Pavane pour une infante defunte – dance for a dead princess – is a slow melancholic melody by Maurice Ravel and induces, for me at least, reflective thinking on life. I wrote an elegy for a young woman last June, a young Filipina whose life was tragically cut short, too short, by cancer.
Now I write a post for another princess near and dear to me, though I can’t claim she leaves us too soon. Still the pain of loss is heavy. Philosophers for millennia have wrestled with the problem of pain, from Aristotle to CS Lewis, balancing pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow. I have talked of this problem at some length in Travels with Myself, my personal journey with grief.
The fact that I have a princess to mourn is itself, ironically I suppose, a gift. If I had not had her life in my life to amuse and entertain me, to care for, to love and be loved, I would have missed a lot of joy, and that easily balances the sorrow of her loss, although in the minutes and hours and days after her life ending it doesn’t feel like an equal offset. We could protect ourselves from future sorrow I suppose if we keep all attachments out of our lives, but then, what sort of life would that be? Mere existence.
The princess in this case was yet another gift from another princess in my life, Marlene.
Bonnie was very special. She was the result of a series of surprise decisions Marlene made that brought joys, and sorrows, into our lives – the family poodles. Born in the makeshift delivery room Marlene had contrived in the upstairs family bathroom, Bonnie was virtually indistinguishable from her six siblings until we marked them with nail polish on various body parts – head, shoulder, tail – but by day three she (head) was already squirming over her siblings and the barricade of towels and headed for the stairs, prompting the early migration of the litter to the basement kennel I had devised. Within weeks she was the first to try to climb over the 18-inch lattice fence, and soon succeeded; she was the first to climb the stairs from the basement and the first to discover the freedom of the backyard to do her business, leading a parade of puppies down the hall. I hated to see the others go to new homes but we kept Bonnie for Show, as she showed by far the most spunk, a quality most prized for success in the ring. She became a Canadian Champion and won Best Puppy in Show three times, just like her mother, Hallelujah. When her show days were done Marlene and I had to face the fact we couldn’t really keep three Standard Poodles (mother Hallelujah, and uncle Max) in our suburban Nepean house. Luckily daughter Alison agreed to give her a trial run and see if husband Tim’s acute allergies could tolerate poodle dander. (Poodles are allegedly hypo-allergenic because they have hair instead fo fur, but…) Tim toughed it out and Bonnie stayed with Alison for the next nine years of her life, with more than a few occasional visits and long stays with the ‘grandparents’. It was heart-warming, and at the same time embarrassing, to see that bundle of black personality show abject submission whenever she saw me again, and pee on the floor. We learned to greet her on the porch before letting her in the house. Was she showing feasance to the alpha dog, or merely echoing appreciation for all the days and nights I spent swabbing the basement kennel.
As the years passed Bonnie found her life becoming more and more stressful – she had to find her role in Alison’s growing family, protecting and herding, first Victor and then Miles. And then tragedy and crisis struck: five days after Marlene succumbed to her cancer and lepto-meningeal disease, Bonnie was afflicted with an episode of gastric dilatation-volvulus (‘bloat’). A hard decision had to be made: at almost 11 years old, should she have emergency surgery or be euthanized? We opted for surgery – she was an active and healthy dog, she deserved a chance to live a little longer. She survived the surgery but her recuperation had to be with Grampa, away from the tumult of life with Alison’s busy boys. Her stay with me lasted almost four years, apart from a seven-month separation while I did a tour in the Philippines with Carmen Beauty in 2019.
At 14 and a half, a dog is getting pretty old, maybe 101 in human life terms, and the ever-eager Bonnie was beginning to slow down. Bonnie was still keen to take her three-times-a-day walks with me, and because she was increasingly quiet and attached, I let her walk freely while I carried her leash. I often think if Bonnie hadn’t come to live with me four years ago, my life, my mental and physical health, would have been a greater struggle than it was.
Because Bonnie was a show dog, we always kept her in fancy cut; not as fancy as her show days, but still, pretty showy. She visited the salon every six weeks; she was an expensive princess. She had her last hair-do in early February and she looked like her glamourous show-days self.
But her appetite was starting to lag. She had always been a lean dog and a picky eater but she was beginning to worry me. I tried different foods to entice her, even fancy canned food. Nothing appealed to her for long, except people food. Then she started to limp. I blamed myself for inadvertently stepping on her foot. But such a minor injury does not cause a tumour.
And so began Bonnie’s own slow pavane with death. I changed the bandages on her ravaged foot daily, I walked a ‘three-legged’ dog every day – she was still eager to go, though roaching was exhausting for her and the walks became shorter and shorter. But Monday I had to carry her home the final leg of her nightly walk around the block. Tuesday I called Claire Place Veterinary Hospice (Mobile Services); we couldn’t take any more suffering and I couldn’t wait for my regular vets at Lynwood Animal Hospital. Bonnie’s suffering came to an end Wednesday at the hands of Dr. Dorothy, a kind and gentle hospice vet, MAID for dogs at home. But mine continued.
The problem of death for the mourner is the pain of loss. It is not the loss of the past – the past is already past, and we still have our memories and photographs. The grief is for the loss of future experience of the departed one; the promise of the future is that we can live again the present we take for granted. But with death, we have no more presents, we can no longer enjoy the company of the lost loved one.
So today I mourn my lost future with Bonnie. I look out in my backyard and see her ghost taking her morning pee. I see her bowls and her bed and know I need to put them away. I walk the routes we daily walked, leash in hand but no dog at the end of it. I explain to neighbours when they ask where my dog is. I tear up every time, despite my claim to an enured heart.
Maybe my much scarred heart will soften. Maybe I can find new tomorrows with another dog, maybe as Grampa to Alison’s new poodle puppy, when she is ready. But for now we remember that beautiful black princess, Ch. Valmara’s Highland Fling Bonnie Doon.
Doug Jordan, reporting to you from Kanata Ontario
© Douglas Jordan & AFS Publishing
All rights reserved. No part of these blogs and newsletters may be reproduced without the express permission of the author and/or the publisher, except upon payment of a small royalty, 5¢.