Nina Wigglesworth on Pre-Planning

Charles Cowling

Kateyanne1

 

Guest post by Kateyanne Unullisi 

I love dogs. God I love dogs.

And now it’s nearly time for a dog I love to die. Nina, my daughter’s dog. The Golden Retriever puppy she got when newlywed in 2001 is now 13-years-old; and though lumpy and halt, she is ever patient and tender with their three young children.

This could go many ways. I could take it on, in the name of sparing the family more pain. I could leave them to it; after all, I have plenty to deal with myself. Or we could use this sad time as guidance for Death in Our Little Family (dogs included). Because really, it’s been our dogs who have already been showing us the way.

Aiko, my Collie mix, mothered little Nina, who, when she understood she wasn’t to bark at every slight thing, rushed through the house in search of socks. Then she whisper-barked into them, wagging her tail so hard she fell over. That’s why we call her Nina Wigglesworth.

Nina and Aiko, best friends, invented the game ‘Soccer Ball,’ then taught the two-leggeds how to play. Here’s the rules: the humans stand in a great circle and all dogs take themselves to the center (which resulted in bringing all the closed off neighbors out of their houses to play). This included Star, the Border Collie, a clever girl who was aces in assist, Pili the Cocker Spaniel, the look-at-me-I’m-so-cute cheerleader type, and other four-legged transients in for a good game of pickup. A human kicked the soccer ball into the center and the dogs squared off, sometimes in teams, sometimes dog eat dog. First one to touch the ball, regardless of species, won. There was no keeping score.

Did you see the part where the neighbors came out of their houses and got to know one another? The dogs did that.

Aiko – teacher friend dog – died last year. I did that. I made the decision that 15 years and a quit hind end was enough to ask of her, called the vet to our home, and lay by her on the floor as she died. May I carry my sorrow with as much grace as she carried her pain.

And now it’s Nina’s turn. The time has come for my daughter to make this decision herself. She says she just wants to wake up and find Nina dead, to which I say, good luck with that. These dogs love us so, they just won’t leave.

My urge is to get all the planning details sorted: vet, babysitter, crematorium. I will do some of it, since Aiko taught me how. But what kind of elder would I be to disallow Nina and my daughter the grace of learning? Taking on too much just gives them feeble lessons in how to handle the logistics of death.

It may not surprise you as much as it does me, but I’m likely to die too, some day. So mine is a death my kids will also need to attend to – and a few others in their lifetimes as well. When we pre-plan our own end-of-life details without taking our (30 or 40 or 50 year old) kids’ hands and walking them into the funeral home-crematorium-cemetery, we have failed them. Big. This is a teachable moment!

Planning ahead – well, some of it makes sense and some of it doesn’t. Don’t pay ahead – show your kids why – and here’s some damn good reasons if you don’t know. Don’t plan to the letter and take that privilege from them. They need to do that when you die and they’ll do it well, because you showed them how.

This is adventure! Wander the cemetery where your finished body will be buried or hike the high cliffs your ashes will be strewn over. Take along the dog. Start talking. Bring them (what the hell, bring the dog too) to meet with a few funeral directors and show them the difference between a good, a bad and a thievishly ugly undertaker. Kick the caskets, run the numbers, then get the hell out of there and head for a cold pint.

After Nina goes, in the spirit of teaching and in gratitude to our dogs, I will pre-plan my death (supposing I will die someday) by giving my daughters a roadmap, but not the exact itinerary. They can and should work that out themselves. I just hope there’s a pack of dogs there playing a good round of Soccer Ball after all is said and done.

Kateyanne2

 

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Ashley Shepherd
Guest

Our dog Hugo is 11 years of age and is going rather lumpy and recently started to stumble a little, the vet says its the on set of arthritus – its only now that my wife and I have realised that he is getting old!

We plan to make sure that we enjoy every day with him, which your article has promoted me to think that we should all be living life to the full, every day and not just when we think its our time to go.

Let’s face it, we are all going to go, we just dont know when!

Poppy Mardall
Guest

Bang on Kateyanne!

Kitty
Guest
Kitty

Just been listening to a fascinating programme on Radio 4 about dogs. Comment was made about dogs and dog deities (dog-gods) as guides to the after world. The Aztecs God of Death had a dog’s head. Without a dog-guide, you wouldn’t make it to the next world.

