I’m writing this in the morning of the third day after the best dog in the universe, the world’s greatest canineosophist, my beloved mr Dog, whose real name was Åke (which few of you know how to pronounce), passed over to the higher worlds, went to his eternal sleep, or died — whichever way you prefer it — at an age of twelve years and three months on the day.
You wouldn’t believe that a dog who weighed a little less than three kilograms could leave a void larger than the entire universe, but he could. My whole life was an emptiness that he filled with his presence; his absence is unfathomable.
In the emptiness and silence, I still hear him, I smell him, I sense him — I need him — I hallucinate him back, then realize he’s not there. There’s nothing there, just me and an endless row of unbearably long days without him.
He was my reason to get up in the morning, my reason to go out, my reason to come home (always missing him when we were apart, even for just a few hours); everything everywhere reminds me of him: we were together every day and every night for twelve years and three weeks.
Of course there were tricky times; he was a very hyper-active dog during most of his life, he was a true terrier and had a mind of his own, and wasn’t easily impressed by my efforts to reign him in even a little a bit, but he was also extremely endearing: he liked everybody and almost everything, except cats. He required a lot of attention and had a lot of energy that needed to be drained. I thought his recent tiredness was only old age, but in hindsight it probably wasn’t — I should have known, it wasn’t like him at all, but for another dog it would have been entirely normal. He still had more energy than most lap-dogs do when they’re five. Be that as it may.
His deterioration was very quick. From the first clearly noticeable symptom — sudden and complete blindness (but he had cataract for years) — to a realization that something much worse was going on only 18 hours passed. I increasingly understood this during the last night when I slept with him on the floor to help him deal with his sudden loss of sight. Then, after talking to his veterinarian early Wednesday morning, I sat with him, him laying on me, all day long. Keeping him warm, keeping him safe, feeding him ice-cream with small pieces of sausage, which he ate with unexpected eagerness, he was very thirsty (his kidneys failed). She — his vet — was out of town that day, but came back in the evening; by then his consciousness level had dropped even more, and while we waited for her, him tightly wrapped in a blanked in my arms, I don’t think he knew much of what was happening. He was put to sleep, and it was entirely peaceful.
I think I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that keeping absolutely calm through that day required an almost inhuman strength; in fact, for a weak bipedal like myself, I can’t believe it was possible, and that I could keep the strain of it from over-powering me; I honestly don’t think mr Dog would have thought me capable. To sit, or half-lie, with him nuzzled under my chin, and knowing: so and so many hours from now, and he’ll be gone —
then he’ll be no more, his little head, the warmth of his fur, the almost intangible scent on the head between his ears, his little nose, his little tail, that still could wag just barely on that morning, it would all be gone —
and afterwards, after the fact, the body is limp, lifeless, so surprisingly lifeless, it’s the greatest shock, because you realize how unfathomable, how enormous that rift between alive and lifeless is: before, something was still there that kept an increasingly tired body alive, and seconds later — gone.
A being who had been so full of energy and life — and then, nothing.
And then, the grief that tears the world a part, that soars through the cosmos — you cannot believe that the earth does not shatter, the buildings around you don’t come falling down, that your own body doesn’t disintegrate and become dust.
I guess most of you are people persons, and perhaps you like animals, but still, you are people persons. I’m not. I’m not really even a dog person; I like dogs very much, but it took me a long time to bond with mr Dog. Many, or perhaps most, people fall almost instantly in love — be it with other people or with animals. Not so for me. I guess that makes me vulnerable to loneliness. (Though I must add that during this awful time, there have been friends who made me think more highly of humanity than I used to. I will be eternally in debt to them.)
But mr Dog was not only a separate being — or a separate person, because he really was a person, a big personality, a gigantic soul — we were a part of each other.
So here I am, with a part of me — the most important part — ripped away, and there’s an open wound that can’t be stitched together, and the waves of sorrow makes me want to scream and curse — and an empty and colourless world stares back at me, blankly, flatly.
There are also the small things: everything reminds me of him, we had a long time together, all the things we did together; everything at home reminds me of him; all the streets remind me of him, we walked them all, we walked endlessly during those years; all the parks and forests and the buses and the entire world remind me of him; it’s really as if it all existed just for him, and now it has lost its purpose.
I still hear him and see him and sense him — I mean this quite literally. His sighs as a changes position when he sleeps, his paws touching the floor — the vague smell of the fur between his ears —
I try to have breakfast and the gruyère cheese that is still in my fridge reminds me of him; he had a low appetite during his last five days (this happened from time to time, and didn’t actually alarm me), and I grated that cheese on his food and used small pieces of it to entice him. The last of his favourite crackers; the vanilla ice-cream I got for him; the remaining pieces of sausages in the freezer —
His things, everywhere.
His coats and sweaters, the dog beds and blankets, the toys, his plates and bowls, the leashes on which he kept me so that I wouldn’t get lost —
and now I’m so utterly lost. How could he let go and leave me lost like this?
Then there’s this realization: what I did, during all those years with him, whenever I felt distress was to take a long walk with him. He was always up for a long walk. He loved his walks. We walked a lot; I think we could have gone into the Guinness book of records, the walk section. And now, in the greatest and deepest distress ever, there’s no mr Dog who presents himself, with enthusiasm, for a walk.
There is instead this bottomless grief — so dark and so violent —
I needed him for my survival and he came into my life. When I was with him, the feeling of unreality, no matter how pervasive it could be sometimes, always lifted. What was unendurable became endurable, because I had him. His presence made everything lighter and easier, gave the world another colour. I love him so much —
and he is not here.
(Image: mr Dog a couple of months ago.)