Sunday, 27 March 2011

The Things I did not say

Posted By Tania Kindersley.

The sun is shining. It has been a good, productive week. I am generally happy. I have very little about which to complain. And yet, and yet.

I told you, a few weeks ago, that one of my dogs was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. I told you how it struck at my own heart. Since then, I have decided on a stoical and optimistic strategy. The pills seem to be working; there are things to be done. The magical thinking kicks in: I can keep her alive, if it kills me.

What I did not say is that I took her to see the vet again on Friday. He was not optimistic. He is pleased that her lungs have been cleared of fluid, thanks to the miracle of medication. But as he listened to her poor old ticker, with his stethoscope, he frowned. The murmur is still pronounced. That will not get better. That will be the end of her.

Oh, I said, a little plaintive, but you know, she is well in herself. He nodded. I waited, hoping he would give me good news. He would not. He will not say it, quite, out loud, but we both know she is in her final months. For all that she pricks her ears and lopes along like a panther when we take our morning walk, I know that everything is not quite normal. I do not need the vet to tell me that.

Unlike her soft sister, she is the independent dog. She has a cat-like tendency to take herself off on her own. She is the wanderer, the one who does not come when she is called. (She gives me her Duchess look, and carries on with what she is doing, and returns in her own sweet time.) When we are sprawled out on the sofa in the evening, she is the one who will suddenly sigh, jump down, and spread herself out on the floor. When she does this, she looks back at me, with her amber eyes, as if to say: don't take it personally. She just likes a hard surface.

I always know when something is not quite right, because she gets needy. This is most unlike her. She is doing this now. As I sit at my desk and type, she comes and rubs herself against my knees. I keep my eyes on the screen, and stretch down my left hand, to rub her ears. She pushes her head against my leg, as if to say: concentrate. She butts her nose towards me, as if to say: come on, I am more important than those mere letters.

Her sister, who is the intuitive one (she licks tears off my face when I cry during sad films) also knows something is up. She will not move from The Duchess's side, and indulges in frantic grooming sessions.  They have a sweet habit of tidying each other, cleaning eyes, ears, eyebrows with gentle, tender movements of the tongue, but at the moment it is all one-sided. The dear Pigeon licks and licks and licks, as if by that very action she can make it all better.

Last night, I was watching Ashes to Ashes. I had not seen it on the television. I was delighted to catch up with it now. It was so funny and clever and well-written that I laughed out loud. It took me back to my own days in the eighties, when I used to go to the Embassy, and hang out with entirely unsuitable gentlemen, and wandered up and down the King's Road, in the days when what is now Marks and Sparks was The Great Gear Market, and the benches outside Safeway were populated with Chelsea Pensioners and punks called Spit and Razor. (Actually, they were very nice suburban boys who would come up on the tube from Amersham; it was just they had piercings and green hair.) As I watched, I stretched out my hand to the Duchess's chest. I could feel her heart, struggling, beating in a ragged, irregular pattern, banging against her ribcage. When I felt the Pigeon in the same place, there was a steady, low, strong beat. I did not need a special veterinary implement to see the difference.

I rolled the Duchess onto her back. She gazed up at me with her straight, grand gaze. I said, out loud: Could you not live for ever?

I said: I cannot imagine life without you.

That is what I have not said.

Pictures of the day are on one, glorious note:

27th March 1

27th March 2

27th March 3


27th March 6

27th March 5

27th March 8

There is a voice in my head which says: well, all that is a bit self-indulgent, is it not? But then I think: what the hell else is a blog for? If you can't indulge, once in a while, then I don't know what else you can do.

No hill today. My mind is with my beautiful canine, and that's enough.