Ariadne
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Ariadne

Beautiful, Kateyanne.

I think Aiko, Nina, Carter, Ted, Spooky (my puppy who died at 10 months) all of them look after us, on this side and the other.

Sitting here crying for the love of dog.

Dog bless us, one and all.

xx

Mary Jo Oxrieder
Guest
Mary Jo Oxrieder

Kateyanne, awesome piece of heart/writing! Thank you for all of it.

Elizabeth Harris
Guest

Beautifully written dear friend. I remember the day Aiko left us, and it brings tears to know that Nina Wigglesworth is leaving too. I can only hope that she and Aiko find each other in The Great Boneyard.

Thanks for writing this. Dogs get into us in ways that nothing else can. Their innocence, loyalty, love and devotion has no match. They teach us how to align with the better angels of our nature. We owe them. Big time.

Sue Goodrum
Guest
Sue Goodrum

Tingling all up my arms Kateyanne, what a wonderful eulogy to your Dogs over the years and what a wise and loving mum you are. x

gloria mundi
Guest

Wisdom here, thank you Kateyanne. I would extend your view of dogs to other animals as well, at least to some degree. The first funeral my daughter attended was for her guinea pig, in our back garden, and then a cat. There is something particular about the responses of dogs, but it seems in general that much-loved domestic pets show us the way through unconditional love and then grief. I understand people feel similarly about horses. Perhaps all sorts of moral and psychological questions then arise about other species with which we live closely, but for which we have rather… Read more »

Lol Owen
Guest
Lol Owen

What is it about the love from, and the loss of, a much loved dog that makes the hardest men weep? I have grieved my dogs more than my family, perhaps because their love has been without a doubt unconditional. As I type this the largest, a rottweiller/Staffie cross is sat at my feet and the other, a hairy armadillo looking jack russell cross is on the other sofa and surely, being young dogs, their passing is at least 10 years hence. I have taken their predecessors on that last trip to the vet and came out a broken man,… Read more »

Richard
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Richard

A good read, Kateyenne. Many of us first learnt about death through dying animals, and I like your approach to planning ahead for ourselves.

D
Guest
D

Dogs teach us so much! I miss mine.

How do you propose getting your kids on board to talking about death with you? Do you have any ideas or strategies?

Ru Callender
Guest

Kateyanne, you’ve made me cry and it’s only 8 30. My own beloved dog Carter is thirteen and beginning to stumble. The part he has played in my life and the life of my children is immeasurable. The comfort offered, the patience given, the joy shared, the humour, yes, of course dogs have a sense of humour, ( though not all of them) will stay with us for ever. I think our relationships with dogs and our ability to cross the species and meet in love is one of the most astonishing and optimistic things about humans. Carter and I… Read more »

Jed
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Jed

Uncannily ‘on topic’ today Kateyanne! Just listening to BBC radio four 8.22am and they refer to Andrew Sullivan’s blog on the same subject and the overwhelming outpouring of interest he provoked – pet bereavement counsellor on too! Our pets teach us more than responsibility – they teach us more than words, books and any fancy counselling. They teach us about true friendship, unconditional love, sheer joy and tidal grief ….without a single word.
PS Ru, we all want Carter to be the gatekeeper.

Kateyanne
Guest

Ah, Carter in his dotage. Aiko, ever the teacher, continued to instruct me in how to care for an elderly beloved friend when she became smelly, secretive and stoic in her pain. Sensible no more, she made extremely bad choices – like going down a steep ravine after a rabbit, without the hind end to come back up – then clung, patiently waiting for me to rappel 60 feet down, tie a rope around her and spend a slow hour inching her up (with the help of a friend above pulling – oh, did I mention in the dark, in… Read more »

Kateyanne
Guest

@ D — Ha! In the spirit of transparency, let me ‘out’ you as my younger daughter, the one that has fled to London to avoid being hauled through graveyards and crematoriums over here. (Oh, and that you have always wanted to live in England, that too.) My personal strategy is to be plainspoken. I think every family is different, D. In ours, and because your father died when you were little, Death has always been part of our Life. (As it should, in my opinion, as it is the container in which our lives reside.) So there is another… Read more »