Friday, 1 October 2010

Deaths in the family

September will never be the same again. Just as my oldest friend's birthday has been forever besmirched by 9/11, September is now also the month that my Mother died, and that I lost my beautiful companion, Mopsa. There in the photo are the two of them together, ten years ago; Mopsa a young and pint sized puppy, and my Mother, the most youthful of 82 year olds.
Seven years after a stroke, and for at least three of those having had enough of life, my Mother finally got her wish on the 2nd of this month. At 92, her life had been long and in many ways troubled. Naturally vivacious and social, she had a bitterness and anger that soured a number of long term relationships, but she also inspired great admiration; she was never boring, always lively, impeccably elegant, the best company.
The bitterness is easily and devastatingly accounted for. A Polish Jew, she and her elder brother were sent by their father from Poland to England to stay with his brother, just before the outbreak of WW2. Her parents and much loved younger brother, for whom I'm named, were to join them later. They never made it. Murdered by the Nazis, memories and a very few photographs were all that remained. And an anger and hate that weaved through her life for more than seventy years. Holocaust was never an historical or distant word in our family; it was the reality, an evil that had robbed us directly, palpably. Just one step removed, I can still hardly imagine what it was really like for my Mother, although the anger that was so deep in her, has now, via the blood of the womb, transmuted into another, less understandable, innate fury in me.
My Mother had requested the sparest of funerals, wanting no fuss at all, and certainly no partying. She asked that my sister, her neighbour of more than 30 years, my husband and myself were the only mourners. Accompanied by Rabbi Melinda, Elgar and Bach, we said our goodbyes. The overwhelming emotion was of guiltless relief; she had had enough.

And then, there's Mopsa. Mopsa has been part of my life for more than ten years, an almost constant companion, and my love for her is simple and real. It will always be so. As soon as I started working from home, I was planning to have my first dog, and I learned all things canine from her. She taught me the wonder of holding her head in my lap as we sat on the floor together, sharing secret looks like naughty twins; the terror of kennel cough caught at puppy classes as her brown eyes looked at me fearfully and trustingly; the excitement of walking through woods and fields as new scents drew us on; the feeling of never being alone when she was with me. Oh, and so, so much more. So big, so beautiful, so warm, so individual, so loving and gentle mouthed. I can never thank her enough for the wonderful pleasures she has given me; everything has been so much more fun with Mopsa there to share it. A walk on the beach, sitting in heaps of drying hay, evenings at home (so very many evenings) when I could drop my hand and stroke her lovely head. I'd tell her she was a beautiful dog every day, because she was, and to have that much beauty in your home and your life is a privilege.
Mopsa did not have a troubled life; she had a perfect doggy existence with people to love, her half sister for company and a farm to play in. She had cats to box and cox with, all kinds of livestock to stalk and eye up, people to lean on and pat with her paw, hands to thrust her nose into and lots to interest her.
But a Bernese does not have a long life, and Mopsa was nearly ten and a half, a veteran. The last few months have been quiet ones for her; no long walks, but days sitting in the farmyard watching all our comings and goings, a few strolls through the orchard, one last trip to the river, and another to the beach. And suddenly a more fastidious appetite, deciding that only steak or roast chicken would do, where absolutely anything was fine before. I was happy to indulge her. And then, two weeks ago, she could no longer walk and I knew that we wouldn't have her with us much longer. We carried her about, came running if she called, spent hours sitting with her. I had to work in London for a few days and phone calls home were decreed as Mopsa-free conversations; I knew I wouldn't be able to work if there was bad news. I drove back from the station late in the evening and there in the doorway, lit up and tail wagging, was Mopsa, welcoming me home. I finally let out the breath I'd been holding in for hours, days.
I wanted, so much, for her to go quietly and in her own time, but yesterday I knew that she had finally had enough, so the vet came, and in my office, where we'd spent so much of our time together, I held her head and crooned to her, telling her how wonderful she was, as she gave her last breath, puffed into my hands for safekeeping.