  1. I've just broken my heart weeping reading this, I then passed it to the husband, a man who rarely cries, and he did the same.
    We then cuddled Fig.
    I can't say anything to help, all I can say is I understand, we understand...and are thinking of you.
    and Jon.x

  2. Oh Anne - how lovely you and the dear husband are. Thank you.

  3. No, not self-indulgent at all. Your concern for wonderful old Duchess will reach out and speak to many of us, I know, so it's more a valuable form of sharing.
    She looks so incredibly knowing, so composed. Probably comes not only from her personality, but knowing that she's in consistently loving and capable company, too.
    Do take care.

  4. You so often share extraordinary beauty with us, Tania, and even through great sadness this is one of the most beautiful. Your hill is one magical creation; the mutual love and respect and happiness-sharing of your beautiful canines is another.

    Whether the Duchess shares your life for weeks, months or years more, her lifespan will have been immeasurably longer - because it's multiplied by the number of lives she touches through your photographs and your words.


  5. Tilda - such a very lovely comment. Thank you so much.

    Cassie - enormous kindness by you, so much appreciated by me. Thank you.

  6. I've never considered myself a 'dog person', but through your blog I have developed strong feelings for your beautiful dogs and my heart is breaking for all three of you.

  7. Despite being an avid reader, I've never commented before and never thought it would be when you write about your beloved dogs. You see, I am not a dog person. At all.
    However this post struck a chord with me simply because of the way you describe unspoken bonds and the most loyal love that Duchess gives you... Some of the best blog posts I've ever read are the personal, spontaneous and heartfelt so indulge away, please.
    Love to you and Duchess,

    Bird x

  8. Susan - the amazing thing is that I was never a dog person either, and these are the ones that converted me. Thank you for such a lovely comment.

    Bird - what a very kind thing to say. So glad that you felt moved to comment for the first time.

  9. I am so sad for you. I can say or do nothing to help.

  10. But Mystica - your always kind and generous comments DO help. It is very touching to know people half way across the world are thinking of one. So thank you.

  11. My heart goes out to you. I don't know what else to say. But my heart goes out to you. Take care.

  12. Oh Tania, what a wonderful and elegiac post you wrote today.
    I felt moved all the way through: what a rare priviledge to be able to witness such wonderfully strong bond between the three of you.
    And for you to make time to do it on just such a wonderful weekend.
    You are marking these precious moments by sharing them with us. How can than that be in any way indulgent?
    Tender love to the Duchess.
    All three of you are in my mind,
    Cristina x

  13. Tania, you write so beautifully about such heart ache. I wept as I read please don't feel you are indulgent, you are writing what we all feel when a dear, beloved dog is unwell.
    Jude x

  14. Dear Tania, what a beautiful post. I feel for you about The Duchess, but you can't do more than you are doing already. She's lucky to have you.

    I'm sure our paths must have crossed in the Embassy or the Great Gear Market.

    Ashes to Ashes is great and so is its predecessor Life On Mars.

    Thank you for your brilliant comment - you're quite right of course about fops and spelling and punctuation, well spotted. You put a smile on my face when I read that xx

  15. A beautiful post Tania. The picture of Pigeon grooming the Duchess was so moving. Will be thinking of you in the weeks ahead.

  16. What a desperately sad time for you. Non-pet people often don't get how they really are family members. Sending my best for the Duchess.

  17. Siobhan - such a very kind thought; thank you.

    Cristina - most touching thing to say. Thank you.

    Jude - really lovely comment. Thank you so much.

    Christina - you are kind. So glad the fops made you laugh. I would also add: sod them if they can't take a joke.

    Connie - how lovely of you; thank you.

    Betty - it DOES feel like a family thing; you are right. Thank you for your kind words.

    Such am amazing array of sweetness and kindness from the dear readers. I am incredibly touched. The old Duch is a bit brighter tonight, and there are very good medications, so let us hope she will go on for a while longer. :)

  18. Oh Tania, this has made me cry. I wish I could make it easier for you. Please know I adore your darling girls from afar and am feeling wretched that this is happening. I am thinking of you and sending much love.

