For five weeks I have been in denial, braving the world and keeping going by just putting one foot in front of the other. We all have. All avoiding the elephant in the room, too locked in our own pain to speak to the others, too scared of speaking of Phoenix in case we upset the others. But Ben’s behaviour has deteriorated rapidly at school and we have been forced to each talk about our own guilt – Ben blames himself because he didn’t call out (but there was no time), Ged blames himself because he was driving, and I blame myself because I didn’t give Phee enough time, love, attention, play, appreciation and I had kept shouting at him to ‘stop licking’. Poor little Ben was the only one of us who actually saw the whole thing. I can’t begin to imagine how that memory must be seared into his mind and soul, and how scarred he is from that experience.
We have all been in shock. That day I had been cleaning the house, and made a new step stool for him to enable him to get on the bed which had become hard for him. I showed it to him, explaining jump here and then here, he looked at me with such love in his eyes because I was bent down and talking to him, wagging his tail and his whole body with joy. Later, I planted a kiss on him as I passed him watching out over his world from the comfort of the cane sofa on the verandah. Later still, I came home from my walk in the dark and as always he launched himself off his bed and then the verandah to give me, or anyone, his joyful wagging welcome. And then, when he wanted to come into the house, I wouldn’t let him. If I had, I wouldn’t be penning this now.
It doesn’t seem possible that my friend, who has been my faithful shadow, my stalwart companion for over 12 years, is gone. How can it be that someone so full of life and love can have left. Where is he? The farm is so still without his busy body as he ran to welcome us all at the gate, took himself off to swim in the river, ran up to the Tree House if there were raised voices or a row, licked the noses of each and every one of the animals he loved and looked after. He was the shepherd for us all. He was our anchor and our light. I don’t know who I am without him.
Of course I took him for granted. I knew intellectually that we would not have him for much longer. He has had a lump on his head for a long time (that the vet said was fine) but we had found a much bigger mass along one side and I was procrastinating going to the vet about that – well, waiting for the cooler weather when he could have a day with me in the car and office. He would have been 13 next week. He was very deaf and his arthritis was getting worse. It is over a year since he stopped walking with me every day and a long time since I let him come with me for a walk. He begged to come only a few days before he died, and I denied him. I so wish now that I had let him come for that last walk over the farm he loved so much.
He loved it here. He loved the river, he loved his freedom to roam, he loved his favourite spots on the verandah. He loved us all. But most of all he loved me. He made room in his huge heart for Ged and Ben when they came along, and I’m afraid to say that he was sidelined in so many ways once I was busy with Ben. But we always had our runs and then walks when we could share time and space together. He hated that he couldn’t come anymore (because of his arthritis) and it took me a long time to get used to walking on my own.
Now I have to get used to being on my own, without my little black shadow following me wherever I went. So do Ben and Ged. We all loved him so much. He was the fourth member of our family. He was the brother Ben didn’t have. And now he is gone. I still can’t believe it. I can’t wrap my head around it. My heart can’t accept it and keeps screaming ‘No!’
The house is very clean. No more muddy paw prints, no more farm dirt on the bed, no more muddy paw prints on the bath mat. No more Phee foraging in the pig bin, or eating chook and duck food with them, or licking timber in the Giraffe shed (I will never know why!) or mousing in the feed shed. Just paw prints across all of our hearts.
An indescribable loss of my friend, comforter, angel, shadow and anchor. Beautiful boy, best dog in the world. Phoenix McGoenix, Phee McGee we love you so much. Wherever you are, be happy, watch over us, help us through this time of pain xx