I loved him more than any man: After losing her dog Wilfred, one writer wonders if she’ll ever feel a love like it again

Add to Technorati FavoritesWoman’s best friend: Anna Pasternak with her beloved dog Wilfred who died last week

By Anna Pasternak
Last updated at 10:42 AM on 30th November 2009 – DAILY MAIL

He came to my wedding and he was there through my divorce. He lay his head on my pregnant stomach and welcomed my newborn daughter home from hospital.

He was my rock when my daughter’s father left me a single mother when she was two, four years ago.

As she grew up, he was always there watching her, looking out for her. If she went too high on the garden swing, he’d look at me with censure as if to say: ‘Aren’t you being irresponsible letting her do this?’

I loved him far more than my ex-husband or the father of my child. And they knew it.

He was my best friend and companion. He was the other man in my life – and yet he wasn’t.

He was my dog – my beloved dachshund, Wilfred. He died, aged 20, last weekend.

Because he lived so well and so long, becoming less mobile only in the last month due to a cancerous tumour that we were assured gave him no pain, part of me thought he was immortal.

When he suddenly went downhill after breakfast (which, typically, he ate greedily) on Sunday morning and couldn’t move, struggling for breath, we called our vet.

Because Wilfred was legendary in the vet’s Henley surgery as the oldest dog on their books, Justin, the vet, promised to come to our house when the end was imminent.

When he arrived, we had Wilfred in his basket, in front of the fire, drifting in and out of consciousness, rasping.

I’ve never truly committed to a man. There wasn’t space in my heart because I was so consumed with loving Wilfred

My six-year-old daughter, Daisy, stuck three butterfly stickers on his collar so he would fly free and, along with my mother, we lay by him and thanked him through our avalanche of tears for giving us so much joy, such endless happiness.

Justin explained that the cancer was finally shutting his body down and that it could take six to eight hours for him to die naturally, which would be unpleasant for him. It was far kinder to put him down immediately.

I was holding his paw as the injection was administered and he died as he had lived, beautifully and with dignity.

My mother insisted we celebrate his life, so there was a moment of humour when Daisy rushed to our neighbours to announce: ‘The vet has just put Wilfred to sleep. Please come round to celebrate.’

We toasted him with champagne I was too choked to drink and then Justin took him out to his car.

The way he carefully placed his basket on the back seat, as opposed to putting it in the boot, with such love and respect, broke my heart. It was so unreal that I felt like I was in a film, watching myself.

I started running after the car for one more glance of him as Justin pulled away. I couldn’t believe – and still can’t – that I will never see him again.

It seems so obvious, but until he died I honestly hadn’t fully realised that he was the reason why I have been single for four years. And, actually, have never truly committed to a man in my life.

There wasn’t a space in my heart, because I was so consumed with loving him. Every night for the past four years, while I put my daughter to bed, he would swagger from his basket by the Aga in the kitchen, to his rosy basket in the sitting room to wait for me and our evening together to begin.

I would light the fire, then lift him on to the sofa and lie there, watching television or reading, while he snuggled against me. Or if I had a TV supper, he would hover next to me, waiting for me to feed him treats from my plate.

This is the first article I can ever remember writing where he wasn’t in his basket in my office.

Tears are streaming now, as they did last night on to my plate as I sat alone and ate a lamb chop realising that there was no need to save him the juiciest bits.

One of the worst moments was the morning after he died, as Daisy and I had a daily ritual when we’d ask each other ‘Rosy or Aga?”, wondering which basket we’d find him in when we went to let him out.

That bleak Monday morning, we held hands as we entered the kitchen and not seeing him there left us clutching each other, sobbing.

Since becoming a single mother, my friends told me that I had become a virtual hermit, but I didn’t believe them. Now, I can see they were right. Why slog into London for a party or bad date when I could snuggle up on the sofa in front of Sky+ with Wilfie and save on a babysitter?

I was gaining a reputation as the local eccentric in Henley, as I would push him around town in Daisy’s old pram when it became too far for him to walk.

Once, outside a prep school, a woman peered into the pram and shrieked: ‘Oh goodness, I thought I was going to find a child in there, not a dog!’

