You were my Sunshine.
No, wait, I am not consigning you to the past. You are my Sunshine. You are not just a memory, you are a constant. You are with us, as always.
We feel your presence in the house as if you never left: at the windows you always looked through, watching out for intruding cats, birds, foxes; in the spaces where your various beds lay; in the kitchen, where you would follow us with an optimistic tail-wag in the hope of a tasty morsel or two.
You are still with me outside too: in the garden; all along the streets around our home; even at my desk, where you would steal a sneaky visit during the day if someone accidentally left the kitchen door open downstairs.
Mostly, though, you are in my heart, and you are never leaving that space. It’s yours, forever.
We all miss your physical presence, of course. The hugs, the morning welcomes, they were the best. You had your own unique relationship with each of us. I will never forget the way you looked at the others in the family, with your special knowledge of who did, and who did not, like a little lick on the face, or even when, and when not, to climb up on us, depending on what we were wearing. You took it all in, you were always observant and considerate. Always a gentleman.
To me, though, you were my constant companion of nine beautiful years. My sidekick. The best boy, the best pal, the best company. My reason to get up early, my reason not to collapse in a heap after work, or on weekends. I would say, “Go walkies, Pups?” and up you would spring and make your way to the door. I mean, I didn’t have to say that, I only needed to put my shoes on, or my coat, or my headphones, and up you’d get, wagging that wonderful tail.
Your other needs punctuated my day too: checking your water bowl; making sure you got a little tummy rub or a cuddle; your assumption that it was “treat time” again; and of course, your favourite time – dinner time. In that last case, you’d always let me know if I was too distracted to notice the time, giving me a little nudge of affection at 5.30 on the dot.
When it was our dinner time, you would lie down close to the table to be near us. As we were finishing our meal, I would feel your chin on my lap, always the precursor to you following me into the kitchen with the stacked plates, hoping some of our leftovers would make their way into your chops. That first evening without you, when there was no chin on my lap… oh, my boy, the heartache. What I wouldn’t have done to feel that one more time.
You always let us know when it was time for a cuddle too. You were brilliant at that. You’d come over to me, put one paw on my foot to stop me moving, and then lean into my shins, knowing I would bend down and provide the scratch you were after. A charmer to the last.
I know I was more needy than you sometimes. A lot of the time, actually. I hope you understood me. I saw a silly meme that said if I put my head to yours, you would hear my thoughts and I would hear yours. Well, I tried, didn’t I? I hope you heard me, I certainly heard you. I never once doubted your love and I am sure your never doubted mine.
You brought out the best in me, my Sunshine. All my sadness, all my anger, all my anxiety, my worries, my distress, my guilt, the horrors of my life, they were all put aside when you came into my world. By that time, I was already better than I had been for years but you gave me your trust and your faith and I responded. I had to. You brought calm, gentleness, understanding and sanity into our home, attributes I always needed in buckets and spades, and I needed to make sure that we gave you the best life possible. I think we did, I hope you felt that too.
When you were a pup, someone gave us a card bearing the following quote, and I never forgot the message in it:
“He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are his life, his love, his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart. You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion”.
That one line in particular, “to the last beat of his heart”, it always filled my eyes with tears at the very thought. I kept saying to you all the time, ‘No, but you’re going to live forever, Sunshine, aren’t you?’
Remember that time we met a boy who looked just like you and he was 14, and I said to you, ‘Thank goodness we met him, that’s given me hope.’ I didn’t like to say anything like that out loud. I didn’t want to imagine life without you, because life with you was as good as it ever got. For all of us.
And I really did owe it to you to be worthy of your devotion. You loved me so much, it was in your eyes, in your greetings, in your tail, in your closeness. I hope you always knew that I loved you every bit as much. We all hope you knew how we felt. Everyone says you did.
I used to always say to the family, not that any of us needed to be reminded: ‘This is his house, all he’s ever known. His comfort, his security, his life. He might think all dogs have this life, and I don’t want him to assume anything else. I don’t want him to be grateful to us because I don’t ever want him to think there’s a world out there where some people just don’t love their dogs this much, never mind people who treat their dogs with outright cruelty. We are his love, his certainty in life.’
My Sunshine, your sudden illness shook us all. It took us completely by surprise, and the swiftness of your decline and demise has taken the wind out of our sails. We were so busy being worried about you, taking you to and from the vet, and living in hope of improvement, that we never had time to consider, or prepare for, the loss of you. Perhaps if you had lived to a ripe old age, with a slower decline, we could have fortified ourselves and not felt the utter sorrow and heartbreak we are now feeling. Who can tell? We just weren’t ready, though, and now we feel like an essential part of us has been removed.
Day by day, week by week, we will try to adjust to this new existence. We will try to be kind to ourselves and focus on all the happy times we had with you. It’s so hard, though. Not to see your little face and your wagging tail first thing in the morning, or the image of you curled up and cosy in your bed each night, it’s just so odd, so out of kilter, cold, empty, that it can sometimes seem nothing will ever be right again.
But we also owe it to you to carry on. We will plant a tree, some forget-me-nots, fill the house with photographs of you, and talk to you as if you are still here, still looking for walkies. I could fill pages about you and the many ways you lit up our lives but it’s better just to live life in your honour.
Thank you for being our Sunshine. It was always our pleasure, our honour, our privilege to be your humans.