  19. Em - what a very lovely thing to say; thank you.

  20. Oh dear, dear Tania. My heart goes out to you. This is so sad. And of course it's not indulgent in the least. Sending lots of love,
    bw xx

  21. Dogs hold our hearts in their paws. I'm facing the same with my aged Rottweiler and no matter that there are 2 other dogs, the house will still be empty when it's time for her. It NEVER gets easier.

    So from a long time dog person - make memories, love her, spoil her and try (hard as it is) to recognise when it is time - and be with her then. They give us so much love - make it easy for her, it is the last gift of love we can give.

    Love is never an indulgence. Keep the Rescue Remedy on hand for yourself.

  22. Tania,
    I have just had to re-apply my make-up, as I always check in on your blog whilst getting ready. Now the tears are controlled, I must comment.My heart aches...for you, Duchess, Pigeon and anyone out there who understands the absolute, unconditional love that these wonderful creatures provide. We have 2 cockers Alf (Little Dog) who is 11 and Lily (The Pud) who is 9, trips to the vet are more frequent and daunting. When I am work, I have to ring my partner, "What did the vet say?...Is Alf going deaf? Does Lily have fluid on the lungs..." and I fret and I pace , whilst the "non-believers" are bemused by my devotion and concern. When a colleague lost her beloved lab,she was distraught and in bits...a memeber of the HR team said (those dreadful 4 words), "It's only a dog." I had to leave the room to safeguard my job! Our 2 spaniels are our little family, they bring untold joy to mine and Tony's lives. The downside? The ridiculous life-span of canines. Courage mon brave.

  23. Tania, I know just what you are going through. We had to have our beloved Basset hound put to sleep on Friday last week - I had mentioned her here before, I think. She was fourteen and a half - the oldest Basset our vet had ever seen. She had had congestive heart failure for a number of years, which had been treated successfully. She succumbed to a melanoma which started in her mouth and spread to her lungs. It was clear that we had to let her go, for her sake. I believe that dogs know when it is time to go and we have to respect that. Our house is terribly quiet without our beloved hound. As other readers have said, The Duchess has been lucky to have such a devoted owner and to have had a long and happy life. Little consolation, I know, but we must cling onto some positive thoughts! I know you will make the most of your precious time with her in this next while. Take care, Jennifer

  24. The right things to say always sound trite, but you have given her - and continue to give - a wonderful life, which she knows perfectly. Take lots and lots of photos - there can never be enough - and go on lots and lots of walks. And now might as well be the time for as many chocolate biscuits as she can eat...
    Thinking of you three x

  25. I've been thinking about all this since I read your post last night - while I was cooking dinner, and making bread and soup this morning, and trying not to worry about various things - your sadness is a good distraction, as other people's problems often are. And I thought about how grief is the price of love, and how we, as humans - and I, as an individual -respond to the inevitability of death. I have a friend who never swears, but who says she hates death because it's so effing final - but I'm not sure she's right. I still have conversations with friends who've died; I still think, constantly, almost every day, about my beloved grandmother.

    Do you know this poem? It's a recent addition to Poems on the Underground; it's called THE WAY WE GO and it's by Katherine Towers.

    the way we go about our lives
    trying out each empty room
    like houses we might own
    eavesdropping for clues in corridors until
    standing at a gate or attic window
    seeing beauty in a flag of sky
    we're gone, leaving the doors open
    all the lights burning.

    I find that obscurely comforting and I hope you might, too.

  26. Miss W - always so lovely to hear from you, across the ocean. I know that you understand the whole dog thing profoundly. :)

    Erika - lovely, lovely comment. I especially like the idea of them holding our hearts in their paws. I hope your dear old dog stays well for as long as possible.

    Claudette - you are so right. Love the picture of dear Alf and Lily, they sound heaven.

    Oh Jennifer J - you DID mention your lovely Bassett, and it cheered me up, because you said the pills had kept her going. I am so very sorry she is gone, and can imagine your sorrow only too well. I send you love and condolences through the ether.

