I know that the word bereaved means to be deprived of someone you love, through absence or death. I know that it derives from “reave,” which has its roots in the Germanic language and comes from the word for “to rob.”
Willie (1998-2014). — Photo by Pam Frampton/The Telegram
And now, I not only know what it means and where it came from, but how it feels.
Last week, my husband and I had to make the difficult decision to have our little grey dog euthanized.
When I think of the word “bereft,” I picture us on a raft, without oars, being tossed along on a winding river of grief. Sometimes the water is still and placid, and sometimes it’s roiling and rough.
If you think that’s amplifying the loss of a pet, that’s fine, but it’s how we feel.
Willie was a poodle-terrier cross who turned up in my life unannounced at age two and seemed to know I needed him before I even knew myself. He stayed for as long as he could. He would’ve been 16 in June.
My father likes to say he was as close to a human being as a dog could be, but I prefer to think of his many wonderful attributes as being purely of his own breed. He was loyal and loving, curious and joyful.
He was a charming con artist who could wheedle treats out of you like nobody’s business. A German filmmaker of my acquaintance called him a “cheeky chiseller,” and that was pretty close to the mark. Turn your back and you might find that the entire contents of a cheese tray had mysteriously vanished, or the whole layer of toppings from your pizza.
He had discriminating tastes. He loved asparagus and salmon, ice cream and green beans, which, when he was younger, he would shake vigorously to ensure they were dead before eating them. He had a special fondness for roast pig, which he only had the opportunity to try on one occasion, our neighbours’ anniversary garden party, which was undoubtedly the happiest day of his life due to the sheer abundance of food and attention he received.
He thrilled to the sound of ice cubes clattering into a galvanized bucket on summer evenings, because he knew it meant we were headed to the backyard and there were bound to be doggy hors-d’oeuvres.
He liked Cheerios for breakfast, but most particularly crumpets with peanut butter, and he would attempt to herd you into the kitchen if you did not present them quickly enough first thing in the morning.
He abhorred boats and elevators and would flatten himself to the ground, braced for stability, whenever he had to get in one.
“Golden slumbers fill your eyes Smiles awake you when you rise Sleep pretty darling do not cry And I will sing a lullaby.” — The Beatles
In his last year, when he was touched by dementia, he became very vocal in the evenings, but despite my husband’s best exhortations to have him “sing to Jesus!,” to “shout out to the Lord!” he was never much of a singer, gospel or otherwise.
But he was a very good companion. He loved his family, his neighbours and his many friends. He gave affection unstintingly.
Most of all he loved my husband and me, and we were an inseparable threesome, particularly after the kids started university.
The only day he did not greet us by barrelling boisterously down the stairs was last Thursday, May 1.
When we got home from work, he wasn’t there waiting, and when we called to him, there was no answer. We found him slumped against a folded stack of linen, hind legs wet from having peed himself, panting hard. He was clearly panicked, scared and unable to stand.
The veterinarian said he had had a neurological episode, likely a stroke, that at his age he would not recover.
As the sedative took effect and his brown eyes began to droop, we hugged and kissed him and told him he was loved.
His vet had always told him he was an angel with the “heart of a rock star,” but eventually his heart stopped beating.
It was a difficult decision, but one we absolutely believe was the kindest thing we could do for him, the last and most loving thing. No one deserves to suffer.
He had given so much to us: smiled his way through every day; jumped with unabashed joy at being offered something as mundane as a ride in the car to the supermarket; showed us how to express happiness with utter and complete abandon.
There should be obituaries for pets. “Willie Frampton Payette, passed peacefully away surrounded by those who loved him most, at the age of 15.”
Somewhere, I know his tail is wagging still.
Pam Frampton is a columnist and The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: pam_frampton