Bye, mama’s boy.


Ed, I’ve begun to heal. I know this because I can write again with memories no longer awash with tears. Your tail would swish in approval if you could see from where I am writing this tribute because the energy of this place is a reflection of all that you were. And all that you are. Its frequency vibrates slowly, gently, peacefully and serenely. I feel joy here, happiness, and content. It feels like you.

My current view is of mountains shrouded in the morning sun, and of mist rising off lightly rippled dam water. Nature is being tenderly nudged to stretch and yawn itself into a new day. I’m in bed with a toasty electric blanket and a recently finished cup of coffee that your dad made me before he went fishing. You know the morning coffee routine so well. As your dad placed the coffee on my bedside table, you’d snuffle in my face with your big squishy snoot to wake me. You had absolutely no sense of personal space. ‘Morning, my Edda. Huzo, my boy,’ I’d say, before thanking your dad for my caffeine kick. Of course, if you were here, you would have gone back to sleep by now. Pressed right up against me, reducing a King size bed to postage stamp size. You did love your sleep, my Ed, my blessing, my beautifully soulful Great Dane.

I retreated for weeks after you were gone. I moved inwards as I disappeared beneath a horrible, hazy fog. It infiltrated every part of me. I felt so very sore. I felt raw. My heart pined with an aching physicality that I didn’t know possible. I moved slower. Even my mind slowed. I forgot things. I forgot the days. In fact, I spent them longing for the night, and the respite sleep bought from the all-consuming grief and gnarled guilt that knotted my insides. The emotional void was made all the larger by your physical size. You were everywhere I looked, yet you were nowhere. The morning after your passing, I frantically gathered your little grey hairs from our duvet, from your part of the couch, from ‘Stralia (your mattress). Your shedding that previously frustrated us was now a blessing – like feathers left behind from angel wings. I collected them in a little square container, which I placed in my bedside drawer. I was sure I was losing my mind. I needed some part of you near me. I didn’t know how not to miss you.

Nerd jersey.

I was the one that made that final decision on your final day. That relentless reel played over in my head like a horror film, and my name was the lead credit. I didn’t know how to forgive myself, because the only way we could coax you inside the vet’s practice was to say, ‘mama is with you, come, everything is going to be ok.’ Logically the guilt was irrational, but I felt like I had betrayed your unquestioning trust in me; that unconditional love we shared.

From diagnosis until goodbye was fleeting. ‘It’s Lymphoma.’ The vet delivered this news through large, awkward eyes set above his medical ‘lockdown’ mask. He’s a kind man, our vet. His words were delivered in an uneasy staccato. He’d known Ed from a pup and always referred to him as “Big Ed.” We were regular ‘guests’ at his practice. Ed was prone to minor injuries thanks to skittle-like legs, a wonky centre of gravity, and general clumsy goofiness. ‘Lymphoma. What does that mean exactly?’ My eyes darted between the vet and my husband like I was watching a fast-paced tennis match. ‘We have pet insurance, so we can do anything we need to,’ I blurted before he had a chance to reply. We had been warned that Great Danes are rickety. We had been warned that they have a short life span. So, we had insurance to ensure we could afford any necessary treatment: hips, legs, accidents, anything. We’d make sure he outlived the stats. I hadn’t factored in Cancer. ‘It’s terminal, very common in Great Danes,’ came the surreal words. And that’s when I broke.

After being referred to a specialist vet, we began treatment. It was never going to buy us a cure, just a little more time. For three weeks, it worked, and the dancing light in Ed’s eyes and spirit returned. Even his endearingly silly antics had us laughing again. He flung his favourite stuffed toy, Monkey, around with playful delight. We referred to our home as ‘Reach for a Dream.’ Whatever Ed wanted Ed got. Biltong was referred to as his “brat-time food-time.” And snuggling on our bed in the mornings was now a rule, not an exception. The mattress next to our bed seemed too far away.

Snuggling with Monkey and me.

Then one morning, his eyes dulled. I knew immediately, and it made me sick. Our hearts shattered to see him confused by inexplicably unsteady legs. He turned his squishy nose away from freshly cooked chicken fillets and flopped back down on his mattress. Alex didn’t go to school after he came close to falling. I felt so blessed to have her with me. We looked after Ed (and each other) the entire day. We were his, for whatever he needed.

We bought him water, snuggled him, lay next to him. The rest of the time, we simply stared at him, syphoning in his every detail. His multi-coloured nails, that little fleck of white near his frown, that big, kissed-a-thousand-times nose, and those eyes. Those beautiful, brown eyes that always made everything ok regardless of how bad a day any of us had had. Visually, it became acutely obvious that his body was simply a capsule for a soul of the highest form. He was not this body. Alex and I wept together. We sprinkled gentle kisses on his face and paws as we watched his rib cage press tightly against unbuffered skin with every laboured inward breath. ‘My bag of bones, boy,’ I said. No more. That afternoon my husband arrived back from work, and we drove him to the vet.

Alex lying with and just taking in every bit of Ed on that last day. The love. The sadness.

The vet kneeled before Ed, ‘Eddie, I’ve known you since a pup. You’re a good, good boy. You’re the reason people have Great Danes.’ My husband and I held our Ed, soothed him, and spoke words of deep love as heaven celebrated their angel’s return. It’s not often I see my husband cry. That day he wept. I kissed my gentle Great Dane on the bridge of his endearingly long nose, ‘Ed, you were the best thing that ever happened to me. I love you, my boy.’ Why had the world not stopped?