    Jo - what a lovely comment, and you are right, I AM going to take stupid amounts of photographs and give stupid amounts of treats.

    Lillyanne - your friend sounds brilliant: it IS too effing final. I too think of my own darling grandmother almost every day, even though she died over ten years ago. And I LOVE that poem. Thank you so much for sending it.

  27. Tania - I meant to comment yesterday but had to dry my tears and be the 'together' Mummy - so it's today instead. I can almost not bear to think of your gorgeous pup being that ill - I am sure there must be some hope? They both have such a fabulous life - I wonder can't fresh air alone help cure?! Here's to hoping very much that the vet is wrong as I worry what we would all do if he is infact right. Nope, it doesn't bear thinking about. The advice you would give yourself: make a soup, take walk and breath.... Lou x

  28. I've tried to find something to say, but I can't. Just that I'm thinking of you, and know you have thousands of virtual friends sending you love. If love could make anything right, the Duchess would live forever. xx

  29. Dear Tania, I just read what you wrote about lovely Duchess. I am sorry. I lost Hector almost 2 years ago. He was a Weimaraner and he lived to be 14. I too couldn't imagine how I would live with out him and I begged him to live forever as I sobbed into his great, velvet ears. His time came and losing him was one of the most humbling experiences I have had in my life thus far. Lots of really kind people wrote to me when he died. One of my friends quoted Doctor Seuss and these words were my mantra for the many months that I grieved; " Don't cry because it is over. Smile because it happened." So... I laughed and I cried and I laughed and I cried remembering Hector and missing Hector. You will survive losing Duchess but you will miss her like hell and this is the only way to face it. Missing someone this much means that you loved a great deal and this is a real blessing. I send you lots of love and smiles. Trisha

  30. Lou - you are so lovely. I AM in fact making soup. And I do have great faith in fresh air. So I live in hope.

    Samaryd - the love has been quite overwhelming, and if I were only a very small bit more fanciful I would believe it is working. You are so kind always; thank you. :)

    Trisha - oh that is the most moving thing. I love that quote. Thank you for telling me of the dear Hector. (I so smiled about the velvet ears; I am always telling the great-nephew and great-nieces to feel the dogs' ears, because they are like velvet.)

  31. I knew Hector as well and know how much he is missed. Dogs are the kindest, friendly and most lovely creatures and it's only natural that we miss them when they go. Life is immeasurably richer for knowing a dog. So sweet and adorable when they are puppies and such great companions as they grow older. How can we not love them?

    By the way, I've just made a huge batch of your fabulous soup and that's nourishing for the soul as well :))

  32. My mother who (still) thinks any display of true emotion is weak (but will readily weep at soppy movies) once said, when I was crying about the unexpected and early death of a cat, if you want an animal which will outlive you, get a tortoise or a parrot.
    Well, neither do much for me. I have been both a dog and now a cat person. It never gets any easier to say good bye.
    I'm grateful for Trisha's quote from the crazy (& a family favorite)Dr. Seuss: "Don't cry because it is over. Smile because it happened." Keeping that close at hand and thinking of you and your lovely dogs.

  33. That made me cry. I am thinking of you very much, and don't think you are self indulgent at all, not one little bit. Animals are family, and that is that.

    We nearly, so very nearly, lost our black dog Albadore last year and this bought it all back. He developed an immune deficiency after being treated for fleas with a Bayer insecticide (and yes it does say on the instructions that some dogs might react badly, you just never think it'll be yours), and was ever so ill, on a drip, drugs, God knows how he managed to recover...

    The little white cat Lara would sit and lick him, like your Pigeon, for hours when he was ill. She is our intuitive one and also licks tears away when we cry. Multi-species conflicts doesn't seem to occur to them, we are One Family, like yourselves.

    We understand and send much love to you and your Best Beloveds.



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