Life provides some deep layers of synchronistic irony. In this case, alongside grief and shock and a deep, deep well of loss.
On Saturday 10th July, I posted some photos of a blood-red stream on the Ashdown Forest, and about the rich seam of iron- ore that runs through the Wealden clay. Amongst the photos on my phone, is a video of our dog Ralph, playing joyfully in the water. His favourite walking spot.
At 6 am on 12th July, we were scooping handfuls of the same, sticky Wealden clay, in the rain, making a hole big enough for Ralph’s little body. Our spades and shovels barely shifted it, and we resorted to moving it with our hands. The poetry of his last walk and his final resting place, and the clay and the blood all running through my mind, as the fat raindrops merged with spasms of tears.
Ralph died. I still can’t quite believe it. As I watch the video, he is so… alive. So… there. And he didn’t just die. He was killed. I will spare you the details but a Rottweiler got a hold of him. He was in surgery for seven hours on Sunday. It didn’t work, and we had to decide to let him go. All of that is a blur of waiting, and nausea, and me having to pay the £4000 veterinary bill on a credit card, praying that I had enough credit. In my mind, Richard is holding Ralph’s blanket-wrapped body at this point, but that might’ve come afterwards. The vet was kind.
And then there was the interminable drive home. Me, driving, trying not to be sick, and Richard in the passenger seat, cradling Ralph. Silent. Unbelieving. We lay our boy in his bed, tucking him in with his toy, ‘Mr. Fish’. We slept, fitfully, waking up in that shocked way you do when something Very Bad has happened. At 4 a.m. we gave in to the not sleeping and got up and made tea, stroking Ralph’s cold little head. We decided to bury him as soon as it was light.
Chris came. A dear, dear friend who knew and loved Ralph as much as we did. She held the space of reverence and ritual and holding that we needed. She knew just what to do and what to say. We lit candles and incense and laid flower petals. She sang to him. ‘May The Long Time Sun, shine upon you, Ralphie, All Love surround you.’
A good funeral for a Good Boy.
If you’ve loved and lost a dog you will know the pain of the days and weeks that follow. Everything is a reminder that my best friend is gone. His empty food bowl, his empty bed, dinner time, bedtime, walkies (I haven’t been on any kind of walk since) I haven’t wanted to wash anything that he lay on (Including our own bedsheets) to preserve his smell. His harness and a blood-stained blanket are still in the back of my car. I look at his photos every day, trying to preserve his image, the realness of him.
It’s softer now. The sobbing panic of those first few days has melted into all the stages of grief, sometimes, it seems, all the same time! It’s far from a cycle. Too neat. It’s all over the place. If you’ve grieved, you know this.
And no, he wasn’t ‘just’ a dog. Ralph was a best friend, an ally and a companion. He gave – as dogs do – his complete and unconditional love. He was a healer and a comforter. He was funny and fun, and joyful. He was sensitive and gentle. And we loved him. We don’t have a different or lesser kind of love reserved for ‘just dogs’.
Ralph is gone. We shared the most delightful three years with him (he was only seven) We adopted him from Raystede, which is the most amazing place. A friend sent me a lovely message to say that she had donated money to Raystede in Ralph’s memory. A beautiful gesture, that (naturally) brought on more tears. If you feel moved to, you might do the same… https://www.raystede.org/support-us/donate
I know there will be another dog. But I will never forget, or stop loving, the ‘Best Dog In The World’.