I always thought Gladstone would be with me forever; then reality, persistent as it always is, had its way. Today—eight years and four months to the date since he came home—my best bud Gladstone breathed his last. It is said that once a Dane loves you he loves you steadily, unchangingly, till his last breath. Gladstone did that and more. He was a rare pup; a majestic merle Dane who boasted an intensely positive outlook all his life and the warmest, largest heart I have ever known; and he was one of the most inspiring souls around. He passed in his sleep, peacefully by all indications, which is something I will always be happy about. Losing a loved one is sad, losing Gladstone was more so because although he was a dog by all biological insistences anyone who knew him would agree that he was always more human than humans themselves.
Like every day, one of the first things I did when I got up today was to call him out. Unlike every day I did not hear the pitter–patter of his nails as he walked across the floor to come and look at me with great enthusiasm. There were few things that did not make Gladstone jump with joy and I doubt I can name even one without giving it considerable thought.
The first question I asked myself when I found Glad (as we called him lovingly) today was what he would do in my place. He would undoubtedly be sad but he would cherish his memories and find peace and joy in his life. He was always full of joy (except, perhaps, the couple of times when he was unwell) and I had come to view him as someone I had a lot to learn from. Indeed this is a sentiment all of us share, including my fiancé who had gotten to know him more recently than the rest of us. That was and still is Gladstone to us all: someone who was better than everyone around him at everything and who still managed to make us all feel special and loved in his presence. Now, as I flip through my notes I come across something along these lines that my fiancé had said to me recently: ‘Whenever we talk of Gladstone we become happy’.
As I sat down at my desk to write this essay I felt the best thing for me to do would not be to write a new piece, rather to publish (with some edits) a draft that I have been working on every now and then, over the span of a couple of years, about what I could—and ought to—learn from my pal Gladstone. Some are deep while others are characteristically funny like G–Man himself. As my father said earlier today we had to learn from Glad how ‘to be humble and love all and break rules stealthily’.
On what I, and possibly you, can learn from Gladstone
1. Unapologetic happiness
Nothing made Gladstone sad—absolutely nothing. He had a predictable day, a strict schedule for his own good, ate the same (or similar) food daily except for the odd treat, yet nothing got him down. Of course on the one hand this was all done for him and for his good but I am not sure he understood it that way. To him what mattered was that it made him happy. He managed to be overjoyed by everything. And once something made him happy it always made him happy. To most of us that would be a Herculean task.
2. Undying enthusiasm
The human mind is infamous for being fickle. Gladstone’s mind was a soul-stirring constant amidst our unending waves of change and dissatisfaction. He enjoyed the costliest of toys just the same as the cheapest ones. Not only was he enthusiastic about everything but also his enthusiasm knew no end. We often lose interest in things over time, but not Gladstone: he would be as excited about something the hundredth time he saw it as he was the first time round.
One of Gladstone’s greatest strengths, in my eyes, was his appreciation for the little things around him, for life’s simple pleasures.
3. Constancy in love
When was the last time we jumped with joy—or even felt joy—when someone we loved came home from work or from the market? Perhaps the first time, perhaps the second or the third or the tenth, but not long after: we simply lose the enthusiasm we once had. In line with my previous point one of the most moving interactions with Gladstone was how he barked incessantly the first time we left him at home and went out and how he jumped with joy later that evening when we returned home to him. And he did this the second time and the third and the fourth and every single time without fail all his life. Constancy of that sort in love is something most of us rarely put more effort towards but should.
On some level I think we ought to be guilty for taking for granted that Gladstone would be home waiting for us all the time, jumping madly with joy when we reached, getting the zoomies and running around tirelessly until we showered him with love and cuddles and he showered us in return. Perhaps one some level we stopped explicitly noticing his presence as we moved into and out of the house much like we do not explicitly notice the presence of others in the family although we love them. But now that I have gone into and out of the house a couple of times since laying our pal to rest I cannot help but notice his absence.
