The death of a pet was always a painful moment. Even in latter years there has been grief at the death of dogs who have been faithful friends. Recalling the pain I felt as I buried Bella, who had joined the house at a vet’s estimate of eighteen months old and who died fourteen years later, still brings tears to the eyes – and I was fifty-four at the time.
Reading an extract from Eiluned Lewis’ Dew on the Grass, there is a sense of how incomprehensible death was when I was a child and an appreciation of why children would go to so much trouble over the death of a pet:
While Dick went to dig a grave behind the nutbushes, they took Robert, the wooden horse with his cart to the rabbit hutch and laid poor Jack Baba tenderly in the cart, which he exactly fitted. Then they covered him with a black and white handkerchief and laid on top of that a white rose which Delia had picked from her own tree.
They pulled Jack Baba all the way from his hutch to the grave. Maurice walked in front, since the gorse and cart were his property, and Delia came behind, guiding the cart round the corners. Lucy and Miriam followed: Lucy played tunes on a comb – all the saddest tunes she knew – and Miriam held a bunch of mignonette and some of Jack Baba’s favourite radishes.
When they came to the place where the path dips down hill, the procession was difficult to manage, for the cart, being the heavier, went faster than Robert and several times nearly upset. Dick had dug the grave under the hedge and, after Delia had lined it with moss, they buried Jack Baba with the rose, the radishes and the mignonette. But the black-and-white handkerchief was returned to their mother, to keep for another occasion.
When I buried Bella, I took a stone and scratched a Bible reference on the wall of the hidden corner of the garden in which I buried her. Lashing two sticks together to fashion a cross, I hung her collar on it and stood and bowed my head in silence.
Many children will have gone through similar experiences, burying pets in corners of the garden, acting out their own remembrances, their own liturgies. The children in Eiluned Lewis’ story were far more resourceful than I could ever have been.