Last week we had to say goodbye to our faithful friend of the last 14 years, our black Labrador, Ferdie, or to give him his pedigree name, as DS1 now insists on calling him, Abbot Ferdinand of Anna.
DS1 had never really shown much interest in the dog. I always got the impression that, to him, he was an inconvenient moving object that often got in his way, left dog hair all over the place and was instantly dismissed should he deign to set foot in his bedroom.
He sometimes tried to sit on Ferdie’s back and ride him and when in meltdown was prone to hit or kick him. Not maliciously, but enough that Ferdie would often take himself off whenever the boy approached him.
On occasion, this would upset DS1. “But I just wanted to stroke him,” he would claim, not understanding that his previous actions had left the dog scared of him.
He hardly ever came with me for a dog walk. That’s not entirely true, there was a two-week period last year where he insisted on taking, or rather dragging, the dog out every day. He enjoyed having control of the lead, so much so that he wouldn’t let the poor animal off it. But this interest soon waned.
Now and again, though, perhaps when he thought we weren’t looking, he’d stroke the old boy lovingly. And he would often get up early and feed him. Conversely, he would also take his bowl away from him when he was only halfway through eating.
Ferdie was old and his legs kept giving way, and so, over the course of the year, we’d been preparing DS1 for the inevitable.
In the summer, when he had actually left the confines of the house to come with me on a dog walk – because he couldn’t bear to be separated from me rather than any need for fresh air and bonding with the dog – I explained that I didn’t think Ferdie would see out the year.
“I have no interest in when Ferdie is going to die,” he stated.
Although, it was clear he did. He often talked about his impending demise and the fact that he would be “dead by Christmas”.
Come November we’d decided that the time was nigh and in the week before D-Day the wife explained to DS1 about putting animals to sleep when they were in too much pain to lead an enjoyable life anymore. This piqued the boy’s curiosity.
“But I’m sure he’d rather be alive and in pain than dead,” he argued.
“Well, no, I don’t think so,” she reasoned. “He’s not happy and to him it will just feel like drifting off to sleep”.
“So it will be good for him because he won’t hurt any more, but bad for us because we want him to stay with us” he mused.
Accepting the fact, he continued: “So after he’s had the death injection…” he said.
The ‘death injection’? What a lovely turn of phrase.
“So, after he’s had the death injection, can we cut off his head and put it in a glass case and mount it on the wall?” he asked.
“Erm, no. There’ll be blood everywhere and the head will rot.”
“How about we make a papier-mâché dummy of him and cover it with Ferdie’s fur? We could use a balloon to put the papier mâché on.”
Thankfully, he doesn’t know about taxidermy.
“How about we put a nice photo of him on the wall,” the wife suggested.
He agreed, although I’m not convinced he’s entirely satisfied with this option. The dummy has been mentioned a couple of times since.
Then as tends to happen, coincidences find a way of occurring when you least want them to. For his spellings homework that week, one of his words was ‘injection’. You can imagine the sentence he wrote can’t you?
Busily (for a change) writing his sentences, he called out: “Mum, is death injection one word or two?”
Dying to know
Dealing with the concept of death is difficult for most people; it’s hard for a child to get their head around, perhaps more so for an autistic one.
DS1 has been obsessed with the notion of death most of his life. Maybe it’s the fear of change that dying brings that has got unto his brain. I’m not sure where the fascination came from – perhaps it was the nativity story, Jesus and all that that fuelled it. We’ve certainly had in-depth conversations about religion and what happens after we die, whether Heaven exists (it doesn’t, he has decided) and even the death penalty. “Two wrongs don’t make a right,” he concluded. Wow!
He freely talks about death, but mainly in a non-complimentary way. He frequently bangs another nail in my coffin, for example. One day we were having a lovely conversation about this and that, when he said: “Dad, not this Saturday but next Saturday…”
“You’re going to murder yourself.”
He also had a period of going around telling all and sundry to “die a horrible death”.
However, I think Ferdie’s passing has given him a clearer understanding of mortality and will hopefully temper his inappropriate comments. He even gave me a life extension this week. “You’ve got about 40 years left,” he informed me.
I’ll take that.
Mummy’s the word
The vet appointment was booked and we told DS1 that Ferdie might not be be here when he got back from school. He gave him a biscuit and stroked him lovingly.
He then started writing a record of Ferdie’s life: his full name, his date of birth, the names of his siblings and his death date – next to which he wrote “2017”, but left the actual date blank, just in case.
When I picked him up from school, I was trying to work out the best way to tell him that Ferdie was no longer with us, when his mate Andreas blurted out: “Is Ferdie dead, then?”
“Erm… well… yes,” I stammered. It wasn’t quite how I’d planned to break the news.
It had clearly been on DS1’s mind and he had obviously been talking about it with his friends, which was good.
He took the news better than I expected. He had, it appeared, come to terms with what was happening and we had, it seemed, prepared him well.
When we got home he rushed off to fetch the piece of paper on which he was detailing Ferdie’s life, so that he could fill in the blank space he’d left for the death date.
Later, we talked about cremation as opposed to burial, and the fact that we wanted to scatter the dog’s ashes on a beach in Suffolk that he loved.
“Why do we have to burn him? Why can’t we bury him there?” asked DS1.
“Because, we can’t leave his body in the boot of mum’s car for about six months until we next go up to Suffolk, can we?”
“Why not? That would be kinda cool.”
That evening he was very quiet, and he asked me to lie on the floor of his room and listen to a story CD with him. Something he has never done. He selected one that he had never played before and – what are the chances – it was about a girl who was coming to terms with the death of her cat.
She had been learning about Ancient Egypt at school (as did DS1 last year) and had attempted to mummify the cat’s body to preserve her for the afterlife.
Thank goodness we had Ferdie cremated.