My whole life I’ve heard that you can never dream about your own death. That you always wake up just before you kick the bucket. Who came up with this nonsense? I dreamt that I died just the other night. And no, it wasn’t a nightmare.
I was involved in a gun fight (as you are, in dreams) and had been shot several times. I had rolled away to try and hide from my attackers and figure out how badly I’d been injured. As the gunfight continued around me, I realised that I was pretty badly injured and that in fact, I was probably not going to make it. This was, as you can imagine, quite a sad feeling. I can’t remember being in too much pain, but I was bleeding a lot and some major organs had been hit. As I lay there contemplating what was next, one of the bad guys found my hiding spot and stood over me with a gun pointed right at me. I wasn’t afraid. He shot me right in the heart – a fatal shot – and I instantly realised that I was dying. My life flowed away from my body, and into an unknown abyss. But it wasn’t at all frightening. Firstly, it felt like a relief, like the fear and sadness had given way to something better. It was a lovely feeling, ecstatic almost, to be aware of death taking hold of me and deciding to not fight it. You could say I actually allowed myself to enjoy and savour the sensation of my life slipping away. It was euphoric, and it was beautiful.
I know it was just a dream, but I woke up from it feeling like I’d experienced some kind of an epiphany. Death itself is nothing to be frightened of. I truly believe that now (yes, thanks to a dream which my subconscious completely made up based on no evidence whatsoever, yes, yes, yes).
The pleasant feeling of having experienced, and even enjoyed, my own death stayed with me for several days and led me to start thinking about my own, actual, imminent death. And what I realised is that even though I am no longer afraid of the act of dying, I really don’t want to die quite yet. This might not seem like a revolutionary thought to most people, but for the last eight years, I’ve actually been “cheating” death. You see, since I was a teenager I had a very strong feeling that I wouldn’t live past the age of 35. I was certain of it. And so, in a way, I kind of lived my life as though I expected it to end in 2006. I don’t mean I was reckless or that I endangered myself. I just had no expectations of life beyond that age. I honestly thought I would be dead. But hey, here I am, very much alive and well.
Since turning 35 (and beyond) the question of my mortality hasn’t really been something that I’ve thought about. Until my death dream the other night. So, when I put the question to myself, “Are you still OK with dying?” the answer came back a resounding NO! I’m not ready. And I’ve never felt that way before. I’d only ever felt some kind of fuzzy acceptance towards my own death. Never before had I experienced resistance. So, was it the dream that caused this adjustment, or is it the fact that as I get older, death changes from being just a nebulous concept into something more real to face head on. I don’t know.
I am no stranger to death. My father died of lung cancer 11 years ago. I clearly remember finding out that he was terminally ill, ten months earlier. My parents had spent the summer in Greece and while they were gone, my sister who was house-sitting for them bought an adorable Cavalier King Charles spaniel puppy to keep her company. She called him Barnaby and she popped him in her handbag when she went to the shop to buy milk. Now, my parents had made it pretty clear that they didn’t want any more pets after our Doberman, Jessica, had died a year before. So we were sure that they would be furious when they got home. But they returned from overseas, and Barnaby’s existence barely registered. There were a few grumbles about it, but that was it. A few days later they told us about Dad being sick. So I guess they just had bigger things to worry about than a dog in the house. And so Barnaby stayed.
My father pretended to not love Barnaby, but it was pretty obvious that he did (how could you not love that face?). And I think he provided my Dad with some comfort during his illness. And isn’t that what dogs do best? Isn’t their unconditional loving what makes us love them back so much? Over the years, Barnaby has firmly sealed his place in our family. We’d had dogs before, but they’d always been outside dogs. Barnaby was well and truly an inside dog which is why I think he assimilated into the family more completely than our other pets. He would lounge around watching TV with us, sleep with us and hang around the kitchen while my Mum prepared dinner. He’s always been one of us, and I’m pretty sure he thinks he is too. Barnaby is my sister’s pup, but we all love him as our own. He is the most sweet-natured, playful, gentle, patient and sociable little guy I’ve ever met. People on the street gush over how cute he is and whilst he enjoys the attention, he always prefers the company of our family members to other people (and dogs). Like I said, he’s one of us.
Barnaby’s Mum, my sister Mari, says, “Barn has been a constant companion and mate for me for over 12 years and he’s always been a fantastic personality. If I want to run and throw the ball, so does he. If I want to sit and watch telly, he wants to too, from my lap! But he’s also good at getting me to play ball when I don’t instigate, he cutely nudges the ball at me with his nose. He plays a mean game of soccer, kicking the ball back to me with his front paws! He loves face time and if he wants a cuddle he sits facing me on my lap and just looking into my eyes. Any time I’ve gone through a rough patch in my life and I am demonstrably down he comes and just sits next to me and will sometimes burrow his head under my arm. He’s a face licker and you’ve got to be mad quick to escape his dog kisses!”
I know everyone thinks that their dog is the cutest dog, the smartest dog, the fastest dog etc. And those people can go and write about their dogs on their own ejo. On this site, Barnaby is, hands down, the best dog in the world. Undisputed.
Over the years Barnaby’s health has, unfortunately, deteriorated to the point where he needs to take a bunch of medication every single day just to stay alive. Cavalier King Charles spaniels are renowned for being susceptible to a number of genetic health problems, and Barnaby has had mitral valve heart disease for a few years. He’s also recently developed a soft tissue sarcoma which has left a golf ball sized tumour on his right thigh, making it painful for him to walk. But despite his aches and pains, despite his failing body, Barnaby, at the ripe old grandfatherly age of 12 has led a pretty good life. He’s been showered with love and affection, he’s been fed well and he’s played a lot. Mari says, “Even though he is increasingly unwell, he still wants to keep going. He will play ball, even if afterwards it takes him two hours to recover instead of ten minutes. If people come over he puts aside his tiredness and gives them attention”.
Today all of that came to an end. Today, we said goodbye to Barnaby. His illnesses became too severe for us to allow him to continue to suffer. And we all realised that keeping him around has been for our benefit, and not for his. We couldn’t do that to him anymore. My sister made the difficult decision to put her baby down today. Barnaby isn’t suffering any more, but our pain has just started. We’ll suffer because we’ll miss him. Because we love him and we don’t want him to be gone. Because he really was one of us.
Was Barnaby ready to die? Could he even have had any concept of life and death? Or did the entirety of his consciousness consist of dinner, naps, belly scratches and that damn ball? I think that his quality of life towards the end was pretty poor. He couldn’t walk or see or hear very well. But damn it, he knew he was loved and he loved us back. As he lost consciousness, and as his life slipped away, did he feel relief? I don’t know if Barney was ready for his death, but he probably sensed in some way that we were. Dogs pick up on human emotions, right?? Or maybe he just thought that yesterday was one of the best days of his whole life.