Death is not a pleasant subject. Grief is a place best not visited. However it is in death and grief that we are changed irrevocably. Losing a loved one is difficult. Losing a pet is just as puissant yet that loss is often deemed less significant.
Today marks a year and a day that our dog Lucky physically left our lives. Two years ago, he was diagnosed with cancer. The vet looked at my husband in sadness and offered to end his suffering. My husband, gem that he is, paid him and brought our smiling child back home. December was particularly poignant, every occasion was celebrated and made more memorable than the previous. Every day was a brand new gift. Summer days were long and Lucky was over indulged. In fact, he so loved fishing that we took him away for a seaside getaway. We packed the cars and his favourite blanket, made a pot of his favoured chicken breyani and headed north to his favourite fishing spot. Lucky knew he was off on an adventure. The husband headed off to fish. Mother and children went for a long walk which was punctuated by many short breaks, simply because Lucky grew increasingly tired. Bottled water was sourced from the local shop for Lucky. We laughed but we knew that the clock ticked ominously. Death would visit soon. Life, as we knew it, resumed. The children returned to school and Lucky, their protector and friend was at home to welcome them. Our return from work was met with smiling eyes and a happy wagging tail. Weeks progressed into months and Lucky’s naturally kohl lined eyes dimmed as the cancer thrived. We could be selfish no longer. A decision was made. Death was no newcomer to our family. This time though, every breath cut at us. This time, it was not a trip to the beach. He settled into his seat and left with his Dad and brother. Those last moments will never be forgotten. The vet was a good man, a kind person who understood the enormity of the situation. He chanted a mantra as Lucky’s breathing slowly stopped. The boys came home without their boy. I still listened for the click of Lucky’s feet on the kitchen tiles which was not heard. There were no words except for an projectile outpouring of sorrow. Death had come.
Euthanasia, they say. “Death”, my heart screamed, due to my decision, a mother’s decision. His suffering had ended but our suffering with him in his months of sickness and after, continued. Cancer had won. Again. My Dad. My Aunt. Another Aunt, more a mother than Aunt. The days were long, dark and empty. This year’s Deepawali did not bring the Festival of Lights into our home. Darkness and despair reigned. Pitar Paksh, the annual prayer which paid homage to our ancestors reminded us again of death anew. Owen returned home to be alone. I left a bowl of water out for Lucky daily. At night, the garden light remained on, Lucky did not like being in the dark. Once, as I was busy in the kitchen, I watched the husband leave Lucky’s bowl of water out for him. A couple of week’s later, I mentioned to the husband that Lucky did not find his way home. We wondered whether he was lost without our love and guidance or if his mother Chelsea, had found him and taken him with her.
Chelsea was a russet mix Labrador special, who was brought home to us when she was 6 weeks old. She stole our hearts and grew into a beautiful girl. The husband took her for a walk once. I thought Chelsea had become plump with happiness and good loving but no, her one jaunt changed her life. My husband knew had transpired and opted to lie by omission. He watched Chelsea welcome babies as beautiful as she was. All nine survived and all but one, were given to loving homes. Chelsea had her son Lucky for company and we had love and laughter. Of course, the garden took a beating, plants were uprooted and the grass was peppered with droppings. For a long time, it was impossible to have and maintain a vegetable patch but the dogs made up for that loss. Both mother and son used to watch the oven door with anticipation. A large pot on the stove signalled breyani for supper. Unlike some other Hindu households, my Diwali Days were spent in the kitchen, away from the fireworks, displays and finery. In keeping with Hindu tradition, the humans abstained from eating meat. The four legged children were fed previously prepared meaty meals, much to Owen’s dismay. Birthdays heralded cakes and more breyani. Christmas meant an entire serving of a turkey leg. The worst days were the baths they were forced to endure. The best days were braai days, which used to be common in the Ramlal house. Once the braai stand was extracted, both were on high alert, tails wagged happily. They lay with bowed heads but their eyes searched for family and the meaty titbits that followed. It was a ritual , even the cockatiels were brought out to share the moments. It was a good life. Mom said that she wanted to be born in my house….as a dog in her next life. Old Chelsea had her moments of feigning sickness and indifference. Often she would lay down until I hand-fed her. One day, she was too tired to wait for my arrival from work, she lay her head down and did not wake up. She was laid to rest in our garden where she had a view of the entire property. Lucky howled in sadness, he had lost his mother and best friend. Often we found him sitting next to her flowers. When he feared a rebuke, he would return to her. He missed his Mom. It did not help that we were away at work and at school. He had separation anxiety and he howled mournfully when we left home.
I always maintained that Chelsea was the best mother in the world. She sat with her legs crossed, had impeccable manners and she instilled them and her good habits in her son. She looked after my family passionately and diligently. The same was expected of me for her son. I kept my word, right until the end. I hope that Chelsea understands that I did my best. Grief, they says is really just love, one wants to give, but cannot. It is unspent love that gathers in the choking of the chest, and in the corners for one’s eyes. It is the lump in the throat. Grief is just love with no place to go.
A year later, the lump still sticks in the throat. Time has passed, it has not entirely healed. Memories have been banked and sometimes, they are lovingly taken out and shared. Most times, they are returned to the pockets of the hearts for refuge.
Some days are more difficult and sometimes, the therapeutic effect of simply putting words into sentences helps.
Many people think that pets are just pets. I beg to differ. They are the silent children and often our best friends. They are family. Loved. Lost. Never forgotten.