"In 1999 my late wife, Glynis, and I were lucky enough to be able to take very early retirement. We moved from the city to a tiny cottage in rural North Wales and settled into a gentler rhythm of life.
As part of our downsizing, we acquired a chocolate Labrador puppy, Sam, which quickly grew into a Goliath – some 38 kgs in his prime. Boisterous, clumsy, full of fun, he loved all God’s creatures. People, cats, birds, dogs – he loved them all and was especially fond of a neighbour’s black & white tomcat which tolerated his attentions, occasionally.
Sam filled the cottage, and our hearts. Given half a chance he would commandeer the bed just before we retired, then look reproachfully as he was forcibly ejected. In the warmer weather he would lie across the front door to the cottage where there was a slight draught, the door being a touch loose in its frame. He would snore, loudly, and the loose door would rattle in harmony with the snores. In the winter he would lie on a rug, a little way back from the door and if anyone walked past the cottage in the night then he would let out just one basso-profundo bark that seemed to rise from the bowels of the earth. But he would always try to sneak into the bedroom, and possible find a corner of the bed, at some point during the night!
In the same week of October 2003, my wife and I were both diagnosed with cancer. Well why not? We’d done most things together for many years. She came home from hospital for the last time in early December 2004, to be cared for by the District & Palliative care nurses, and me. Glynis spent most of the time in bed. We both loved Christmas and, although we never mentioned it, she was determined to hear the cottage filled with carols for one last time.
Strangely, Sam withdrew from the bedroom almost totally. He would pay a quick visit when the nurses came to see if there was any food on the go, but nothing would get him upstairs at bed time. I went through the same routine in God’s waiting-room every evening. Locking up & turning off then “inviting” Sam to join us upstairs but he just stared and found somewhere downstairs to spend his solitary vigil. Glynis was awake on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day but, having achieved her last objective, settled into a coma on Boxing Day, where she remained.
On 27th December 2004 I went through my usual nightly routine and said goodnight to Sam but, to my surprise he beat me to the stairs and went up to the bedroom. He sat beside the bed for a couple of minutes, staring intently at the comatose form of his beloved mistress, and then curled up on a mat at the foot of the bed. The first time for many weeks. Sam knew that the wait was almost over. I stayed awake and, sure enough, after an hour or so, her breathing changed and I sat with her waiting for that last breath to come. . .
The cottage had a tiny kitchen with a little dog-leg staircase leading off upstairs. Glynis used to sit on the third or fourth stair watching the pots bubbling away on the cooker, usually with a glass of wine in one hand and a ciggie in the other. A few weeks after her death I was feeding Sam – his bowl was near the foot of the little staircase. He broke off from eating, a most unusual event, and put his front paws on the bottom stair and began staring into space at a spot where someone’s head might have been, were they sitting on the third or fourth stair. He was wagging his tail and, I swear it, smiling. He stayed like that for a little while, finished his food, and then settled into his first deep & contented sleep for ages."
Merry Christmas everyone!