by Jon Biddle
This week has been overshadowed by the loss of our dog Merlin. I need to obiturate him, because to us, he was so, so wonderful.
He was, in essence, the most stubborn asshole of a dog that has ever walked this planet. He hated the car, he would whine, to the point of divorce between Sam and myself as we drove short distances.
He hated visiting. The only place for him was home, or the river, any river that comes with a bit of a forest and a large field. Whenever Sam and I would visit someone else’s house, he would stand by the front door, grunting. If we stayed overnight in the said house, he would stay awake all fucking night, grunting. So we stopped visiting.
He has been sick for some time now. His arthritis had blighted him for most of his life, having both cruciate’s repaired before he was two, and during the recovery phase of one of those operations, the douche bag jumped over the stair gate, the hole still in the wall as he destroyed the expensive barrier. Just so he could sleep next to Sam.
He went through his life with only two things, to eat, and to love. He didn’t need creature comforts. One of his favourite places to sleep was on top of an extension lead, with plugs fitted, next to Sam’s side of the bed. I even, during his illness, bought an expensive bed for him… so he could sleep on the floor next to it.
The one thing that Merlin excelled in was love. Everyone loved him. So gentle was his soul, that you failed to not love him, so big was his personality, that you had to notice him. He was a force of presence and he knew it. He had this misguided notion that he was in charge; the trick was to let him think that. Something Sam was an expert in.
I, on the other hand, would fight him for it, both egos of masculinity clashing like David and Goliath.
But in his autumnal years, he slowed. His bombastic’ness was replaced with a steadiness that I loved the most. He was steadfastly loyal, and a beautiful friend.
I first noticed his heart was playing up at Christmas. He wasn’t fast, in fact. He trotted behind me on my winter walks in a place called Peacemarsh. A path that had a field, a forest, and a river. All the components he would love while we remained dry.
He was panting and out of breath. I put it down to just his age. When we returned from Dubai in the January, I then had to take notice. The breathing had changed. My medical knowledge knew that his heart was struggling, ascieties was building in his guts, a fair old sign that the heart was congesting and not pumping right, we couldn’t ignore the inevitable.
We took him to the vet and congestive heart failure was suspected; they prescribed meds, exercise would not cure him, it wasn’t a fitness thing. It was the killer from within, a genetic coding that said his time was almost up with us.
This would always be just a matter of time.
When you try to look at the positives about the lockdown and the need to socially isolateand be off work, with this in mind, I am so very grateful that I spent the last three months with him following me around, and spending time with him. Lying on the floor and bugging him, or trying to start a wrestling match, of which, after a couple of minutes, he would slope off, exhausted. This is something that I am grateful for.
Then we come to the horrible bit. The time we spent discussing him, while he lay, groaning and uncomfortable. Still wanting to eat, and still wanting to go out, he wasn’t a big tail wagger, acerbic, stoic and dogmatic in his thinking, the wag was always a slight one, only slight, but his eyes betrayed his feelings. Merlin would smile through his eyes and the birds would sing. His eyes were still smiling, which made our decisions even more difficult.
The children stole some time away and come down to see him, say their goodbyes, but they had said their goodbyes years ago. When they left home, part of that detachment of leaving home was to … leave the dogs.
I remember vividly, dropping my daughter Devon off at University, coming home to an empty house as Sam was in the States working. I sat on the Ottoman to have a game of GTA, and my heart just opened and wept for losing my daughter. It was Merlin that came to me, nudged me, leaned against me, and stuck by me for the rest of the day. Absorbing my pain and shrugging it off his broad shoulders.
On Wednesday night, we were watching the news late, or should I say the American sitcom that is the Donald Trump Show. Merlin couldn’t lie down anymore, it exhausted him. The fluid building in his lungs when he lay and then sitting back up on his ravaged arthritic pelvis. There was no respite. He went out for his nightly constitutional; he came to me after; the smile had vanished in his eyes. It was this night, I had a dream. The dream was in Duncliffe.
He was running, and he came up to me, like he was three. Young and full of vigour, the tail, bugger me I thought he would take off. It was his old self. The wise self, with all of those years behind him. I knew in my dream this was not a reflection, but a present reality, and that my sub-conciseness was communicating with Merlin’s.
I know this sounds to some utterly crazy, but I truly believe this, they connect us on levels humanity refuses to believe. The amount of people that Merlin connected with over the years have said since his passing, that he visited them in their dreams. Happy, full of life, the world would be okay.
I knew from that second that we had to make that call to the vet. It’s what he wanted, it’s what he was desperate for.
I fed him that morning, reluctantly; he forced himself to eat, and I sat and watched him as my heart poured out. He looked up from his bowl, saw that I was in distress, walked over and nudged me with his crusty dry nose “it will be okay!” I felt him say, the eyes filled with love but dulled, his sparkle was missing.
He went back and finished while my mind unravelled with many emotions and pain. The grieving had started and he hadn’t gone yet.
Throughout the day, both Sam and I put on a brave face while inside, my soul was weeping uncontrollably.
Then the time to take him to a field (no river) and for him to smell the P-mail, feel the grass on his face and the soft warm earth under his feet. We FaceTime’ed our wonderful children so they could share this very intimate, and private moment, a moment that will stay with me forever.
This is the part that hurts the most.
The clinical tones of officialdom. He was happy; we were not. The vet took him in and prepped him.
Sam and I went into the room, Merlin was so happy to see us, his ears down, eyes wide, the sparkle there and a big wag of his tail, he knew what this was it; it was time for him to go. Time for the longest of walks, time to run free, time for him to set us free. Normally combative and resistant to anything vet related, he was calm, and, at peace.
We said our goodbyes as the barbiturate was pushed. And I felt the last beat of my beautiful Merlins heart. Gone forever but never ever forgotten. He slumped in our arms as he crossed that bridge. The tension in him evaporated, the tension that had coursed through his body for most of his life.
He defied all things in life and passed over in such a wonderful way. My heart sings for him, but he has left a weeping, torn out heart in both of our lives. A hole that will heal in time. But my entire being lies in ruins.
The secrets I shared with ‘the Girlin’ and the drama the children over the years have shared. He shouldered the responsibility as the family confidant with such brevity.
To my gorgeous wife. The clip clop of his paws every morning to her office following her, and the nonsensical one side conversations she has every morning as she goes downstairs for her morning coffee, but merlin ever present, a constant reminder that the transaction for your burdens is breakfast, and make it a big one, please.
We came home, grief stricken. To a house that was, after the 13 years of him being in it, finally quiet. A quiet that wasn’t unkind or uncomfortable, but the quiet of peace, serenity and beauty. His energy is in here, but it’s clean, pure and something kinda beautiful.
The most pitiful I felt was the morning after. He wasn’t downstairs waiting by his bowl, sitting awkwardly, waiting, very patiently for his breakfast. The noise no longer there, the quiet of the morning was deafening to me, I broke down in the kitchen, another realisation that he was no longer here, present.
My heart wanted burst.
I am gonna miss the Curley Monster, the clatter-bug that enriched the four of us. We were inextricably changed because of him, the cement that held the love of my family together.
Thank you Merlin, for giving us the best years, and sharing your wonderful life, we constantly share your sublime, pure energy for the rest of our lives, and until I get to walk over that rainbow bridge and take you up Dunners again, I love you from the bottom of my heart.
Rest in peace, my beautiful, beautiful friend.