I am an unashamed mushy pet owner and lover of animals.
I can still remember the morning my mom woke me holding a grown brown Dachshund wearing a knitted jersey. I was six. His name was Poodle Maker (Roughly translates to, ‘Maker of puddles!’), once a dear friend and companion of an elderly Dutch lady. Poodle was my first own dog.
For as long as I can remember, we have had dogs.
There was never a time that some animal was making our suburban home their home. I can remember having two sheep and a goat in our back garden. We had a few geese for a while. There was that long period that we had guinea-pigs and rabbits — hundreds of them — the idiom is true! We had tortoises, hamsters, mice, rats, snakes, fish, parrots, budgies and cockatiels. And we had cats that came and went from time to time, my dad wasn’t a lover of cats, but he tolerated them for us kids.
Before I got my own dog, our two large family dogs Butch and Lassie, were my companions as a kid. All my siblings were in school and I was alone at home during the day. The dogs became my friends. I can remember sitting on Butch’s back and riding on him like a horse! Playing outside with the dogs was some of the best times you could have as a kid. We had a sports field across the street from our house, where we would take the dogs to go play fetch with a tennis ball.
My parents made sure there were always animals around — especially dogs. Each of us kids had a special bond with a dog growing up. As kids, the responsibility to take care of an animal taught us to love them. But for all that having a dog or a cat as a family friend teaches you, an important life lesson lies in its passing.
As a small child, I remember when Poodle died. He was run over by a car, in front of me outside my house. I remember how much I cried and how heart-sore I was. I couldn’t understand why this best friend of mine was so suddenly taken away? I held him in my arms and cried for long after he had stopped breathing. We buried him in the back garden, a tomato-box wooden cross, and flowers picked from the garden on his grave.
My grandmother on my dad’s side — Ouma Nel — was a no-nonsense granny that was always grumpy and in a bad mood. She didn’t particularly like kids, and if they were around, they best be seen and not heard. She was also the first person I knew personally, that passed away. I was seven. I remember being woken by the phone ringing in the dining room, late one night. My dad answered and I could hear by his voice, that something bad had happened. On hearing that she had died, I sank down onto my haunches and sobbed.
Although Ouma Nel wasn’t my favourite gran, I felt the loss of someone beloved. It was a feeling I remembered, that felt familiar and good — although laden with pain. But this time, I was somehow better prepared for dealing with the pain.
Allow yourself time to grieve your loved-ones that have crossed over. May the happy memories of their time spent here on earth, wipe away the pain of their loss.
Originally published at https://www.leapfirst.co.za on July 26, 2020.