David Aaronovitch tells a tale in today’s Times which seems to speak volumes about, uh, attitudes to death, or families, or Britishness or… something, such that I thought I must share it with you. The background is that the Aaronovich family dog, a Kerry Blue, has been diagnosed with cancer and will die soon.
When the vet told us, my wife Sarah and I were upset enough on our own account. But Sarah was particularly worried about how the children would take it. Exams were coming; there were other problems to be dealt with. Perhaps we should put off telling them until the moment was more propitious.
Then, as we dithered, a friend who lives in Lincolnshire phoned and told us about her experience. She has four young children, and they had grown together, played together, yapped together with their dog, a schnauzer called Dennis. Dennis was afflicted by illness rather more suddenly than Ruby and a schoolday visit to the vet established that it was probably best for the poor animal to be ushered in the next world within the week.
Our friend could not bring herself to tell the children who she knew would be badly affected by the news. So she didn’t let on, which meant that on the day of execution she had done nothing to prepare her little ones. They came home from school to the dogless house and, amazingly, didn’t seem to notice. So our friend put off the dreaded moment again.
Tuesday came and went, then Wednesday and she began to wonder. After a week in which not one of the children had so much as mentioned the dog once, it occurred to their mother that she might have overestimated the trauma of Dennis’s demise. To this day she hasn’t said anything and neither have her children.