'How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.' Winnie-the-Pooh

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When Death Comes, by Mary Oliver

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measles-pox;
when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.






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Jella and Ali snuck off into the forest we'd walked in numerous times. 30 minutes later they returned, filthy. Jella was shaking a bit and Ali was darting around, tummy to the ground, eyes wide. Something must have really spooked them. But then we started to recognise the symptoms - the same symptoms we'd seen in Suri a year ago. Convulsing, salivating, retching, and then shitting, pissing. Pesticide poisoning. 
An antidote not existing, the vets gave them the next best thing, something apparently equally dangerous but that would have the opposite effect on their nervous systems. And fluids. Then, waiting.
Within an hour the symptoms had subsided in Ali, but not Jella. "She probably ate more", the vet said. We had to leave and return the following morning, "Call any time in the night if you want to, and we'll call if anything happens..". Jella's scared eyes watched us through the cage, her body convulsing and her tongue curling out.





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The next morning, hearts in our mouths, we went back to the vets. The vets face when she saw us, said it. Ali could come home but we couldn't see Jella, she was in a dark room having seizures. The vet assured us that she had 20 years experience in dealing with this toxin, but that the prognosis was not good if there was no improvement by 4pm. 

At 4pm we held her trembling head in our hands, not sure she even knew we were there.. "Where's Holly?…Where's Angus?", her ears pricked, and at the sound of our names her eyes flicked to ours, her pupils huge. The smell of piss and bleach. That little scab still there between her eyes. Our fingers habitually searched her fur for thorns and ticks. Desperate. We stroked her softly, tried to breath our strength into her body. Come on Jell, you can do it, be strong. We took her collar with us and held tightly to it through the night. 





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Not able to do anything, no appetite. How the fuck are you supposed to pass time? Clock-watching for visiting hours or for an appropriate amount of time to have passed between our calls to ask how she's doing. Counting the hours since she ate the poison, it must have passed through her system by now, she must be improving by now. Clinging to tiny bits of hope: they were giving her the 'antidote' less frequently, they wanted to try to see if she could eat something. Hope. That walk to the door of the vets. That waiting room where we could just see her white fur behind the cage in the room at the end of the corridor. Anxiety roaring. And then we'd see her, just the same. And they reminded us that the toxin can have secondary effects on the vital organs. Grief. Wait. And hope.
3 days passed, the same routine. 





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'Good' Friday 8pm Easter weekend, the words we didn't want to hear, "She's worse." She was breathing through her mouth, a rasping breath. Her lungs were likely shutting down, they said, the secondary effects of the toxin. Pupils still huge, body still convulsing. Why did you have to eat so much Jell? We held our hands on her, told her how much we loved her, willing with all our everything. Out of nowhere she stood up, legs trembling like a baby deer. Held for just a moment before collapsing. They told us if there's no improvement over night we're going to have to come to a decision.

Outside, we fell into each other. The setting sun was so bright, a seemingly timeless world glistening through our tears. As we held each other, the still air morphed into a rushing river of wind, immersing us in it's strength. We stepped wide to not fall over. As if the sun and the wind were holding us, containing our grief, making their presence felt. And then the wind stopped, the sun dipped behind a building. Nothing stays the same.





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At 11pm they called to say she'd died. Unbearable. And yet somehow the whole time, feeling we were failing her by not being able to stay positive, it had been so hard to picture bringing her home. She seemed too far gone, the toxin had taken too strong a grip. 

The sun shone and we sat with her in her place on the outside sofa, the dogs sniffed. In a blink it's her again. Jell Jell, lying there like she always did. And then reaching out to stroke her soft ear, cold. Flies started to land on her eyes. So we dug a deep hole under the copse of cork oaks where she liked to wrestle in the grassy shade with Suri and Ali. We carried down her stiff body, so nearly Jella. In with teddy, and some socks. We trod down on the clay that trod down on her body. Suri licked us softly while we howled. Ali sniffed the empty sofa.





