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ANIMALS AND BEREAVEMENT, by Bette Hopkins

My late partner, Hugh, died a little over a year ago totally without warning. One moment it seemed he was mowing the lawn, and the next I found him dead upstairs. The shock proved too much for me and within twenty-four hours I ended up in hospital with a heart attack. 

A sudden death is no fun for the living – first I ran to my neighbours in a complete panic, then we dialed 999 for the ambulance crew, then the family started to turn up, then the police (because it was an unexplained death), and finally the undertaker, all milling around trying to be helpful. In the chaos I hurried the dogs out to the conservatory as they were barking every time the doorbell rang. Later, I regretted they did not get a chance to say, ‘good-bye’ to Hugh as they would have been perceptive enough to know that he had left us and only his shell remained. 

I was not only feeling shocked but was also in pain and before I knew it, I, too, was being carted off to hospital by my daughter as a precaution. We both fully anticipated I would soon be sent home with some tablets to calm me down. That was not the case, and I ended up staying in hospital for twelve days. My daughter had no choice but to take my two Bolognese, Bijou and Alba, back to her household, which is chaotic to say the least and already full of dogs, cats, chickens and horses.  They were as shell-shocked as I was and must have realised that something bad had happened. At least I knew what it was, where Hugh was, and where I was, but suddenly they were without either of us and in a strange place and, dare I say it, a household used to big dogs and not the needs of Bolognese. Where was Mom, where was Dad, and where was Dollop the Maine Coon cat, who more often than not, shared their baskets and beds with them? There was no choice but to put Dollop in the cattery, but he had been there when I found Hugh and was aware that something traumatic had happened. 

Twelve days later the three of them were back with me, but they all kept expecting Hugh to appear, and for weeks afterwards would race to the door expecting him to walk through it. For me, their eyes said it all. Bolognese always have beautiful dark black eyes, but now they were different, made even darker by the look of pain and bewilderment they now contained. It is hard enough to explain these things to another human being but how do you explain to your dogs that, ‘Dad isn’t coming back? ‘ Certainly, they grasped my deep sorrow and unhappiness. 

These were dark days for the four of us and Bijou and Alba never left my side, following me from room to room, acutely aware of my endless pacing, restlessness and sorrow. Usually, they slept in their crates in the kitchen, but for the next few weeks I took them to bed with me along with Dollop, needing to feel the comfort of their warm bodies next to me. The girls used to play wild chasing games, but this totally stopped for several months as if they didn’t have the heart to play anymore. Alba took to jumping onto the chair where I was sitting, and wedging her body tight against my back, whether to comfort me or herself I never knew. A year later and she still does this – and I still find it comforting! Dollop has taken over the role of ‘Keeper of the Bedchamber’ and is glued to my side every night (I was afraid that Bijou and Alba would become too addicted to bed with Mommy so they are back in the kitchen, more often than not sharing the same crate and bed). 

I frankly do not think I would have survived this year without my Bolognese girls and Dollop – who says cats and dogs do not get along? They gave me something to live for and their devotion, intuition, and understanding of my grief, have helped me through what was a very bad time – and the second such event in eleven years when I lost my husband, Richard, in quite similar circumstances. Bijou and Alba have started to play their wild games again and make me laugh with their crazy antics. To me this means they have come to terms with their grief, and it is a signal that we are all ready to move on.  

Bette Hopkins

 

Melanie Thomas, Chairperson

Melanie Thomas, Chairperson

I live in St Leonards on Sea, East Sussex with 2 Bolognese and I show one of my dogs.

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