Chapeau

BY DOMINIC WIGHTMAN

A week on from the death of our beloved family dog, Cadbury, things are more serene in the Wightman household. Our children have been most resilient. It is my wife and I, and the remaining chocolate lab, who still mourn. While an air of sorrow is ever-present in the void, the shadows are not winning – prevailing light still disseminates through my choccie best mate’s effervescent spirit.

Compared to last week’s tsunami, grief comes in more survivable waves now. The smallest things kick off these breakers – the remaining dog crying at night, the unnecessary snapping of a Bonio in two, a clump of Cadbury’s fur drifting across the lawn like tumbleweed as it detaches from a shrub in the wind or escapes the tall grass where he loved to roll. There has been catharsis derived from crying and from walking; from writing and from talking.

cads flying

I thought I should write this brief follow-up as a thank you to readers who contacted me after Cadbury died. I am most grateful to you for your kindness. It helped. To those strangers who got in touch – those who are in that same boat in the tempest of mourning – I resend my solidarity with, and empathy to, you. It is important for us to stick together and share pain, as through such supporting bonds the souls of our departed continue to build on their positive legacy.

A colleague of mine fought in some wars and campaigns. I asked him how he coped when he lost a best mate in battle – grief on an extreme scale. Did he reach for the bottle and eradicate the pain that way? Did he seek therapy? Did he close the curtains and weep it out? His answer surprised me. He told me that talking about the departed amongst mates was the best way forward – air the dead. So I have taken my wise soldier friend’s advice and – I ask forgiveness from those who have been on the receiving end – I have talked nonstop Cadbury for a week with all I know, even with unfamiliar faces who I have met on countryside walks. That has really helped too.

Then I received an unexpected gift. Just two nights after Cadbury died, I had a most beautiful dream. I was standing alongside a bright white wall of what looked like cloud and talking through it. I could not make out any shapes or faces. I was talking with my late father who told me what a lovely dog Cadbury was, and that Cadbury wanted to know how to address me. I thought this a strange question at first. Then Cadbury talked to me and asked me the same question. Somehow I knew this voice was indeed Cadbury – who had never needed to address me before in life – and I knew he was with my father in a good and happy place. This immediately put my mind at rest.

“So shall it be Dominic or Daddy?” Cadbury asked.

“Hello my darling! You can talk! Daddy or Dada – as the children call me – will do,” I replied. “How are you? We miss you!”

“I am fine, Dada” Cadbury responded, “I am so sorry for those times when I was naughty. I am sorry that you have been feeling pain. Don’t. Please forgive me.”

“No, no, you were perfect,” I told him through the wall, “I am sorry if I was ever angry at you or failed to notice you. I forgive you if you were ever naughty but I assure you I never saw you being naughty!”

Communication through the wall was somewhat walkie-talkie. Nonetheless the conversation continued…

“I always wondered where my food came from,” Cadbury continued, “what an amazing place we went to today!”

I was confused by this comment then it dawned on me that earlier on that day I had been to Tesco’s and bought a huge bag of dog food for our other dog.

“You were with me?” I asked.

“Yes, I am with you always,” Cadbury answered, “you asked me to wait for you, so I am waiting. I am always A.L.”

I felt a massive wave of reassurance come over me. Knowing that Cadbury’s time on earth was ending, for the last year or so I had told him each evening, “whoever goes first should wait for the other”. I felt some calm and excitement too knowing there was more happiness where they were than where I was – on the other side.

When I had gathered myself, I asked my father through the wall what A.L. meant and, instead of hearing his voice, it was Cadbury who replied:

“At the left – I am walking on your left side wherever you are and wherever you go. Enjoy.”

To which my father chipped in, “as on your right is Jesus.”

Some point after that I slowly woke up and went back over their words in my head. I pulled open my bedroom curtain to see a sky full of stars and reached over for a notebook and pen to write the words down in the moonlight without waking my wife by turning on a bedside lamp. It was only about midnight.

While reassured by the dream, the vastness of this world outside my bedroom window gave me the jitters. As grief once more returned with its set of daggers, I still feared for my boy Cadbury’s soul darting around in the ginormous universe. However, knowing he was alongside my dog-loving father – that was a blessed relief.

Since that dream I have relayed it to many people. Some have listened on wide-eyed and hung on every word while others have looked at me as if I was on magic mushrooms. It is what it is. The beauty of our existence is that so much of it is still unknown. Maybe I have been driven mad by grief? Maybe Cadbury bestowed on me a blessed miracle from the afterlife? Just three things to me now feel certain:

  • Cadbury is still with me. I feel him by my feet right now as I type.
  • There is little that more brings out the emotion in an Englishman than the death of his beloved dog.
  • Only dog lovers will ever understand.

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