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And life, so flat without her, somehow hard to imagine what life even was, before Jella. It seemed as if everything we'd created was for sharing with her and the animals and now what could be the point in anything. No joy, just sadness so claustrophobic we wanted to crawl out of our skin. Suri and Ali, each having had horrible things happen to them before they were rescued, looked to Jella to remind them that the world was a good place.

Time divided in two: when Jella was alive and now Jella is dead, "We last came here before Jella died…", "I started this when Jella was still alive..." etc. Grief spread, heavy, swallowing the meaning in anything. Everything reminded us of her. Not wanting to feel sad remembering her every detail and at the same time terrified of forgetting.





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Words just don't reach what it was about Jella: A wisdom, a bottom-less supply of joyful enthusiasm, an immense kindness, a peaceful, grounded presence. We've both grown up with animals, loving them all, but every now and then there's one you connect with on a level you can't explain. Jells was our soul doggy. The adventure dog. The adventures we wouldn't have taken if she hadn't been fidgeting next to us in the van, pressing her twitching nose against the window, reminding us to get out into the wilds, to be right there, curious, in the moment. 





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Portugal '16





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The adorable way that wherever we were and whenever she was pleased to see someone, she'd rush off to find a sock. Only a sock would do, she'd rummage in a whole pile of clean or dirty washing until she found the sock she knew was in there somewhere. When her body would wag so hard her tail would hit her shoulders. So gentle, she touched the heart of everyone she met. The way she'd look right at you with those wise eyes and open and close her mouth as if she was talking. Finding fun in every moment: the long grass, the rotting apples, boats to board, new forests, brambles to tunnel, towns to explore, people to greet, water to swim in, socks.





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She had a crafty, insuppressible passion for wandering off on solo adventures, worrying us to death and taking her own sweet time to return, happy and usually filthy. One time in Denmark we had to leave her in the van while we had lunch at someones house who didn't like dogs. She pushed open the window, tore her way through the mosquito netting and leapt out. We spotted her outside the dining room window, sitting on the lawn by the rabbit hutch. That time in Poland when she suddenly wasn't there and we were bereft, no idea which direction she'd gone in, convinced someone had taken her as we ran barefoot across icy fields, wailing. And then she skipped out of the forest with that perfect, contented look on her face.
Infuriating and yet at the same time what made her so Jella. She was a free spirit, she refused to be contained. 





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We have so many things we want to say about this nervous-system attacking pesticide that we humans, not only use to spike food and intentionally poison creatures that are perhaps inconveniencing us, but also spray (almost) world-wide on commercially produced, non-organic food. Ashamed that we, as humans, could consider ourselves more worthy of life than another being. But this is not for here.





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The grief doesn't shrink, but life grows again around it. Joy peeks out like the germinating seeds. We're able to walk around our bit of land with happiness instead of desperate sadness. It bursts with green and new life, reminding us of the cyclical nature of everything. Jell Jell, we miss you so much. And yet we wouldn't have wanted to love you any less, to be less swept away by your wonder, just to soften the pain of your absence. Three and a half magical years. You offered lessons I think we'll be learning for a long time, but perhaps most importantly, you taught to love the world, and being in it, fearlessly. 





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Spring, by Mary Oliver


Somewhere 
a black bear 
has just risen from sleep 
and is staring 

down the mountain. 
All night in the brisk and shallow restlessness 
of early spring I think of her, 
her four black fists 
flicking the gravel, 
her tongue 

like a red fire 
touching the grass, 
the cold water. 
There is only one question: 

how to love this world. 

I think of her 
rising 
like a black and leafy ledge 

to sharpen her claws against 
the silence 
of the trees. 
Whatever else 

my life is 
with its poems 
and its music 
and its glass cities, 

it is also this dazzling darkness 
coming 
down the mountain, 
breathing and tasting; 

all day I think of her— 
her white teeth, 
her wordlessness, 
her perfect love. 




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Thank you so, so much to those people who held us, fed us, and to those who knew the exact words to say and when to say them. We love you.










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