Gladstone was better than all of us in every way. He was more loving, more understanding, more empathetic, more communicative, even stronger, more large-hearted, warmer, gentler, kinder, more patient, softer, swifter, more caring and more encouraging. But he never pointed it out and that made him bigger still. That is humbleness of the sort we can all only hope to work towards but rarely achieve.
Among dogs and insects and various other animals too he showed the same stateliness. His imposing body (he was six feet tall when he stood on his hind legs) betrayed his gentle touch. He would protect the smallest of puppies, gently chase away noisy strays—often thinking hard before barking at them and even if he did, restricting himself to a simple ‘woof’—and he would lie still and let us all pamper him, giving and taking immense pleasure in the process. Should his teeth touch us even by mistake he would lick our hands until we told him we were alright. He never misused his strength and he never hurt even a fly. (Except that one fly he once ate.)
Which of us has not shirked our responsibilities at some point in our life? Gladstone had none but chose to do his bit anyway. And he did it consistently with a self-imposed discipline of the sort that would put any wartime soldier to shame.
When he came home Gladstone was never intended to play the role of a sentry but every night he would go around the house, peep into all our bedrooms and make sure we were all asleep. He would keep an eye on the doors too. For eight years we had made it a habit to leave all three outer doors at home open, from morning till night, and we would leave them open without the slightest worry. He would take care of it all and he would do it with a smile on his face. He had found a way to make his responsibilities a pleasure and in him we found our strength to do the same.
I have long struggled to understand what the word ‘discipline’ really means. It was not until Gladstone came into our lives that I understood it. I found the answer in an uncertainly attributed quote that made sense only because Gladstone embodied it. Discipline is doing what needs to be done whether you want to do it or not.
Few Danes, if any, are fond of a walk and Gladstone seemed to dislike his morning and evening walks. His trick was simple: he would pretend to be asleep hoping we would let him off the hook. One might be tempted to say he only walked because we insisted that he should but the fact was that eventually he would get up by himself, no force needed, and go for his walk. And, after all this, he would never walk with a sour face: he always enjoyed his brief daily walks. How many of us can enjoy what we do with such innocence and sincerity regardless of our initial desires?
Gladstone’s discipline was legendary: he would eat on time, sleep on time, exercise on time, and he stayed fit all the while, never sparing a thought to anything that might disrupt his day’s simplest—and arguably most useful—pleasures. He was more than a faraway inspiration; he was a walking example of what we all need to be to better our world and ourselves.
7. Prioritising the little things in life
Gladstone would eat on time, sleep on time and exercise on time. Nothing could move him and nothing had to prompt him. I would myself often notice what hour it was based on his telling me it was time for his lunch. When he kept the little things straight he ended up being able to keep everything in his life straight. His toys were in his control with him preferring to keep them near his person, and the many beds and mats he would sleep on he maintained beautifully, without a scratch or a tear.
His valuing the little things extended far beyond what he owned and used. He greatly valued the people around him too, far more than most humans do. I remember, especially, how he could no longer climb up a flight of stairs to reach his bed when his hind legs started to grow weak when he was about seven years of age. His bed had to be moved down. Some months later, though, his health improved dramatically thanks to new medicines and a new diet (my hat tips to his lovely doctors) and the first thing he did was come right back up and ask that his bed be moved so he could sleep closer to his humans. That is love and concern of the sort we can all look up to and learn. He never gave up on the little things that brought him close to the people he loved.
Grieving the loss of a pet
The loss of a pet is in some ways different from the loss of a loved human; in other ways it is remarkably similar. Both hurt. It is important to let yourself grieve and fully too lest you carry with you a hollow sense of incompleteness that will make your days miserable. Of course your pet would never have wished that for you.
The first practical step I realised is to spend time with your pet after the fact. This is when you can talk to him and hope for some contentment in return.