Just four and a half years prior to that, we had stood staring at a short, stocky lady clutching a Great Dane pup that she was pretending to have some control over. He eventually wriggled free, but not before his claw mistakenly scratched her cheek. ‘They really are the most amazing breed,’ she said. All I could do was fixate at the scratch as it grew into a red welt before my eyes. ‘He’s the last of a litter of 13,’ she said as she took us to the back garden to see Eddie’s parents.

Ed was running ahead of us in an all-over-the-show zigzag – all floppy ears and chunky paws. ‘Maybe there’s a reason he’s the last one,’ I thought as we walked behind the lady who was now subconsciously exploring the extent of the damage to her cheek. Then I saw Ed’s parents. ‘What? They’re huge!’ In hindsight, that was an exceptionally silly thing to say. What were they going to be? Ed’s parents were jumping against a wooden fence with the deep, instantly distinguishable Great Dane bark that became endemic to our road. I looked to my husband before announcing, ‘I don’t think we’ll be taking him right away. We just need to give it a bit of thought.’ I actually meant to say, ‘We don’t know how to live with a horse in our house.’ So, we left Ed and headed home.

Anyone who has witnessed the bond Ed and I shared will be surprised to discover that it was actually my husband who talked me into returning for him. ‘I know he’s big, but did you see how cute he is?’ My husband is in sales. He’s damn good at it too. And Ed did rank about 100% in the cuteness stakes. That I couldn’t deny. I gave in.

About two days into life with Ed, I fell ill. I was lying in bed during the day, and the little punk wasn’t content to lie on his mattress. Low on energy, I gave into his whimpers and let him up. He wasted no time putting his head on my pillow, with the squishy nose I grew to treasure pressed up against my own. When I woke hours later, neither of us had moved. I opened my eyes and stared at this pup, ‘Hey, Ed. Thanks for lying here with me.’ He opened those eyes of love, nose still firmly pressed, and stared contentedly back at me. From there on out, it was me and Ed for life. Inseparable. An extension of each other.

From the moment we made that giant galoot ours, we were gifted with abundant unconditional love, joy, laughter, and endless goofy antics. And Great Dane hugs. The kind that only Great Dane owners will understand. If you’re caught off-guard, the hugs can almost wind you. When a Dane is overwhelmed with an ‘I love you’ moment, they barge their heads, nose down into your lower belly, tail rhythmically swishing in a rainbow-shaped formation. That’s your cue. Regardless of what else you may be doing, you are now required to lean over, encircle their waist and rest your cheek on their back. If you cease the hug before they’re ready, they’ll just keep coming back for more. And guess what? You’ll oblige, because pure joy should always come first.

You learn to become what we referred to as “Great Dane fit.” With Great Danes come bruises and swellings. All unintentional, of course. They stand on your feet, headbutt you, walk around on your lap, sit on your head, lie on you. Walks are unpredictable. I face-planted in beach sand while trying to restrain Ed on a lead – much to the delight of on-lookers. My husband broke a slop (slops, in fact), and let’s just say his glasses now sit askew his nose. Ed even managed to fail puppy school. He never learned to (correctly) walk on a lead. He didn’t sit. He didn’t roll. He didn’t ‘paw’. However, he did manage to bowl over the ‘sensibly-sized’ pups when tripping over his own paws during ‘free-play-time’. Their owners glared protectively. When ‘playing’ hide-and-seek, he was the only pup that ran the wrong way. I ‘unenrolled’ him two lessons before graduation. Honestly, Ed at puppy school looked like the opening scene from “Marley and me”.

Yet the irony is he’s the greatest teacher I’ve ever known. Ed taught me to appreciate the moment, the little things. That all we need is love. And a couch (preferably an L-shaped one – they will need a side dedicated to them). And nose kisses. And to lovingly hold paws in hands. And to experience utter content simply because a rectangular brick-shaped head is choosing your lap to rest upon. Ed’s pillowy brown eyes could stare up at you like you were all that mattered. I’m not sure I have ever seen so much kindness reflected in a simple stare. He communicated volumes without a sound. Our communication was instinctive.

Look guys! I found a palm frond. It won’t make a mess, promise.

Between the all-consuming sadness, I was cross. I didn’t understand why Ed was with us for such a short time. He was only four years old! He had done nothing wrong. It was he that was teaching us life lessons, not the other way around. He was perfect. He didn’t deserve this.

As a family, we lent in hard on each other. My husband and I, my mom. My son spoke of Ed’s energy being everywhere – in all the things we love, in our hearts. And my daughter spoke these profound words when I was lamenting his fleeting life: ‘Mom, Ed only lived for 4 years, because he has been here many times before. He’s lived other lives and learned all his required lessons. I don’t think those previous lives were easy. That’s why he still had to experience a perfect life. One filled with only love. We gave him that. He left because his journey is complete.’

Ed, you made everything ok. I felt nothing but loved. I miss you so VERY much. Thank you for choosing us. See you again, my boy. And when that day comes, I will never leave your side. Never.

LOVE always, mama.

I know you’ll be waiting at the gates. Just like you used to.

Let’s just coddiwomple

x Keryn