With a heavy heart on Wednesday 15th March we sadly had to say our final farewell to our beloved Sky, AKA Jelly Dog. He was almost fifteen which is pretty darn ancient in dog years. Nevertheless, it is always heartbreaking to lose something you love. He had a stroke at 8pm and there was nothing the vet could do.
Sky has been such an important part of my story, I thought I'd share some of his story and my thoughts in general about loss and grief.
He originally belonged to my niece, so I didn't name him but 'Sky' absolutely suited him. He was eight weeks old when I first clapped eyes on him and I instantly fell in love. So much so, that when she said I should hold him, I politely refused, because I knew I wouldn't be able to give him back. So instead, I lifted up one of his cute little ears and whispered 'one day you'll be mine'. Low and behold six months later my niece called to say she was struggling with him and that he needed training and time. Something she simply didn't have with two small children to cope with. 'Would you like to have him?' she said and before she could finish the sentence I was in the car.
Since that day he has been my constant companion, unofficial therapy dog (I've always suffered with bouts of depression) and bringer of joy, not just to me, but to everyone who met him. Whatever the X Factor is for dogs, he had it in spades.
His smile (all Staffs smile, but not like him) and those eyes. He just looked like an old soul. Like he'd been here before. He took everything in his stride. His stride by the way, was always so close to mine that I often wondered where he was, only to look down and see him at my feet even in the park or on the beach. He loved people and people loved him.
I took him everywhere with me from the get go. Within a month of having him I was offered a paid comedy gig in Alnwick. I told the promoter I'd just got a puppy and the promoter simply said 'bring him'. So I did. Fearlessly he travelled with me on tubes and trains for hours and hours, without any fuss, shaking, peeing or pooing anywhere he shouldn't. He was nothing short of a star, bewitching everyone he came into contact with.
I lived alone for his first seven years with me, so he was my sounding board for heartache and depression. He sat under my desk while I wrote. He sat on me when I was sad. He put up with my highs (which often included fancy dress) and made my lows more tolerable. Oh and I rehearsed at him relentlessly, especially out loud whilst walking in the park. The day before we said goodbye to him, I was rehearsing my latest show and making a comedy trailer, much to his dismay. In my early days of comedy he was a regular at the fabulous Cavendish Arms in Stockwell too. In fact, his CV is identical to mine. Wherever I went, he went. He came to work with me when I had a market stall at Greenwich.
He won Best Pet Halloween Fancy Dress (see pic below) and of course he could always be found with us at Custard HQ (middle pic) right up until last weekend. He was also the Best Man/Ring Bearer at our halloween fancy dress wedding. Trotting down the aisle reprising his Beetlejuice role, carrying our rings on a loop of ribbon around his collar.
The drawing above was inspired by Sky and is the wonderful work of Jane Thompson (Florica Art) at Greenwich Market. We love it.
Many people think of their pets as the children they either never had or that have moved away. I totally get that, but for me he wasn't that. He was simply the best dog I'd ever had. Better than kids in a way. He never slammed the doors, was never embarrassed by me or ever called me at 2am drunk from a nightclub for a lift home.
During the first lockdown my eighty-three year old mum was living on her own. I know how much loneliness can affect your immune system and mental health. I now had Phil living with me, so I felt it was important mum had daily company. Something to cuddle up to, love and be loved by, whilst we were unable to. I seconded Sky to my mum's house for the duration. I missed him horribly but as usual, he did not bat an eyelid. He loved her and stayed with her whenever we went abroad, so I think he thought we must be on holiday. If only. Here he is setting off on his pandemic mission:
During the second lockdown we decided to rescue Jasper from Greece, he was six months old when he arrived. Did Sky show the slightest sign of jealousy? No, of course not. Like everything in his entire life he just accepted the situation.
As he got older one of my friends said 'it's all the love that's holding him together'. Isn't that a wonderful thought? Love holding us all together. I think it was true. But nothing is forever and with each loss in life we learn lessons. Death always jolts me back to my personal mantra from when I lost my father. 'Life is short, spread joy and do what you love'. It's bizarre to think that my dad was in my life only seven years longer than Sky.
As I sat on the floor holding Sky, kissing and reassuring him, the vet said 'he won't feel anything and it will be quick' and it was. For that I am so grateful. But her words immediately shifted me back in time a few months to my aunt's passing and then all the way back, twenty-nine years, to when I lost my dad. My distressed brain simply couldn't help but question; why do we humans still offer a quick, painless exit from this world to our animals and not to each other? Like many of us, I have watched people I love leave this mortal coil in pain and anguish. It could all be so different and you'd think we'd have worked out a way by now, that doesn't involve travelling to Switzerland and administering it yourself. Sky left us with the grace and dignity he had in life. It's shocking that humans are not afforded the same .
I make no apology for this post. Life and death go hand in hand and no one gets to miss either of them. It's healthier to talk, write or read about it - to share, as early as possible. I've written this, as I write everything, from my heart to yours. I am compelled to write about what I feel, how I feel it and why I feel it is important. It helps me make sense of this crazy old world. Of course, you are entirely entitled to disagree, that's the beauty of sharing, it promotes debate. Always a good thing. There are no right or wrong answers when it comes to loss and grief. They aren't black and white emotions reserved purely for death. Divorce, the end of a friendship or a relationship, being fired, made redundant, finding out you are ill, all count too. Loss and grief are messy and people often don't speak about them because it's uncomfortable. But how can it ever be any easier, if we don't plough through the discomfort and arrive at understanding and healing? I urge you to make eye contact, ask for help if you need it and offer help if and when you can. Let love hold us all together.
My final thought is that although I was sucker punched yesterday, by losing the shadow at my feet, I actually realise how grateful I should be.
I had all those years of unconditional love and got to see that face, that smile, those eyes, every morning. To be honest I think it was a relief for Sky when I finally met Phil, it took the pressure off him. Being the sole focus of someone's love can be exhausting. Fortunately for me, Phil fell under Sky's spell too and helped me immortalise him as Jelly Dog, in my first children’s book 'Standing on Custard' back in 2016.
Sky hasn't really gone. He will continue spreading the joy of words, funny verse and art, in schools and nurseries. As well as bringing parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, carers and guardians together with their children to snuggle and giggle before bedtime, for many years to come.
I felt I owed my one in a million dog, a one in a million blog.
I'll leave you with my favourite clip of us from 2017. Goodnight Sky sleep tight...