It is one month since my beloved cavalier King Charles, Brewster died. He was almost thirteen years old, my friend, my companion, my protector, and a warm, loving link with my husband.
Brewster came into my life when my husband was in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s. He walked into the house, turned into the library, and climbed on my husband’s lap. And right into both of our hearts. And some years later, when Alzheimer’s had a greater hold on my husband, and conversation was very limited, he would still remember to ask, “Where is my doggy?”
And his doggy was right beside him, along with the rest of the family, when Oscar died.
As I mourned, so did Brewster, sleeping on Oscar’s pillow, looking at me, questioning me, “Where is my master?”
In those months after Oscar’s death, I don’t think I would have gotten out of bed, had it not been for Brewster. The temptation to just pull the sheets up over my head, give in to grief, and let the rest of the world go by was tremendous. But I could not. Brewster needed to be fed, Brewster needed to be walked, and Brewster liked and got attention.
He was a beautiful boy -in dog parlance his color was known as Ruby but it was more terra-cotta than that, with platinum streaks. Women stopped to rub his ears, envious of his coloring. Children adored him, and he them. Other dog owners asked about his breed. He was clearly a Cavalier, but he was big for the breed, so confusion was understandable. Slowly, as Brewster pulled me into the world, I began to reconnect with it. The grief remains, and always will, but it no longer paralyzes me. Thanks to Brewster.
As he had spent a lot of time with my daughter’s two Labs, Luna and Clemmie, he preferred big dogs to little ones but like all of his breed, he recognized his cousins. He had very nice dog manners, put up with puppies pawing him and nipping at his ears or climbing on him, with unlimited patience. The love of his life was Clemmie and although he had neither the equipment or the height to consummate that love, he never gave up trying. And if there had been a cartoon balloon over Clemmie’s head, it would have said, “Men! What can you do about them.”
At home he liked scotch flavored ice cubes, and was a frustrated decorator. Wherever there were cushions, he was there, sorting them, examining them, throwing some on the floor, rearranging the rest to suit himself and then carefully circling himself down into a comfort zone on top of them. He had no interest in toys, or balls, or games, or tricks. Brewster had decided that it was enough in life just to be. A lesson all of us could use from time to time.
We were joined at the hip. I organized my small social life around his needs. No dog walkers for me – whatever the weather, I was up and out with him four times a day, and always home to give him his meals. His favorite time of the day was the cocktail hour when I had my scotch and he had his bone stuffed with cheese and we sat together to look at television. What a vocal critic he was.
I miss him terribly and many friends, knowing what he meant to me have sent me notes and cards. The Canadian actress, Nuala Fitzgerald Cowan, sent me a Rudyard Kipling poem that will resonate with all dog owners:
The Power of the Dog, Rudyard Kipling, 1865-1936
“There is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day;
And when we are certain of sorrow in store,
Why do we always arrange for more?
Brothers and sisters, I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.
Buy a pup and your money will buy
Love unflinching that cannot lie –
Perfect passion and worship fed
By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.
Nevertheless it is hardly fair
To risk your heart for a dog to tear.
When the fourteen years which Nature permits
Are closing in asthma, or tumor, or fits
And the vet’s unspoken prescription runs
To lethal chambers or loaded guns
Then you will find – it’s your own affair
But — you’ve given your heart to a dog to tear.
When the body that lived at your single will,
With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!).
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone — wherever it goes — for good.
You will discover how much you care,
And will give your heart to a dog to tear.
We’ve sorrow enough in the natural way
When it comes to burying Christian clay.
Our lives are not given, but only lent,
At compound interest of ten percent.
Though it is not always the case, I believe,
That the longer we’ve kept ’em, the more we do grieve:
For, when debts are payable, right or wrongs,
A short-time loan is as bad as a long —
So why in — Heaven — (before we are there)
Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?”
Dear Brew: My heart is torn, but I can bear it because it was worth it, to love you and to be loved by you. Climb on OScar’s lap and wait for me.
THAT WAS BEAUTIFUL “POWER OF THE DOG” I remember Brewster -thanks for sending to me Hope you are fine Love Bea
Dear Joan, I understand your grief and pain. I am going through the same thing and find it impossible to think about or do anything else . Fred is my fourth mini poodle . I swore when I lost the third one I would never let my heart break that way again. But for three months I came home to an empty house and couldn’t stop crying . I knew I had to find another soulmate and ultimately I did. Fifteen years seems like an instant and although he has endured longer than his predecessors I feel it is just not enough time. Someone once said ( can’t remember which writer) that the tragedy of life is the gap between the lifespan of a pet and his master/mistress. Fred is failing now and I don’t expect him to last much longer . I wish he would pass naturally . Thank you for this column which resonated so deeply with me. All the best , Barbara ( Weiser)
Sent from my iPhone
Joan this is so beautifully written, so heartfelt. I have never owned a dog, so I could say it is difficult for me to imagine what he brought to your lives, but you have conveyed it so well, I clearly know how blessed you are.
How I enjoy your writing. It’s been 2 years and 7 months since Bill died. I’m always glad to read your columns. I have copies of your former columns after Oscar died and you have filled my heart with comfort, many times. Blessings to you, my friend.
Condolences from Carol and me. We feel for you.
P.S. Yesterday would have been Eddieâs 100th birthday. Goodmans
had a lunch for the staff and lawyers to remember and pay (a very moving) tribute
to him. Iâm glad I crashed.
Dear Joan: I put this aside to read when I had more time. McDuff the golden grieved for Cam the rest of his life….. 11 of his 16. And we still grieve for McDuff constantly. Tom and I decided not to have another dog…. but we joined Trusted House Sitters…. and care for other people’s dogs and cats. That helps. Thinking of you sam
Touchingly beautiful. Thank you. As someone who lost loved ones to Alzheimers and beloved dogs, I offer my deepest condolences.
So much beauty, compassion, tenderness, resonance and power in your words. Thank you. Warm hugs.