When your friend passes to the Great Mystery


Daniel O’Driscoll: Laughter Dog

In 2009, my friend Daniel died. I absolutely hate death. It’s the one thing in this world that we are ultimately powerless to defeat. Death is the ultimate slap in the face; a reminder that we are not God, and that we are essentially limited.

Normally when one of my dogs has died, I have sat down at the computer and written about them so that I can connect with them, remember them, and celebrate their life. It seems to me that, when faced with any form of destruction or loss, the only way out is through creativity.

But I couldn’t sit down and write about Dannie. I couldn’t even speak about him. I didn’t want to let anyone into the dark sanctuary of grief we shared together. I would have done anything in my power, and I did do everything in my power, to stop my little Dan from dying. So whilst I could not make Dannie live, I was unable and unwilling to let him go. If I did not speak about him out loud, or allow anyone inside, I could hold him within me for ever.

I have difficulty getting my head around the fact that one day your beloved is there, and the next day he’s not, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Even though dogs can’t verbalise what they think, their minds and their bodies can surely communicate with us; their presence is very real. And I find it astounding and disturbing that a person should simply cease to exist.

For weeks after Dannie died, I was distressed when I walked into a room and he wasn’t there. I resented very much that he was no longer with me, no longer cracking jokes and acting the clown; no longer smiling at me and giving me beautiful butterfly kisses; no longer stalking us in the Highlands, staying close enough to know where we were, but far enough away to revel in the freedom of the hills. I wanted to see his tail on the skyline again. I wanted him to be here now, picking up his enormous teddy bear and dancing down the hall, looking so adorable that my heart nearly burst.

I was so cross about Dannie’s death. It’s really unfair that we are rewarded for loving someone by having them taken away.

Two weeks after Dannie died, his ashes were ready for us to collect from the vets, so Rob and I walked up the hill behind our house, onto the moors, and set Dannie free. We scattered his ashes to the four winds, and remembered him running free, hunting for rabbits, his muscles rippling and his mind focused. And in setting Daniel free, the dark clouds lifted, and the light came back into my body and my heart.

And I was free to remember the happiness of Daniel O’Driscoll, Laughter Dog, Shimmering, Sparkling, Joy-filled Master Dog.

I am so very, very thankful that Dannie came into my life. I have given over wailing at God, and gratitude has taken its place. When I look back over the years, I see pictures of Dan the Man as a puppy – so adorable and huggable. He smelt so good. I can see him growing into a young man, thinking it hilarious when the cows below our garden ran away every time he crept up and barked at them through the fence. I see him watching Edward intently, wanting Edward’s bone and Edward’s toy, distracting him so he could run in and pinch the treasured prize. Then I see him prancing like a pony with the treasure in his mouth.

I see Dannie lying under the sheet – he loved me to cover his head and poke him through the cloth. I see him rolling in the fields, and rolling even harder if I joined in and laughed. I remember he was hopeless at catching balls or titbits. He tried, really he did – but he must have been at the end of the line when the coordination was handed out. He was a canine Bennie Hill, tongue lolling out for his comedy catching showcase. He was also useless at hunting. He tried so much harder than Edward – but whereas rabbits seemed to leap into Edward’s mouth without him even trying, Dannie would hunt with total attention and rarely managed to catch a thing.

In life, I know that Daniel was ever mindful of me. I absolutely know he loved me, and he knew I loved him. Dogs are like that, aren’t they? If you take a dog into your heart, he’s always on your side, forever rooting for you. Dogs want the best for their humans, they really do. Daniel’s life mission was to make me laugh, and it was my job to repay him by laughing heartily at every joke he cracked. The more I would laugh, the more he would do what I was laughing at; and the more he would shimmer and shine and sparkle and do it all again.

Oh Dannie. Thank you so much.

Another part of Daniel’s personality lay in his vulnerability. Daniel made my heart ache with maternal love. I wanted to protect him and cosset him and put his complex mind at ease. Like all legendary comedians, Dannie was very vulnerable. His need to make his loved-ones laugh came from a deep place of worry and concern. The thing is, if all was not calm and well in our world, Dannie felt the need to turn things around. It hurt him if Rob or I were feeling unhappy – it hurt him very deeply. He would take on his loved-ones’ pain and carry it for them, whilst at the same time trying to cheer everyone up. Dogs do this, don’t they.

The death of a loved-one certainly puts life into perspective. One woman said to me when her dog died, “It made me realise that life can be so painful, and it makes me shrink away from causing hurt to anyone again”. This is exactly what happened to me when Oliver died when he was four years old. Knowing what real pain felt like, I vowed to never willingly cause pain to another living being.

