Writing is cathartic. Just the act of trying to put feelings into words, whether it’s a letter to an absent mother/the lover you did wrong/your sixteen year old self or simply scribbling down your experience of anger or pain, then just the act of putting pen to paper — or fingers to keyboard — is allegedly healing.
Grief, as perhaps the ultimate intense human emotion, brings with it a bewildering array of guilt, pain, anger and unbearable sadness. Writing can be a good outlet for these varied emotions as feelings flow from the heart, travel down the arm and flow through the fingers.
On 1 June we lost our beloved dog, Dexter. It was unexpected and took a whole month before the rawness of the grief started to dull a little. I tried many times but didn’t feel like writing: it was just too painful to let my feelings run amok. It was challenging enough keeping my emotions in check in public. (Thank God for the excuse of hayfever and for large sunglasses!) But then I read a wonderful piece on a dog blog written a man who had recently said goodbye to his much loved pooch. It was told from the dog’s viewpoint of the last day of his life. (I’ve looked everywhere but can’t find it again although I believe it went viral, so apologies for the lack of acknowledgement)
So I decided to tell Dexter’s tale of his final journey. It has taken three weeks to finish as the tears flowed with every word — and sometimes seemed like they would never stop –but I wanted to write a fitting tribute to a very special family member. I should issue a warning that if you are an animal lover, you may find this sad.
My Last Day On Earth
Today feels different. I awake with the same fog of pain that I’ve had lately but the human parents are acting strangely. Human mum lets me out into the garden but I struggle to get down the steps. Everything hurts and my back leg collapses (I only have three legs, but apparently that’s what makes me special). Mum has to carry me back into the house. She looks like she’s been crying again but she does get something called hayfever which makes her cry, even when she’s not sad. Normally the humans are so busy rushing about with their lives, but not today. They seem sort of still and sad. They keep looking at me and whispering.
I lay on my favourite chair and mum and dad take it in turns to sit with me and stroke my head just where I like it behind my ears. Then mum gives me a funny tasting treat. I spit it out and she takes it away and comes back with a piece of cheese. Swallowing is agony but cheese is the best thing in the world! After that I feel a bit fuzzy and the pain gets better. I snooze and am woken up by the sound of my food bowl being put on the floor. It’s steak mince! I’ve had a lot of awesome food in the last few days and lots of treats. I can’t manage all of it but it is so tasty. I see my human dad cover the rest up and put it in the fridge and I worry about what’s going to happen to it. Normally I guard the fridge just in case but standing hurts me too much.
Mum has been on the phone a lot lately and she gets upset. She says things like ‘it’s so hard’ and keeps mentioning someone or something called ‘lymphoma’. I’ve also heard everyone talk about the ‘rainbow bridge’. I’m not sure what it is but we always go under a bridge on the way to visit mum’s mum. I love it there because there’s always a treat waiting for me and I help her with the gardening too. Lifting my head is hard and I must have dozed off because when I wake up then mum’s mum is actually here, kissing me on the head and telling me she loves me. She has red eyes too. I tell her I love her too by licking her face and hope she will give me a treat. She does.
Suddenly I’m being carried to the car by mum and dad. They have a debate about whether to put my harness on and my bed is loaded in too. So it can’t be a walk but maybe I am going to the dogsitter? Perhaps this place called Lymphoma is where mum and dad are going on holiday, like when they went to somewhere called Sicily last year without me. I sit on dad’s lap while mum drives. Dad strokes my fur and I spot a dog out of the car window. I try to woof but a strange sound comes out instead of a bark and my throat is sore.
We are parking at the vets! My favourite receptionist fusses me and she looks sad too. I lick her hand. My bed is carried into the vet’s room and I’m allowed to sit in it! My humans and the vet have a very serious discussion and dad feeds me some liver treats from the vet’s treat jar. Everyone keeps saying how sorry they are and then mum and dad are crying hard and mum signs something. I feel something sharp going into my paw as dad strokes me. I try to tell him not to cry but I’m feeling sleepy. A voice is saying I’m a good boy and a cold feeling travels up my leg.
And then suddenly the pain has gone! I leap from my bed with joy and notice I have all four legs again. The vet has made me better! A wonderful bright rainbow light is calling me and I want to run towards it. Is this the rainbow bridge? Why is everyone so sad about it? I turn to tell mum and dad I am healed now and not to worry but I seem to be floating high above the room. Four humans are huddling round a small black dog lying in my bed. The dog is still and mum and dad are weeping. The vet and the nurse are talking about something called a cremation. Then mum raises her face to the ceiling and through streaming tears says goodbye and tells me to run free. I try to explain to my humans I am there and I love them but they ignore me and keep fussing over the black dog in my bed. That bright light is so enticing but I feel I need to stay with my humans.
I watch as my humans walk through to the reception area, leaving the little dog curled up sleeping in my bed. There are more tears. At least he’s not in pain, says someone. I sit by mum and dad and try to paw at them. Look, it doesn’t hurt, I want to say. I’m free! But there’s still that steak in the fridge. Who will take my humans on walks and to the vets? I remember the day I rescued them and came to live with them. What will they do now?
And then I understand that in order to set me free, they can no longer see me.
I promise my human mum and dad I will always love them and never forget them. I will wait for them at the rainbow bridge. And then with my ears flapping joyfully in the warm, sweet breeze I run and run towards the wonderful light.
In memory of Dexter 13 October 2005 – 1 June 2016
Loved by his human pawrents Rebecca and Andy since March 2011