It was late on a lovely Friday night, a week before Christmas, that she gave up her fight. Marque 1 had been going to take her out for a cuddle but when he lifted the hood from her bed area she was no longer for the cuddling. He beckoned to me to come and have a look. We knew it was imminent. We were all prepared. Until. I had to steel myself. There she lay on her soft pink cotton wool bedding, unmoving. A deep guttural sob came from somewhere. I looked around the room to discover that it was not him in the corner nor marque 1 himself but perhaps someone closer to home that seemed to be over-reacting. We were ready for this, remember? A steady decline. A rasping squawking noise. Falling asleep in our hands. And yet. I felt utterly nauseous at the idea of delivering this news to marque 2, her owner, and indeed all the others.
‘Leave it until the morning’ the corner voice said. ‘It would be too unsettling to tell them now’. Yeah, right. There was no way I could keep this from marque 2. Unconscionable. I trod heavily up the stairs. He was tucked up watching a You Tube video. I took a deep breath, stroked his back, delivered the dread as well as I could, heard a stifled sob, from that unintended source again, and then brought him down to see her. I’m aware that the death of a much loved pet is harrowing but ultimately good. It’s a good way, I’ve been told, for them to learn about death. Then again, I’m sure it has something to do with how the adults role model dealing with it. So far I was pretty sure that I was failing them, spectacularly.
It was the next day, when I was hunting for the perfect casket to bury her in that it dawned on me. It was as I stood in M & S asking an assistant at a display stand if she had any of the little golden oval boxes with the expensive Christmas truffles, empty, that I could have.
‘For the kids, you see, they’ve to bury their hamster today and it’s a perfect size and shape and…’ Her eyes were glistening looking at me, reading me as I gabbled on, croaky voiced, and I knew it then. My despairing was about the hamster and not about the hamster. It was about other losses too. Bringing the rawness singing from the core.
There were no empty golden little boxes. Other things were produced in an attempt to assuage me. But they wouldn’t do at all, at all. The box was purchased. Nine salted caramel dark chocolate dusted truffles were consumed, at a euro a pop, and the perfect casket was prepared. But we were not yet ready to bury her. Take your time, I told marque 2. There’s no need to rush this. And so she stayed, lying in state, for one more night with us.
The burial was a beautiful moment that will remain with us. At dusk on the Sunday we all gathered around the bottom of the garden. Once the deep hole was dug we stood back, us parents, and watched. She was carefully lowered. They put rocks over the golden box to deter scavengers. Then marque 2 shovelled the earth back and offered the spade to his brothers for a turn each. It was eerie in a way, watching them, their silhouettes, acting with such cohesive solemnity. A flash of things to come. Then the spade was offered to us and we did our little bit. That night the celebration of her time with us began. We sat around the fire sharing curries and memories, laughter without tears. Every so often though someone would go to the back door and peep out into the dark, oh so cold night. ‘It’s good that it’s cold’ I heard myself saying, but not believing. ‘Less chance of a grave robbery’.
It was the little things over the days that followed that got to us. I couldn’t look at, much less purchase, broccoli or cucumber, which she loved. Her little bowl with her last bits of food. Do we just chuck it out? Her water bottle, water still in it? Some adult around here will probably take charge, know exactly what to do with it all I thought. So the cage with everything, as was, got stored under the table for a while. Until the unbitten cucumber fossilised and we copped on that she wasn’t about to surprise us all, like in many dreams that were being had, and pop out of her bed for some fun.
Time. Humour. The quest for another pet. Of a very different sort. These have been the cure alls. Two weeks later we were travelling West for New Year’s. A little bit sick leaving her all alone to mind the fort. But then marque 4 pipes up:
‘Wait a second, whose going to feed her, the birds? Or will she be the one feeding them?’ Three rows of laughter and a foot pressed hard on the accelerator. There are more adventures to begin.