Saturday, 29 December 2012

Sweet Boys

Oystercatchers on our favourite beach

Yesterday we went to our favourite beach.
It felt like a pilgrimage - difficult. Something to prepare yourself for.
Comforting and painful in equal parts.

The tide was out and oystercatchers clustered on the sand, along with flocks of delicate brown and white birds that I recognise but cannot name. My sister would know what they are.
A lavender grey sky, heavy with rain, paused for us on the horizon, waiting patiently until we left, but the promised wind was already flirting with the dunes, sending scarves of dry sand snaking across the surface of the beach.
No one was there.
No one but ghosts. And us.

Model Dog looked up and down the beach and raced off, but only the wind chased her and finally she walked along tucked between us, the beautiful collar I bought her for Christmas gleaming pink and gold in her camouflage fur. She wasn't sad, just a bit lonely.

We are sad though.
December has been a month full of sorrow, and memories, and gratitude, and loneliness.
We buried Under Dog in the orchard on the 1st of December. He hadn't been well for a long time, and the balance was suddenly tipping the wrong way so that I was no longer sure if enjoyment was uppermost.
We had known it was coming.
It doesn't really help much though, does it - knowing?

We didn't know at the time that it would be our last walk on the beach

But, bad as that was, there was worse to come.

What we didn't know was that Top Dog was only holding on for his brother.
Although I might have known. He's always looked after his twin, right from the start. When they were just little plippys, he'd climb in and lie on top of Under Dog in the basket to keep him safe. (Hence the name, Under Dog.) Such sweet plippys they were. They slept like that for years, until Under Dog had his awful accident and damaged his back. Top Dog never climbed in on top of him again after that.

Thirteen years we had them - and I am grateful for every one, even though time has embedded them so deep in our hearts they can't be removed without taking huge slices of us too.

Sweet plippys

Some unfathomable instinct had warned me that when one of them called time, the other wouldn't want to stay for long on his own. It's why we got Model Dog in May.
But I never dreamed we'd only have ten days grace.

It was very sudden. A quiet, happy Sunday chewing his marrow bone, but then awful pain in the evening which the vet's injections didn't really alleviate. He lay calmly in his basket all night, watching us, obviously uncomfortable, but not distressed. We wondered if he'd swallowed a bit of bone.
We hoped. Too anxious to talk, we just watched and hoped.
The vet met us again at her surgery before first light, and I held his sweet face in my hands as he fell asleep, but the operation only revealed that there was nothing to be done. It wasn't a bit of bone. Our poor Top Dog was bleeding internally from a tumour tangling around his blood vessels and the kindest thing was to kiss him and let him go with our blessing, without waking up.
The kindest thing for him, not for us.

He had seemed so fit and well. Ageing, but fit and well.
But it explained why he hasn't wanted to walk very far recently. Why he'd hide behind my legs when Model Dog was racing and chasing, why he'd handed the responsibility for small jobs over to her - like going out with me to feed the hens.

We buried him next to his brother. Model Dog sat and watched, visibly appalled, as his grave was dug. When we placed him in it, she tried to get in too, and the next day I saw her carry his bone up to the orchard and leave it close to where he lies.

Model Dog and I didn't go to the woods for a week or more afterwards.
I couldn't face it, and still find it difficult. They are there, two black and white ghosts dancing through the trees, racing down every ride, swimming in the river, running along the bank.
They are carefree, full of joy.

Nothing can prepare you for how you will react when something happens. The morning he died, I removed Top Dog's bed from the kitchen because I couldn't bear to see it, perpetually empty. And I sent an email to the family, to my friends, to people I might bump into, because he was so important a figure in our lives that I needed to 'stop the clocks'. Everyone had to be told of his death immediately, so that I wouldn't have to explain later, although I couldn't bring myself to speak to anyone except my own two boys.
But how kind people are. I hadn't thought beyond the ordeal of telling them, and I was more touched than I can say by the kind messages, the texts, cards, emails, even flowers we received during the following days and weeks. Such an outpouring of love and comfort - it has helped so much.

Candles for the Winter Solstice

And on the Winter Solstice - that day when for so many generations our ancestors have reached out from the enclosing darkness to welcome the return of the light - I filled the windowsill with candles in memory of them, in celebration of their years and the joy they brought us, the companionship, the trust, the love - in gratitude for the continuance of them.

