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A gentle tale of loss and grief

Bounce, bounce, bounce.

It used to drive me mad. But I get ahead of myself, so let’s start at the beginning. Many years ago in an ancient cottage in a remote part of Devon lived an old couple who for a variety of reasons, remained childless. I used to visit them as often as I could because I was the nearest thing to family that they had.

It was a warm summer evening when I arrived at the cottage after a stressful drive from London. I had been looking forward to a weekend of quiet solitude with my oldest friends, but as I drove towards their home down their pot-holed lane I instantly saw there was a change. All looked as usual, except there was now a front gate and sitting in the porch was a black Labrador. She came barking up to the gate but the noise was tamed by a whirlwind tail so the bedlam became an enthusiastic greeting.

“Where did she come from?” I asked as I set down my case in the hall. My friends, let’s call them Robert and Alice, had a contained air of excitement which I had never seen before. “Poppy arrived about a month ago. She was neglected, hungry and soaking wet as she sat outside the front door. She was really skinny and shivering so how could we not take her in?” How indeed I said to myself, knowing my friends’ generosity of spirit. Robert and Alice were two of the most gentle people you would find anywhere and their lifelong friendship had given them a communication where words often weren’t necessary. They smiled at each other in a way which tore at my heart. My solitary life, to which I had grown accustomed, suddenly seemed so sad and yes, lonely.

Poppy. The name suited her so well as she was energetic but gentle. She showed me her plaything which was a grubby old tennis ball which she was so proud of and which once might have taken pride of place in a long forgotten tournament. “We found it in an old tin trunk in the attic and Poppy takes it everywhere with her”. She dropped it at my feet. Bounce, bounce, bounce. Large brown eyes looked up at me, her head on one side with the message as clear as speech “Throw it for me”. I remember thinking at the time she was perfect for two people who were so comfortable together. She fitted in as if she had always been there.

And so their lives continued in a quiet routine with Poppy filling in for the child they never had. Until, as is the way of things, Alice had a stroke and after a short illness quietly died. Typically, with no fuss or drama. When I heard the news and I was the first to know as I had suspected this would happen, I dropped everything to be with Robert for a week or a month … however long it took to help him come to terms with his loss.

As usual Poppy met me at the gate but she must have known that change had come to her life as her tail was less enthusiastic, her movements slower. And I noticed that she had grown grey around her muzzle and her eyes had that slightly opaque far-off look of old age, a look of quiet acceptance. But she dropped the ball at my feet … some habits were too hard to break. I saw Robert softly approaching and I hugged him which I had never done before. This sort of sentimentality was not what his generation did but yet he seemed to welcome the physical contact.

I remember thinking how he had changed. His face was more lined, he spoke less and more quietly, he walked with a stoop which was unthinkable even a few months ago. And now Poppy went everywhere with him. Bounce, bounce, bounce which kept him occupied as those soft brown eyes could not be denied. And in the evenings she would lie on the sofa with her head in his lap. I remember thinking “thank God for Poppy” as her company made Robert’s loss and grief less severe. So days merged into weeks and finally it was time for me to go. I left with a heavy heart, but it seemed a perfect pairing which saw me off at the front gate.

And so my life in London continued as normal. Until one day, several years later I received a message that  Poppy had died. I immediately left for Devon with real fear as to what I would find.

That evening at dinner we stayed up late while Robert talked about his life and together we  travelled back in time to a more gentle, slower era. I remember thinking how difficult it must be for those whose very isolation had made a strange and threatening new environment out of their world. But what surprised me most was Robert’s lack of that almost suicidal desperation which comes from great loss. He said that Poppy was still with him, but it was one of those things which you don’t challenge.

Then, in the early hours of the morning I woke up to a strange ambience in the house. It was a quiet night with the breeze mildly sighing past the windows. There was a silvery light from the moon which bathed the countryside beneath ribbon-clouds which ambled across the night sky. It all seemed so normal. But then I heard it.

Bounce, bounce, bounce. And overlaid was the soft voice of Robert. It seemed that the world had taken on a structure which I didn’t understand. So, later when it came time to leave it was easier in the knowledge that Robert was perhaps not as alone as I had thought. Before I left he told me that Poppy was still with him and that Alice also was present. Who was I to disbelieve this after what I had heard?

And so once again the years past until I heard that Robert had quietly passed away. His last act of generosity had been to leave me his cottage where they had all been so happy.

But it had changed.

After a few days staying there trying to resurrect memories the feeling of bereft solitude became too much for me. I found myself staying awake, waiting for the Bounce, bounce, bounce which used to drive me mad but now of course never returned. It was as if the three of them, having been reunited, had left together to spend eternity in love and companionship. It made my solitary life now seem so pointless … and alone. So I decided to sell the cottage and hope that those ancient walls would relax in the company of a new family.

I know that Robert, Alice and Poppy would understand.

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A gentle tale of loss and grief


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