After Mike died – indeed before he died, when he was ill – I know I set a clear intention to carry on living fully afterwards. In truth I never questioned whether or not I’d want to carry on living. For the last many decades, for as long as I can consciously remember being aware of such things as “choice”, “intention”, “the miracle of life” (by which I mean the chances of that particular sperm meeting that particular egg at that particular time and becoming me), etc…, I have had a passion for life, for living life fully, and maximising the miraculous chance I have been given.
Of course I wobbled when Mike got ill. I definitely questioned my will when he died. More than once I remember looking into a fast-running icy stream and just wondering if it would be an easy way to make it all go away. Choosing to live doesn’t mean there isn’t also excruciating pain, deep sadness, questioning, regrets, wonderings. And losing Julia has fanned flames of anxiety within me that I never knew existed. I get so scared now of something happening to me before Ben and Megan are “properly on their feet”. I am petrified of anything awful happening to Ben or Megan. I know I cannot take another loss. I am in anticipatory grief of my parents dying – which they will, of course, because they are 80 and 81.
And I feel that when Black the dog dies, which he will, that my fragile world will unravel again. The dog. Who represents the hearth and the heart of the house in ways that only people with a dog might understand. The dog Mike chose. The dog who Julia, of all the kids, had an uncanny way with, despite her weighing only half his weight when we first got him.
The dog who outlived Mike and Julia.
The dog who is now allowed to join me upstairs most mornings I start my day with frothy coffee(s) in bed.
The dog who fully appreciates that it’s a special treat not to be relegated to the ground floor.
Who still pads and sniffs around “Mike’s side of the bed” before he settles, as though hoping to get just one more whiff.
The dog who Julia wrapped herself around and spooned many times a day, each comforting the other.
Who she cuddled a long time the day she took her life.
Yes – I am very aware that my fragile life will unravel further when Black the dog dies. And not because he’s a dog, but because he’s our dog. Their dog. The family’s dog.
I spoke to a young girl Julia’s age the other day. I asked her how it was at home now that her elder sister had gone off to university. She is a thoughtful young woman, and part of her response included, “Mealtimes are different. Where there were 5 of us there are now 4. There’s a hole”.
My body had that all-too-familiar feeling of icy water slowly rising throughout my limbs up to my heart. I know that feeling. Our dinner table has gone from 6 (with au pair) to 5 to 4 to 3 to 2 to 1 in the space of under 3 years. Aside for myself, the one consistent linchpin has been Black the dog.
I am dreading his death.
And it’s not about the dog.