This is not going to be one of my usual posts.
My dog has died. No other way of saying it. I don’t like ‘passed away’. That’s a useless euphemism.
My dog has died. Just two days ago. She’s gone, but I don’t know where. I don’t know if there’s a doggie heaven, or if dogs have souls. According to the Catholic church, they don’t. I don’t know if anyone has souls, for that matter. I just hope she’s gone somewhere nice. If she’s gone anywhere.
Her name was Floppy. As in Floppy of the floppy, hanging ears. The Poles could never understand the name. I was continually having to explain what it meant. Floppy. Floppy, my doggie love, dead and gone.
The stars are not wanted, put out every one. Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun.
When W. H. Auden wrote those beautiful words he was thinking of his loved one, who had just died. A fellow human being. So the words are too strong, too emotive, just for a dog, aren’t they?
But when you’ve had a dog for fifteen years, and she’s been part of the family for better or worse, a loyal being who loved you unconditionally and you loved right back, despite her unpredictable character … and then one unpropitious autumn day she suddenly dies, leaving you forever … you grieve. Oh yes, you grieve. You want to put out the stars and dismantle the sun. Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
But I can’t do any of that. I’m not a god who can tamper with heaven and earth, messing up the alignment of stars and sun and ocean and woods. I can’t do that, even though I would really like to, right now. A distraction for my grief.
Grief over an animal’s death. There won’t be any funeral for her. No prayers to mutter over her graveside. So what do you do with this kind of grief?
In my case, I write. When my mother died, I wrote. A whole novel, in fact. When my husband and I separated last year, I wrote. Blogpost after blogpost after blogpost. I’m still writing them now. When my youngest daughter left home, I wrote. And now my beloved dog has died, so I write.
And I remember. And pay respects. And light a 24-hour candle, which I have placed on the veranda to make a vigil in her memory, still so fresh, still so living, and now so painful. The candle is still burning.
My youngest daughter was only five when we got Floppy, a rescue dog, just seven weeks old, straight from the animal shelter down the road. My daughter can barely remember a time without her. My older children were also part of her troublesome upbringing. She was not an easy dog. She barked and snarled at strangers. She would frequently have bitten them if not for her muzzle, which she had to wear on all walks from a young age.
But she looked so sweet, so innocuous, that innocent passersby often used to ask, “Why does she need a muzzle?” glaring at me as though I were a cruel dog-owner. I snarled myself, deep inside. ‘Bloody busybodies, why can’t they mind their own business?’ I thought … until one day, fed up to my eyeballs of the intrusive question, I defiantly said, “Why don’t you try and stroke her, to find out?” So the idiot do-gooder in question tried to stroke her, and sure enough found out. Thank God for the muzzle, is all I say.
Many years ago she nipped the little finger of my youngest daughter’s schoolfriend, who had come over for a sleepover and tried to stroke Floppy in her basket when no one was looking. Luckily it wasn’t a bad bite. It didn’t even bleed. But the terrified girl never came round again.
A couple of years later she nipped the inner thigh of my errant husband’s cousin when he visited us in Krakow. He’d just come back from the pub, well inebriated, and completely ignored our warning never to stroke the dog in her basket! The jittery cousin never visited again.
She was always trying to bite the vet and her assistants on every visit over the long years. “A dog with spirit!” is what they said, laughing. But when the vet came round on Friday, and told us that our beloved pet wouldn’t make it through the night, Floppy weakly wagged her tail at her erstwhile enemy. So a certain ambivalent love had grown there, at last.
With me the love wasn’t ambivalent. When my husband left home for good, Floppy was there for me. When my youngest daughter left home, Floppy was there for me. When my son left home, Floppy was there for me. When my eldest daughter brought over her baby boy for the first time, Floppy kept well clear of the crying infant and we were all relieved. So she was there for us. Whenever I played the piano she was there for me, curled up on the rug beside the piano. She loved Chopin, with all his Polish trills and arpeggios that made her tail thump in appreciation.
And oh – there was the time, many moons ago, when she impaled herself on the garden rake. I rushed outside when I heard her agonised wailing, and held my breath as I tried to extract the perilous spikes from her mangled, bleeding fur. She bit me in naked fear as I struggled with my gruesome task, but we somehow bore each other’s pain. I was there for her. I carried her all the way to the vet’s, who she once again tried to bite. The stalwart expert merely smiled and happily informed me that it was only a skin wound, not in the muscles. I almost cried in relief, and kissed my snarling, trembling dog.
A naughty puppy, a challenging youngster, an uneasy adult, but always, always, loyal and loving to her family. To me, my children, my errant husband. And now … where is she?
The stars are not wanted …
Floppy, sweetheart, I want you back home with me so, so much.
Rest in peace, my beloved furry friend.