They are woven in, woven in. Nothing can remove those we have loved, and truly, it is only ourselves we weep for, not for them, for they 'have slipped the surly bonds of Earth/And danced the skies...' *

But the trouble is, neither of us can quite get used to a world without them.

More than ever, I am grateful for my lovely Model Dog.

A dear friend sent me this poem in the days after Top Dog died.
It made me cry all over again, but it is beautiful, and I think you will like it. It was written by Mary Oliver.

Her Grave  

She would come back, dripping thick water, from the green bog.
She would fall at my feet, she would draw the black skin
from her gums, in a hideous and wonderful smile -
and I would rub my hands over her pricked ears and her cunning elbows,
and I would hug the barrel of her body, amazed at the unassuming
perfect arch of her neck.

It took four of us to carry her into the woods.
We did not think of music,
but, anyway, it began to rain

Her wolfish, invitational,  half pounce.

Her great and lordly satisfaction at having chased something

My great and lordly satisfaction at her splash
of happiness as she barged
through the pitch pines swiping my face with her
wild, slightly mossy tongue.

Does the hummingbird think he himself invented his crimson throat?
 He is wiser than that, I think.

A dog lives fifteen years, if you're lucky.

Do the cranes crying out in the high clouds
think it is all their own music?

A dog comes to you and lives with you in your own house, but you
do not therefore own her, as you do not own the rain, or the
trees, or the laws which pertain to them.

Does the bear wandering in the autumn up the side of the hill
think all by herself she has imagined the refuge and the refreshment
of her slumber?

A dog can never tell you what she knows from the
smells of the world, but you know, watching her, that you know
almost nothing.

Does the water snake with his backbone of diamonds think
the black tunnel on the bank of the pond is a palace
of his own making?

She roved ahead of us through the fields, yet would come back, or
wait for me, or be somewhere

Now she is buried under the pines. 

Nor will I argue it, or pray for anything but modesty, and
not be angry.

Through the trees there is the sound of the wind, palavering.

The smell of the pine needles, what is it but a taste
of the infallible energies?

How strong was her dark body?
How apt is her grave place.

How beautiful is her unshakable sleep.

the slick mountains of love break
over us

Mary Oliver


How apt are their grave places indeed.
It is where they loved to be. It is where I love to be.

My brother wrote:

'What a very special orchard you have now, and for a long time. 
May every season you walk there bring you more peace.
And now you have Model Dog, in the nick of time.
And God's Good Grace, all the time.
Love and love and love.
Sorry I can't offer more but I know you have been blessed and you will be again.'

Amen to that.
Blessed indeed.
Farewell, sweet boys.

* from High Flight by John Gillespie Magee Jr



  1. I am so pleased to have found your blog (via As I Roved Out). So much resonates with me. If you go to my blog there is a poem a few posts down about our old dog Finbar which you might like to read.
    I am off to read more here and will call by again.

    1. Cait - I am so pleased you have found me, and thus I have found you! I loved your blog, and will be back to read more. I have left a comment there on your beautiful poem for Finbar. Thank you for leaving one here.

  2. I can hardly bear to comment. Love to you, I have got to know your dogs through your page, happy loved dogs, living lives that I would wish for every dog, and cared for unto death. Hugs.

    1. Thank you Isobel. I know you will understand exactly how we are feeling, because of Cat and MasterB. Thank you for your kind thoughts, they are much appreciated.

  3. Lorely, it must have taken many tears and a lot of heartache to write such wonderfull lines once more. You are in my thoughts and prayers ... xx

    1. Thank you Tina. Yes, lots of heartache, but also so many happy memories. Slowly, slowly it is the happy memories that will rise to the top, but for now it is just sadness that we have lost them.

  4. I am so sorry to hear you have now lost both your boys but you gave them good lives full of love, and in the
    end made the kindest decision which any pet owner can do.

    1. Thank you for your sympathy Mairead. We certainly did love them - and always will.

  5. What a fine line between joy and sadness, sometimes just a moment. It's a mirror line too, where the greater the joy at whatever it is (eg the presence of the loved one), the greater the sadness when it's gone (they're absent). Occasionally, it's only when they're absent that we realise just how much we loved them.