Since then, I’ve noticed that this vow is not so easy to keep. The Buddha refused to walk on grass – he didn’t want to kill insects accidentally. And it seems to me that even though we try to be kind, we often harm others by accident. We say things without thinking, without understanding the effect of our words, or we don’t think to say or do something that could mean so much to someone in pain.

I have a fridge magnet that says, “Dear Lord, help me to be the kind of person my dog thinks I am”, but I have it on good authority that our dogs know that we are already the lovely people they think we are. They’re just waiting for us to feel worthy of the love they give us. They want us to stop beating ourselves up and accept ourselves as the imperfect beings that every human must be.

I personally believe that the spirit can never die, that the essence of who we are simply discards its worn-out body and moves on to the next adventure, passing through a place of profound peace, and meeting up with others who have gone before. I know that my little Dan Man is with Chappie, Sophie, Prudence, Oliver, Samson and dear, sweet, Gwinnie. I also know that Dannie’s essence will always be with me and Rob. My faith is lashed very tightly to the flag of hope – that we will all meet our loved-ones again one day.

Scientists have studied the grief process, and they know that our grief goes through stages. Initially, we may feel detached, calm, shocked, dazed and/or unresponsive. The second stage of grief involves despair, intense anguish and psychological pain. Emotions can include anger, guilt and self-reproach, anxiety, loneliness, fatigue, helplessness, shock and yearning. Tears also play a big part. Physical sensations range from headaches and chest pains to breathlessness and lack of energy. For me personally, grief always seems to involve agonising shoulder pain.

Research also shows that it’s necessary to work through the pain of grief. It is, according to the experts, healthy and natural, and even necessary, to experience pain when you lose someone you love. We’re not supposed to bottle our grief up, our bodies will not let us. Our bodies will remind us that we need to go through the process of grief, accept and allow our tears, before the physical aches will go away. We can’t turn our backs on grief – we have to face it full on.

The third phase of grief – of recovery – is when we begin to find acceptance, and are then free to move on and give our love to others. I personally believe that this takes time. Even though Rob and I have allowed ourselves to cry, and to talk about sweet Dan, and also Gwinnie who passed over in July, it may take months or even a few years, before all traces of grief are gone. We may never be entirely free of it. You know the deal: you’re minding your own business and then someone says something, or something happens, and you’re engulfed in grief again. But it does soften over time, I know this from experience.

So here I am, at the end of this article, having written about Daniel – and he is still not here.

Except, when I wrote: “I was free to remember the happiness of Daniel O’Driscoll, Laughter Dog, Shimmering, Sparkling, Joy-filled Master Dog”, Daniel was actually here with me in the room, over the moon at the description I had found for him. He was so happy and excited, just as he used to be in life, that he lit up every cell in my body. Have you ever had that feeling, when you’re so full of joy and spirit is close, that your whole body tingles? Some people describe it as the hairs standing up on the back of their necks.

Well, some people would call me mad or deluded for saying that, and some people will even find a reason to be enraged. We all see the world as we see it, and not necessarily how it is. But I do know, through the life and death of my beloved friends, that acceptance is something we must all seek and embrace. Acceptance of life, acceptance of death, and acceptance of the trillion thoughts, feelings and happenings in between. And acceptance of each other.

We should have a fridge magnet that says, “Dear Lord, please make me the kind of person my dog is.”

If you hear this, and it makes you want to get in your car and go to a place called Acceptance, I am glad. The world needs us to be kind to ourselves and one-another, and acceptance will certainly take us there.

Isn’t it interesting that our dogs never seem to judge us, and that the King of Love also asked us not to judge one-another? And isn’t it interesting that death and loss offer us the ultimate lesson in acceptance of what is? Kahlil Gibran wrote:

When love beckons to you, follow him,
though his ways are hard and steep . . .
For even as love crowns you so shall
he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth
so is he for your pruning . . .
And think not you can direct the course
of love; for love, if it finds you worthy,
directs your course . . .

And so I thank our Dannie for the love he gave and received, and for the knowledge that our love has deepened and intensified across the veil of death. Daniel is no longer on the outside of me, wagging his tail. He is inside me, in my heart, where he will always stay.

* My husband Rob creates his way out of life’s pain, and finds acceptance, through producing music. Some of his songs can be found on this link – http://www.robellismusic.weebly.com. The track entitled ‘Tail on the Skyline’ is Dannie’s song, and ‘My Friend’ is written and performed in honour of our dear precious Gwinnie. Perhaps you would like to hear these songs of love.