When I was 7 years old, I met my first Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and I was in love. The dog belonged to my Aunty and I can no longer remember the dog’s name, its gender or its colour. What I do remember is how cute it was and how it would patiently let me sit and pat it for hours. Growing up, I would constantly ask Santa for a Cavalier in a basket. The Cav in a basket never arrived and life got in the way and I never managed to get that Cav.
It was decades later when I was married with a toddler and a baby that my husband mentioned a work colleague who had two Cavs that needed rehoming. I was on the phone arranging to pick them up quicker than you can say ‘Cav in a basket’. And so over the Easter break in 2013, we brought home two very timid but cute Cavs, Molly and Jax. I did pretend that they were coming home to teach the kids life lessons in responsibility, empathy and caring for others. In truth, they joined our family because of their beautiful fluffy little faces.
Just as I remembered, they were cute and patient and would happily let the kids put them in toy prams or carry them like babies. They refused to play fetch and would get tangled in their leads going for walks. They would fight over their food and shed fur all over the house. They were perfect.
While Jax was happy with attention from anyone, Molly and my son, David, were best friends. When Molly joined our family, David was only just starting to walk and we used to think Molly was protective of him because she thought she was his Mum. David and Molly had that child/pet relationship I thought only existed in movies. They played together and went on walks together (I once even caught them in the shower together) but what made it so special was all those moments they spent just together. If David was reading a book or watching a movie, Molly would be at his feet. The years passed and Molly and Jax grew older. The walks David took Molly on became shorter and she would start to take just a little longer to run to the front door when she heard he was home from school. Molly started to wheeze when she breathed and we could see that she was having difficulty getting up from her bed in the mornings.
The family grew concerned about Molly but more so about how David would react when the inevitable happens and Molly passes away. Kids need to learn about loss and grief but I worried as the bond between them was so strong. It was about six months ago that David asked me a question that made my heart drop, ‘When I grow up, will Molly come and live with me?’ I looked at his pleading eyes and felt his little 7 year old heart break as I told him ‘No, love. Molly will not be alive when you are old enough to leave home’. I will never forget the look of horror on his face.
At least once a week, he would have a cry at the thought of losing Molly, his second Mum. I also noticed he was extra gentle with Molly. He stroked her slowly and rushed a bit quicker to see her in the afternoons. He lay on the grass with her and carried her onto the lounge to watch movies. He hugged her just a little bit tightly and kissed her just a little bit more.
Last week, we came home and followed our usual routine of David and Lilian running outside to play and I heard a cry I hope to never hear again. I can only describe it as the desperate sound of grief. Molly had passed away. Thinking she was sleeping, David had hugged her only to realise his beloved Molly was dead. The children cried into the early hours of the morning. I did not sleep at all, crying over Molly but also at the sadness about to be experienced by David. We would all have the day away from school and work to talk about our feelings and how we would cope.
I gently woke up Lilian and we had another cry and started to prepare breakfast when I went to give David a cuddle so he would wake up gently. He was upset but not as grief stricken as others in the family. He talked about Molly and how he missed her but he also seemed to have grown up over night. It was David who consoled us, he talked about the good memories and seemed to have bounced back quicker than any of us would have expected.
Just tonight, I asked him how he was feeling about everything that had happened over the last few days and his answer was ‘Once you told me Molly was not going to be with me forever, I knew I would dread the day that would happen. So, I loved her more and treated her like every day was her last. I think she liked it that she had her last hug from me. Can I play the Nintendo now?’
So, it looks like the Cavs in a basket did teach a life lesson. I think a life lesson for all of us.