‘Oh, I had one of those,’ I deadpanned, ‘but she was so boring and such hard work so I gave her up for adoption, got a dog instead and have never looked back.’

From the horrified look on her face, for one glorious moment, she believed me.

Because this is my first big loss in life and experience of death, I had no idea how pulverising the grief was going to be.

I’m a trooper. I’ve been through horrendously unhappy and challenging times – I’ve been vilified in the press, stabbed in the back by Hollywood power brokers, had an abortion and feel a complete failure when it comes to relationships.

But for all of my adult life, I’ve had Wilfred. He was there to cry into his soft fur and to cheer me. He had a peculiar way of talking; a blend of grunting and purring we called ‘grunging’ and a robust presence.

So I have never experienced such raw pain or felt so agonisingly, hopelessly alone.

Grief is perverse. When you most want to sleep, shattered by emotion, it wakes you in the early hours, jagged edges of despair pushing through.

I feel both vulnerable – as if a dandelion spore brushing against me would hurt me I am so exposed – yet invulnerable too, as if nothing can further harm me because I’m already in such torment.

When, last week, a publisher rejected a book I’ve written, it barely registered.

Uncharacteristically unable to pull myself together, I oscillate between numb shock and howling.

I have cried myself in shops, the hairdresser, the street, endlessly into my pillow – into a disfigured state.

I can’t wear make-up, because it will be washed away and because I can’t fake bravado any more. And believe me, aged 42, I’m not young or beautiful, so it’s not a look I can pull off.

The only source of solace has been the discovery that I am not alone in being alone because I had a pet not a man.

When I was weeping outside the school gate, a mother told me that she had been single for six years before she met her husband, because she was so happy with her cat.

A sculptress, they worked and lived together in perfect harmony. Another girlfriend in the States, age 45, who has been single for over a decade emailed me this yesterday: ‘I am crying as I type this because I know how hard it was when I lost my dog Geldof after almost 16 years in December.

‘I think that dogs give us more than any man ever could because men are incapable of unconditional love and dogs are the spiritual embodiment of it.

‘In fact, I know that there have been times when having a dog and loving it has kept me from giving up on my life.’

Jacqueline Bourbon, a transformational coach who specialises in grief, says: ‘Grief is highly individual and so you can’t be prescriptive as to how to deal with it.

‘For some people, losing a pet is more significant than losing a friend or family member because of the level of attachment. People say “Get over it, it’s only a cat”, but you can’t because the loss is so great.

‘You are the third person who has talked to me recently of their deep bereavement over a pet and two were single women for whom the pet was their companion.

‘If you use a pet as a substitute for a relationship when a pet dies, you are in a dilemma. Part of you would like another pet to fill that void while another part, if you are self-aware enough, is saying: “I’m going to be brave and in time find a partner, not a pet.”

‘There is an exact parallel between people who use pets as relationship substitutes and people who serial-hop in relationships and keep repeating the same pattern because they can’t bear to deal with their issues or to be alone.’

I’m aware that it’s dysfunctional not to need a relationship with a man because you are besotted by a pet.

In my case, it’s probably a reaction to my lack of trust in my choices in men. After I was left a single mother, bruised, I gave up on relationships and felt a form of peace.
But if I know one thing about Wilfred’s life, it is that he wanted more than anything else for me to be happy.

And amid the desolation and the horrid stillness in the house which no longer feels like a home without him, I know I owe it to him to open my heart to the possibility, later on, of another love.

Jacqueline Bourbon agrees: ‘With grief, the big temptation is to shut down and keep your heart blocked, but that will inhibit any relationship later on as the pain will come back to bite you.

‘It’s incredibly important to feel the pain and stay open, but not to get stuck in grief and wallow in your loss. You need some sort of closing ritual to honour your pet’s life.’

So, Wilfred, here’s to you, my dearest friend. Thank you for being there through all the tough times and the joyous ones.

Thank you for loving me and understanding me as you did. I miss you desperately. But thank you also for making space in my heart and life, in time, for a new love.

With you no longer beside me but guiding me, hopefully I’ll finally find the courage to truly love again – but this time with a man.

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