My father died earlier this week. It is deeply deeply sad, and he is much mourned by his family and friends, but it was also a blessed release. He had been unable to walk for some years, and towards the end we discovered that he was suffering from Lewy Body disease.
This is a surprisingly little know neurodegenerative dementia considering that at least 5 percent of 85 year olds are thought to suffer from it. It shares the mental symptoms of confusion and loss of memory with Alzeimer’s, but the really distinguishing feature for many of those suffering from this disease are the visual hallucinations. For many these are visions of animals. In my father’s case, it was a black dog.
I don’t think the black dog was really surprising because there had been a black dog in the family several years ago. Brackler was of mixed Springer and Labrador parentage, and originally came to live with Hugh (my first husband) and me in Devon in 1978. He was a fine dog – almost completely black, apart from a white flash under his chest. Apart from this, he could easily be mistaken for a pure Labrador.However, he had inherited a wild untamed need-to-explore trait from his Springer mother, and when my son was born in 1980, I couldn’t cope with Brackler, so he went to live with my parents in Kent. Memorably, Hugh and my father met to pass Brackler on to his new owners at Guildford Cathedral – a place forever etched in my father’s mind as completely miserable because Hugh was so extremely upset to have to part with his dog.Brackler went on to live an extremely happy life with my parents. When they moved to Budleigh Salterton in 1987, he took to amazing sea swimming. He would swim the entire length of the bay from the red cliffs at the west of the beach to the River Otter without break. A very powerful dog. My father adored him, and grieved terribly when he died in 1992. (They went on to have another dog, Pellow – featured in the photo below.)A couple of days after my father’s death, one early afternoon, we were visited by a black and white collie dog running round the Seaview properties. It was racing around, up into our gardens and off into the fields – a sloppy walker I thought, not walking with their dog conscientiously.
But later in the afternoon, by teatime, it was back – in our garden, nosing around the fat balls that we crumble up for the birds to eat on the path. It ran away when I went up to it – clearly shy and anxious. It had a broken leather lead round its neck, looking as though it had been tied up and pulled free.
It kept on running off into the fields and back into our garden – was clearly hungry. So I went to our neighbours’ house to get Jan and Craig to help me catch it.
They are very experienced dog-owners who originally hailed from Gateshead, but have been tempted to Spittal like us because of the beauty of the place. Jan says she’s half gypsy. She’s a carer, and if I was old, ill or dying, I would like her to care for me – she’s a wonderfully warm woman.
Anyhow, we couldn’t catch the dog. It kept on running off into the fields – miles and miles away, we could just see the small black dot. We were worried because we are quite close to the main eastcoast railway line. Then it would come careering back.
Eventually, Jan got close enough to give it some food. It scoffed everything really quickly. She managed to stroke it – then it bared its teeth, so she left off.
We rang the police – but they won’t help as they no longer have facilities to house lost dogs. I rang the local council dog warden. Somebody else locally had reported the dog. They also wouldn’t help – unless we caught it, and then they would come and take it away.
We just couldn’t catch it, so eventually we tempted it into our greenhouse with food and water, and left a blanket in there for it to sleep in. The idea was that in the morning we hoped to find it asleep, shut the greenhouse door and phone the authorities.
As we hung around in the twilight trying to tempt the collie in, I told Jan that my father had just died. Lightbulb moment! “That’s why the dog is here! It’s come from your dad, he wants you to know he’s alright!”
Stephen and I had a small chuckle about this later in the evening – but it felt curiously comforting.
In the morning the dog was gone
I’m with Hamlet on this one: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
One of my favourite photographs of my father, taken in the garden of No 5 embassy house, Tokyo, during the snowy spring of 1967. Behind is the Diamond Hotel which featured strongly in our childhood dinner conversations as we could see it very clearly from the dining room, and my father would regularly comment on the seasons with the (to me) immortal phrase:” Soon we won’t be able to see the Diamond Hotel any more.” It was code for spring approaching. It is lovely to remember him smiling, happy and having fun!