The next step is to give him or her a proper burial or cremation. Our vet let us know that there were eco-friendly ways of cremating should we choose to go that route and I want to put this information out there because not a lot of people I have come across have been aware of such methods. We ourselves went with burial just so we could visit Gladstone whenever we wanted to.
The third step is to cremate or bury with show. This can be taken negatively but the idea is to make the burial process meaningful to everyone involved. This means burying your pal with his toys or her favourite carpet or, as we did with Gladstone, both.
Fourth, keep something for you. Selfish as it may seem I have found that it gave me lots of strength knowing I had Gladstone’s toy nearby, his food bowls nearby, his carpets around the house and so on. Do not get rid of all traces of him: while it might seem like keeping things around is a recipe for sorrow because you will be constantly reminded of your pet, in reality these memory triggers will slowly turn into sparks of pleasantness that will carry you throughout your day.
Fifth, make something in his or her memory. My lovely fiancée came up with the idea that we keep a houseplant and pour a little mud from Gladstone’s grave into it. I loved the symbolism. We also got a portrait of Gladstone to hang on our wall and we plan to get a few more to hang around the house. How far you go in this direction is a personal preference but it makes for a great grieving process; it makes for a process that turns grief into pleasant memories.
The crux of the entire experience after the fact is to realise that grief is personal and that expressing it is good, and channeling it into something positive is better still. For me this process was representative of no less than Gladstone and his joyous self. Needless to say having a supportive family, even if it means having more people who are themselves grieving, cannot be discounted.
Moreover, grieving pets—especially dogs—is not a new idea. Greeks and Romans had been doing a lot of this a long, long time ago. Laying pets to rest elaborately has been a perfectly normal idea in society for centuries. My favourite line from an old epitaph, one that I personally identified my love for Gladstone with, goes thus: ‘I am in tears, while carrying you to your last resting place as much as I rejoiced when bringing you home in my own hands fifteen years ago’.
To Helena, foster child, soul without comparison and deserving of praise.
Thou who passest on this path, If haply thou dost mark this monument, Laugh not, I pray thee, though it is a dog’s grave. Tears fell for me, and the dust was heaped above me By a master’s hand.
[Myia] never barked without reason, but now he is silent.Collected by Stephen Messenger for The Dodo. Read more.
It is no goodbye
Gladstone won all our hearts. He could contest in the local elections and win, as my mother so often joked. I had bought two huge packets of his food supplement recently and I found that interesting. I had bought enough to last through the first quarter of 2019. And I had bought it merely three days ago. It was not an explicit hope for life, but hope is quite ingrained in our lives I suppose; hope carries us from shore to shore and helps us brave seas of tears.
That Gladstone had lived an average Dane’s lifespan was not news to us but this is something you can never quite prepare yourself for. G-Man spent his whole life with us and I hope, nay, I am often certain, he was always happy and had little he desired that he did not get. A large part of what will help me—and others in my home no doubt—get through this tough time is the peace of mind that comes with knowing that we did everything we could to make sure Gladstone had a great, happy, content life. Those of you who are lucky enough to still have your pets at home with you, it is never too late to give them a little more love than you normally do. They deserve it.
We had gotten so used to Gladstone that we hardly remember the specifics of life before he came home. His love was purer than most of ours will ever be; and his bubbly spirit and his love overflowing with kisses and kindness and joy in the end proved too heavy for his heart to handle. He said goodbye but he lives yet. I wish I could go to bed tonight, like I did yesterday, and get up tomorrow like I did today, but find Gladstone roaming around the house like he’d been for the past eight years. I think I will wish this for years to come. One might be tempted to point out the futility in this but to make such a beautiful wish can be its own reward.
This is no good-bye, Gladstone, because you will live with us forever. You will live in our hearts, in our home, in our minds and, as I head towards my wedding at the end of this month, you will live with me there too, your feet audible in the distance as you run around, a constant reminder of all you were in your life and all you will help me be in mine.