  6. Your comment reminded me of Kahlil Gibran: 'Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with tears. And how else can it be? The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain... When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.'
    Never was a truer word spoken.
    Thank you again for your email. It meant a lot.

  7. Lorely I am so sorry. I won't even begin to type any words here because your words are so beautiful and filled with such love and emotion. Just know that you and yours are in my heart today and that you will be on my mind. Your windowsill filled with the light of the memories of them and their "continuance" touches my heart. I find comfort in the continuance.

  8. Thank you Pix - you have written words, and they are lovely. I value your thoughts - it has been the thoughts of friends and loved ones that has seen us through this very hard time.

  9. Too much loss in my own life which your loss has pierced through to - through the barrier of activity which has kept at bay until now. My memories of your kitchen are inseparable from your animals and I can't imagine how bereft you must be and thank goodness for Model Dog who will keep you anchored in the present and life as it goes on.

    1. You sound sad A. Hope all is well with you. Yes, animals are more important in my kitchen than food, to be honest! Bereft is the right word, but as you say - thank goodness for Model Dog. She has gone back to being my shadow these last few weeks. They always understand.

  10. So sorry to hear of your great loss Lorely. Such displays of love, Top Dog holding on for Under Dog and then leaving you in the care of Model Dog whom, I am sure, knows what a great responsibility now rests on her shoulders, and the love you have for all three of them is plain to see. They were a great part of your life and you of theirs. You have memories to help ease your pain when the pain of the memories has passed.

    1. SO much love from that boy. I will always remember how he would look at you, making sure you understood, or else making sure HE understood. His expression was so apologetic if he thought he wasn't doing what you wanted, and I can still see him looking at me now, that last day - almost as if he was trying to say: 'I'm sorry, I've got to go now.' That's why I felt it was so important to let him go willingly - he needed that permission, but it came at some cost. Thank you for your lovely comment.

  11. Oh my God,I am so so sorry to read this :-( I lost 2 of my own this year too and they were so close to each other,Junyor was 12 and Rosie was only 6 but riddled with cancer and miserable since Junyor had left us :( she got to the stage where she couldnt breathe and they discovered a huge tumour in her lungs, inoperable,so she left us to go to her best friend who she grew up with. Really feel for u xxx

    1. I remember when you lost Rosie, Jenn. So awful. It's always so awful. But none of us could ever be without them, even though we're going to have to say goodbye sometime. Hope all is well with you, and all the very best for 2013. Thank you again for the Model Dog she is wonderful!

  12. I don't know how to comment on breaks my heart.
    But I would like to share a poem with you. It helps me when I am grieving.

    INVOCATION by Rod McKuen

    I do not doubt
    that in some hidden
    middle night
    you’ll rise up
    and come to me
    in solitude or silence.

    We will meet
    as we have met
    on a train or at the end
    of some new train of thought.

    1. Jo - thank you, and for your comment on Four Legs and a Tail too. I agree with you completely, not a day goes by without my thinking of Bunny, and Juno, and now my boys (Juno's pups). They never leave us, thank heavens, but how I miss their physical presence. The poem you have sent is just beautiful - thank you so much for it.

  13. I'm so terribly sorry for your awful loss of those 4-legged family. heart-wrenching over and over again, I know.... --Laurel

    1. Thank you, Laurel. We are missing them so much, and sometimes I forget that Top Dog is really gone. I find myself glancing round for him, talking to him, expecting to see him come round the corner, that bashful grin on his face because he'd wandered off without telling me. Isn't it tough.

    2. It's a dreadful kind of pain, isn't it? Where you wake up slowly in the morning and then the pain slams into you again, anew, appallingly.

      I still talk to my cat who died in 1997, Ticker D. Doodah--we were together for 13 years. We have two cats now, but ghost kitty is still here--I'm pretty sure I see her wandering around a corner occasionally. One time, I did the math, and it seemed that our Calpurrnia Cat was born just as Ticker died in 1997. Weird solace, that.

      Then I think of the timing of your SuperModel coming to you.... :-D

  14. So sorry to hear, Lorely. Am just catching up with your blog a bit after time with Mum in Tenerife, etc. Hugs, and blessings.

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