is our privilege to walk with for a while and you are right about her legacy of love. As Philip Larkin wrote: ‘What will survive of us is love’ and I’m sure that this applies as much to the animals we have loved as well as to people.

    Thinking of you all. X

  15. Jo Woolf permalink
    August 3, 2012 7:37 am

    I can only imagine how you must be feeling – so very sorry to hear this. Like the other readers here, my heart goes out to you.

  16. August 3, 2012 8:34 am

    Like the others …. the tears were running down my cheeks by the end of reading your story over my morning cup of tea. How very, very sad! And how sorry I am for you!

    A couple of things:
    Thank goodness she made it back to the house where you were able to whisk her to the vet. Just think how it might have been searching over many acres not knowing what happened or where she could be, if, indeed, you ever found her.

    I used to work in a vet school lab where vials of blood used to arrive in Jiffy bags through the ordinary post. The tests were for cancer. Owners or vets would phone the lab for results. I had to give them over the phone. When it was bad news you could just hear the palpable grief coming through the silence down the line. I’ll bet you anything your vet was as upset as you were at losing this Faithful Companion.

  17. August 3, 2012 9:58 am

    It’s an awful thing to lose such a friend and companion. I do feel for you.

  18. August 3, 2012 10:03 am

    Not just a dog, but someone who loved you. Anyone who belittles the loss of a dear animal just for not being our species has never experienced that kind of love. I share your pain.

  19. August 3, 2012 10:20 am

    We can feel the grief in your words. You express both joy and sadness in your written word

  20. Margaret Lambert permalink
    August 3, 2012 12:47 pm

    I am so sorry to hear that your dear companion is no longer with you.I know all of us who have seen that look of absolute trust and love, as we say good bye, will never forget.

  21. Toffeeapple permalink
    August 3, 2012 4:47 pm

    I am so, so very sad for you. I have tears in my eyes as I type. All I can do is send you love and hope that your pain diminishes. Hugs.

  22. August 3, 2012 9:28 pm

    Can’t type for tears. So sad, but you did right by her right up to the end. I know the grief of losing a companion, it’s hard and sharply returns at unexpected moments. Her spirit is free now to wander the woods forever. You’ll catch a glimpse of her behind her favourite tree, in the rustle of the bluebells. She’ll be with you forever. Sending love to you all….

  23. Erika W. permalink
    August 3, 2012 10:38 pm

    My heart is filled for you. So many pets enter and leave our lives–long before we are ready to join them. I hope that you will have dreams of her, as I do with my dear Shah, an Afghan hound who lived long past their usual span and was my children’s best friend when they were little.

  24. August 4, 2012 5:44 am

    I’m so sorry to read this, what a terrible end to a happy, loved life. At least you were able to be with her at the end & she will always be with you in spirit.

  25. August 4, 2012 10:50 am

    Dear DB, my heart aches for your new loss and I’m typing this with tears in my eyes. I’m so sorry that such a sad, freakish accident has robbed you of your beloved companion long before her time. I too have lost and grieved for much-loved pets (cats in my case) and each of them is still vivid in my memory. I hope and pray that before too long the good memories will gradually replace the painful ones of her last hours. As others have said, she will never completely leave you.

  26. August 4, 2012 8:29 pm

    I’m so sorry that your special friend and companion is no longer with you.

  27. lesley permalink
    August 5, 2012 1:22 pm

    I’m so sorry. How dreadful for you. I’ve been following your blog for ages, and it’s awful to hear that you are going through such a terrible time. Big hugs to you – you will get through this.

  28. August 6, 2012 4:59 pm

    Oh DB, I’m crying for you and for your poor little dog. 😦 We had a spaniel when I was a child, a sloppy sentimental creature and I know what they’re like in themselves and to be around. I can no longer have pets as I’ve so many allergies, but I remember him with fondness. My sympathies. Hugs.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      August 6, 2012 7:54 pm

      Thank you to each of you for writing such kind and comforting things. Please excuse me for not writing separate replies for once. I value what each of you has written and am very touched by the responses. I am in bits, to be honest, but we’ll come through in the end. I know many have come through far worse.

  29. August 7, 2012 6:30 am

    So much love from such an old friend. Each time I go through this, losing a member of the family, which our dogs are, I swear I’m never getting another dog. And then one comes into my life anyway. It’s just so, so impossibly hard. This post made me cry because it reminded me of the dogs I’ve loved and lost who were so dear. Hope you can feel the hug in these words. Your lap is going to be a lonely place. Your walks are going to be missing something, like you said. But her spirit and her memory will always be there. You’re sure having a rough spell right now. Thinking of you.

  30. August 8, 2012 2:24 pm

    I am so sorry for your loss. I lost a very special dog suddenly one day long ago and I know how hard it is. Reading this made tears come to my eyes. I’ll be wishing you the very best.

  31. deb permalink
    August 9, 2012 3:40 pm

    My heart goes out to you and your family. So much sorrow to endure in so short a span of time. I hope that in time you will find comfort in your memories, for “… Death he taketh all away, but these he cannot take.”

  32. August 9, 2012 10:58 pm

    oh dear, more tears…….par for the course at the moment I feel! Darling T, what a dog…!

  33. August 11, 2012 8:16 am

    I have read your post several times, hoping to find the right words and in the end I can’t. Perhaps the only thing is to celebrate, even in grief, the wordless love between your dog and you.

  34. August 14, 2012 8:07 pm

    I’m so sorry for your loss

  35. August 15, 2012 7:50 pm

    This is so horribly devastating. You write so well about such a terrible, terrible thing. Wishing you warm memories of her, and comfort to you and your family. I am looking forward to continuing to read your blog.

  36. Barbara permalink
    August 17, 2012 2:42 pm

    You have been in my thoughts for a couple of days now, so sending love and prayers for you and your family. x


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