There’s a lot of difficult stuff in the news just now and normally I rise above it. But sometimes, amongst the flippancy and frivolity, there’s different emotion lurking and I was drawn to this piece about my first experiences of death and grief from 2016. It involved the family pet Boxer, Punch. He was one of four born to our previous family pet, Rusty. She died shortly after he was born but I was too young at two or three to register it.
I’ve written about my dogs in this blog, those who’ve been part of my family recently.
But this is about my first, bitter loss, that first hole in one’s heart.
The dog had been ill for weeks, barely able to stand at times, often off his food. But you entered the room and his stub of a tail wagged like Mrs Prickett’s admonishing finger when my attention wandered in class. I’d been told a healthy dog had a cold nose; I’d taken to checking. His nose passed.
‘Dad’s taken him outside.’
How long is a moment? How far does disbelief stretch? At what point does a tissue of a hope crease and crumple to reveal a universal truth?
Maybe I’d been lucky to reach a unsullied 14 with no conscious experience of death. Maybe not. I’d no bedrock, no relevant experience – how can any previous experience prepare you for something so visceral? Does losing a second limb hurt less?
Parents lie; but however consummate their lying they can’t hide their own hurt. It might be in the timbre of their voice, in the shape of their shoulders, in the stiff way they stir something as mundane as porridge.
Mum gave away, in the time it took to say those four words that our dog, a constant at my side since I was 3, was dead.
The clock ticked inexorably towards the next death, the shed door shut and dad came in for breakfast. They never found a way to have another dog after that.
RIP Punchinello Tillingdown (his Kennel Club name)