Updated: Feb 6, 2022
When I was about six, my parents split for a couple of years. My dad had a Springer Spaniel, Garm, who my mother hated. She complained that he was completely untrained and filthy which wasn't really true. I just think it irked her that my dad was less complicatedly attached to Garm than to his wife and children. Dogs were easier than people.
(Garm & me circa 1963)
Garm was all dog. He loved to muck about in the dirt, swim in the Credit River behind our Mississauga house and the lakes at our farm. He was a good snuffler and retriever. He absolutely adored my father and the feeling was mutual.
But when my parents separated and my dad moved to an apartment, Garm couldn't go with him. So, a lovely home in the country was found for him. He would have all the livestock to chase, and meadows to run through that he could ever want. I hated saying goodbye to Garm but I was a kid and had no say in the matter. At least I could comfort myself with visions of him living it up at his new home.
Garm and me ca 1963
Fast forward forty years or so. l was regaling my own children with stories of Garm. It was good to remember him. My mother was present for the story-telling. When I told the kids where Garm ended up and how pleased I was for him, my mother piped up with,
"That's not actually true."
"What do you mean?" I'd asked, innocently.
"We had to put Garm down. He didn't go live on a farm," my mother said without a single hint of remorse or tragedy.
Once my brain registered the news, I broke into a great, big, grief-laden torrent of tears. Suddenly, I was six again and I was saying goodbye to Garm for the final time. All those years I'd held happy memories of him delighting in sunshine and mud puddles, missing us terribly but contented none the less. Only to find out that, nope, none of that happened and I never got to say a proper farewell, never got to mourn the loss.
Looking back, I guess my parents were trying to save us the extra blow of not only losing our dad but also losing Garm. Their separation, I'm sure they reasoned, was going to be hard enough on us. Quite frankly, I did miss my dad but I missed Garm more. Garm was innocent, playful, and fun. My dad not so much.
I've lost quite a few pets over the years. Gerbils, rabbits, cats, dogs, turtles, frogs, fish. I even had an ant farm which was cool until one day it was just a coffin maze of dead black bits. And I'm going to go ahead and include a pet rock, a chia pet and sea monkeys. All alive one day, all dead another. At the farm, we kids had befriended a cow, Charlie, who came with us on walks, and a pig who I don't remember naming but who particularly enjoyed belly rubs. We lost them, too. It was a farm, after all.
It never gets easier. No matter how much death we experience in life, it's still hard. Perhaps the only caveat is that the older one gets, the more one understands that grief is a process through which one travels and heals. For me, it really helps to believe in the possibility of life after death. I relish the stories of patients in palliative care who report visitations from loved ones - people and animals both - by whom they feel loved and welcomed and with whom they converse and reminisce. Some people say that's just a trick of the brain but who cares? Whether this act of kindness comes from the Universe or our synapses, it's still a beautiful thing.
Speaking of beautiful things, I am writing this now with Nate still alive and well, still frisky and attentive. In fact, we've just shared a cup of tea and a treat. Go figure.
Nate enjoying a sweet treat