My childhood dog died earlier this month.
He would have been fifteen in June which is meant to be quite old for a Yorkshire Terrier, so he had a good long life, but it doesn't make his death any easier.
Apparently he was suffering from a form of canine dementia, according to the vet, and was no longer the carefree young pup we'd all come to know and love. He spent his final days pacing our house, patrolling the perimeters 24/7 like some sort of perennially lost veteran security guard, and was beginning to cry and bite the hand that fed him as they say, for no reason.
So, my parents made the tough decision to have him put to sleep. They say it was cathartic as they got to say goodbye and he was finally at peace, but it's them I pity most.
Snickers (so named as it's the second best chocolate bar after a Yorkie....get it?!) was technically "my" dog as I begged for him as a young teen, but I did none of the actual grizzly dog rearing such as letting him out at 3am, emptying his anal glands (dodged that bullet!) or even feeding him if I'm honest. All I did was play with him and rub him silly, but we had a very special bond.
In a cynical twist of fate, both of my parents have just retired from over thirty years of dedicating their lives to teaching, so they were looking forward to finally having some quality time with the only family member not to have flown the coup.
As is to be expected with any pet owner, they were devastated but they're coping well now.
People may say, "It's only a dog," but the truth of the matter is that this living being shared your life for over a decade. They saw kids get married, and come and go. They played patiently with new additions to the family and let curious toddlers pull their tail. They were there for celebrations, or by your side in times of need. They were there. Always. Without question and without needing anything in return but love.
If you don't own a pet, you won't understand.
For my parents, it was the little things like clearing away his toys and his bed, and having a totally silent house after fifteen years, with just the two of them knocking about now, that's been the biggest adjustment.
My Dad buried Snickers out the back garden and confided in me that he sometimes stands by the door at night half expecting him to come running in. To say my heart nearly broke is an understatement. In fact, I had to stop myself from wailing down the phone to him as I instantaneously felt a huge wave of guilt for not being there to take the brunt of the pain.
I always feared my dog would die while I was in Canada, but in a way it's detached me somewhat from the heartache as I still associate him with home in my mind's eye. The news hasn't really sunk in.
I think my next visit home at Christmas will be the real eye opener when I realise there's no wet nose there to greet me, or a little welcome visitor scratching at my bedroom door in the morning to wake me up.
Strangely, in an entirely accidental but possibly serendipitous circle of life scenario, I finally gave in to my canine craving recently and bought a new puppy just a month before my original BFF died, without even knowing he was sick.
And in an even stranger parent-child scenario of 'doing it right this time,' I'd already assumed full responsibility for Snickers's successor by jumping in head-first with everything from vet visits to bath-time, to teeth cleaning, grooming and training.
So far, I've taught lil Maestro to sit, come, fetch -- the usual tricks -- but I've yet to master 'stay' as it just seems an impossible command for a needy pup who watches and follows my every move.
And, against my better 'pack leader' judgement, I must say I love it.
There's nothing quite as heartwarming as those big brown eyes gazing up into yours, nuzzling their nose into your neck and falling asleep on your lap. It's all very good practice for the pitter patter of tiny feet -- human that is! -- but I'm not there just yet, believe me!
What all of this change has brought home to me, however, and in a very literal way, is the troublingly sheer distance we are from our loved ones were anything serious to happen.
All I want to do in times like these is to go home to comfort my Mum and Dad, if even for the weekend, but all we have between annual trips is texts, calls or Skype. And I may sound unappreciative when you consider the plight of millions of emigrants dotted throughout Irish history, but sometimes technology is just not enough. Sometimes, we just want a hug!
I often wish I'd emigrated to London, or even further afield in Europe, where travel is flexible and inexpensive, but then again I believe the essence of Canada and its young entrepreneurial spirit would be lost.
It just goes to show how much I've fallen head over heels in love with this country that I'm willing to part from my dear family for so long - i.e. a 'one year trip away' is fast becoming five years and counting (provided the lovely BC Provincial Nominee Program peeps approve!) It's worth it, of course, but it's hard to reconcile these conflicting feelings all the same.
Snickers, as always you help me to find some much needed perspective in life, even in death.
RIP my friend - gone but never forgotten xo