Grief is strange emotion, one that we spend our lives attempting to inevitably avoid.
It hits us during the best and the worst of times. Grief doesn’t care if you’re having a good week, or if you’re currently neck deep in what may turn out to be the worst time of your life. It’ll get you right where it hurts and damn the consequences.
If joy and happiness are emotions that are best shared with others, then grief is one that is traditionally kept under wraps. It is private. It is almost shameful to be caught grieving. Society doesn’t want to share in your pain and in many instances, you are only given an allocated amount of time to feel sad. Months down the track, people will ask “Why are you still upset over ‘x’ event?” and “Why haven’t you moved on?” – as if there is a one size fits all on this sort of thing.
Phooey to that, I say. I am a writer – I look to words to make sense of the world and the thoughts and feelings raging through my body, inside my mind. So, I want to tell you about the profound sense of loss I am feeling at the moment, due to the death of my dog.
It may sound macabre, but I have been waiting a long time for my dog to die. No, waiting is not the right word, not at all. I have been expecting my dog to die for many years now. Much of this time was spent living overseas, where in the back of my head, I thought I’d one day get a phone call from home, triggered by the worst news possible.
It never happened. My dog was strong and lived well beyond the life expectancy of his breed (German Shepherd), well beyond any other dog we’ve ever had.
In my almost thirty years of age, my family has had six dogs – five shepherds and an Australian Blue Heeler. It has been a life of laughter and love – to paraphrase Kristan Higgins, “When a (38 kilo) mammal licks your tears away, then tries to sit on your lap, it’s hard to feel sad.”
While Bentley’s heart beat on like a jack hammer, his body started to deteriorate around it. Years of chasing after loud cars (particularly my brother’s truck) and motorbikes on our regional property had taken its toll on his legs and at almost thirteen years of age, my boy could barely walk. His struggle was breaking our hearts. He was peacefully put to eternal rest yesterday and no longer feels any pain.
And even though it is the right thing to do and I know this in my heart, I am sad. I am grieving. He was family and he was my friend and I miss him. I always will miss him and nothing – not time, not distance will ever change that fact.
If humans get to have eulogies, then so should dogs. Here are some of the moments I remember most poignantly, from the life of my dog, Bentley.
I remember the day we brought you home at six weeks old, a sleepy little dog in a cardboard box. We let you out on the driveway and you ran around with that frenetic energy that puppies have, suddenly winding down and falling asleep on the spot. I took a lot of photos of you that day and my favourite is of you with my baby brother. Eight years old at the time, he holds you as you sleep and there is pure unadulterated joy on his face.
Last week we took photos of the two of you again, knowing it would be the last time. I hold the pictures up against each other and marvel at the difference. In place of the sweet little boy is a gangly, handsome young man. You too are fully grown, your face is now haggard and weathered with age. But he holds you and you let him and the joy is still there, now with the sweet familiarity that only years of love, devotion and friendship can bring.
We argue over what to call you. A dog of pedigree, you have a fancy show name, which I got to choose – Conspicuous. I still love the way the word rolls off my tongue. Yet, you needed a layman’s name – the name that you would come to be known as and it was something as a family that we took some time to agree on.
My younger brother as a devoted Star Wars fan, voted for Yoda. I wanted to call you something old worldly and regal, like Archibald or Algernon. Austin was a strong contender for some time, but it was Dad who finally came up with a name we could all agree on. Bentley. And so it became you.
“Once you have had a wonderful dog, a life without one, is a life diminished.”
An ex-boyfriend used to say: “What’s up, Straightly?” and laugh like it was the funniest joke in the world. He had hair like a Dragonball Z character and broke up with me via text message three days after my twentieth birthday, just before Valentine’s Day.
Although you belonged to all of us, you were a man’s dog in many ways and there was nothing you loved more than the sound of loud machinery. You’d chase the motorbikes that circled our property, running back and forth, barking your head off like a mad dog and smiling wildly. You adored my brother’s truck – completely losing your nut whenever he drove up the drive.
You’d do anything to get into that car and it was fitting that it was the setting for your final journey.
You had an air about you, unlike any other dog I’d ever known. It was like you were royalty and so we anointed you – “Sir Bentley”. You’d sit with your paws crossed, one over the other, staring down anyone who dared get in your way. You were indifferent to nearly everyone you met – you didn’t give your love as freely as our other dogs.
And this, in turn, is what I loved about you. You were your own dog – not needy, not a slave to the desire for constant attention and affection. You were self-possessed. I had to work to win you over, but you were loyal above all. Once you accepted someone, you were theirs and they were yours for life.
“Happiness is a warm puppy.”
—Charles M. Schulz
Yet, as a puppy, all you wanted was to be near us. You loved to play – your favourite game was “chase-your-own-tail”. You’d run around in circles for a bit, before taking yourself for a walk up the driveway, tail in mouth. You had an obsession with mandarin peels for some reason and your favourite toy was a piece of orange string, which Mum had given you. You hated baths and would roll in the mud immediately after being washed. You’d happily hit my baby brother in the nuts with your nose and he’d bend over in two, laughing ’til he cried.
At night, we’d put you to sleep in the garage and you’d poke your little paws right under the door, straining to be as close as possible to your family, your pack.
An ex-boyfriend was terrified of you. That relationship was never going to last.
Your bloodlines were good, the best and so we bred you with a beautiful bitch from down the road. You sired four litters, with Sash giving birth to over thirty puppies. Two became ours – Spence, who we sadly lost at two years old and Sumo who remains with us.
Both pups had your good looks and your intelligence, mixed with their mother’s temperament. They were and are beautiful dogs.
“Dogs’ lives are too short. Their only fault, really.”
When I lived at home, I’d come home from work and run to the gate.
“Bentley! Bentley!” I’d call.
You’d gaze over your shoulder and give me a look, as if to say “I saw you eight hours ago. Geez human, I haven’t missed you that much.”
Yet, when I’d arrive back home from overseas, you’d always come running straight over, greeting me eagerly, jumping up onto the fence, pressing against my legs when I opened the gate. You somehow knew when I was leaving once more, letting me hug you and licking away my tears.
You were what I missed most while I was living abroad. You can contact friends and family via so many different methods, but you can’t Skype a dog. I thought about you every day.
An ex-boyfriend once told me “I don’t think you could ever love another person the same way you love that dog.”
“Don’t be silly,” I replied, but silently, I agreed.
“They had buried him under our elm tree, they said — yet this was not totally true. For he really lay buried in my heart.”
I don’t think I’ll ever again have a dog quite like you.
Bento Box, Mister Moo, Sir Bentley, Grumpus McGee, Fur-Face, Fancy Mutt, Old Bones – rest in peace, you magnificent and beloved dog. Thank you for your loyalty and your love. You were a good boy. You were the best boy.