Happy Birthday dear Milly

Pleased to report that Mr and Mrs Bray have survived another milestone day.

Today – March 31st 2018 – would have been Milly’s 15th Birthday.

As I said in an earlier post, being a rescue, we never knew her actual date of birth, but 31st March was what we always celebrated. Not that Milly really knew what a birthday meant. She perhaps had a slightly fancier dinner – a Lily’s Kitchen special – got an extra walk or a smart new collar. But in reality none of that mattered to her. All that was ever important was that she had her humans around her, and she felt loved.

This is a fairly difficult thing to put into words, but I would probably describe Milly as emotionally needy. She was certainly very complex, and our connection was on quite a deep emotional level. Perhaps that was created from the concentrated training we did, or perhaps it was just what both her and I needed in order to function well, but our relationship was quite intense.

Although she was our dog, our family dog, and we all loved her hugely, I don’t think Matt would disagree if I said she was really “my dog” in terms of responsibility and commitment. It was mummy and Milly versus the world, and her and I both knew it.

Obviously compounded by her issues, she was not an anyone or anywhere dog. There were very few people who I was prepared to burden with the responsibility of looking after her. I realise that may sound like a glorified way of saying I was over-protective, and maybe in some respects I was. But ultimately she was not an easy dog out of the house, and to someone who hasn’t experienced a “Milly” before, what I used to describe of her behaviour probably sounded completely ridiculous and alien. The risk of someone misunderstanding my “she’s not good with other dogs” as anything other than “if she sees another dog she will go totally crazy and try and pull your arm out of your socket” was just too high. It was therefore much fairer on everyone (including her) that she had only a tiny handful of nominated carers if we were ever away (which didn’t happen often).

For all these years she has featured in every thought and every decision I have made. In the past couple of years I have very purposefully made my world smaller and reduced my commitments in order to just be around her. It’s been apparent for a very long time that she wasn’t ever going to be a “take everywhere with you” dog. We only had a small selection of family and friends that she could visit with and over time I found that if I wasn’t going somewhere that I could take her then I didn’t really want to go. If I knew she would be at home with Soph or with Matt, then I felt better about it, but when offered to do something that meant leaving her in the evenings or weekends I generally avoided commitments. My friends may realise now why I’m always SO happy to host at home.. “why don’t you come to me” must be one of my catchphrases! Although, in fairness to me, that wasn’t the sole reason – we have worked incredibly hard to make a very lovely and comfortable home and I really enjoy welcoming visitors, cooking, entertaining and generally taking good care of my people here.

Don’t get me completely wrong – I’m not saying I refused to leave her – but just that I really adapted my life and my interests such that I was at home as much as possible. I wanted to be with her, and I think she was happiest and most settled when she was with me.

Since her passing, a few people have asked me about burial & cremation etc. Although forward thinking to that time was largely avoided, we knew it would have to be cremation.

For me, burial just doesn’t work because putting it bluntly, if I buried her in the garden here then I would NEVER be able to leave. Matt was agreed with cremation as well. Years ago I know he went through the heartbreak of burying his first dog. Bringing her home from the vets, digging a hole in the front garden and placing her down lovingly in her blanket. He knew there was no way he or I could endure that.

With cremation comes that slightly odd decision of what to do with the ashes. I have zero frame of reference on this, other than perhaps the scene from Meet the Parents when Ben Stiller smashes Grandma’s urn with a champagne cork. I guess I know that sometimes people choose a favourite place of their loved one to scatter their ashes. A favourite spot perhaps, be that under a tree, on a hillside, out to sea… I can see how that would make sense. For me though, and for Milly, it doesn’t. She didn’t have a favourite spot, she didn’t roam the hills or the woodlands, sadly she couldn’t have the freedom to pick one. Fairly simply, she belonged next to me.

On the day we lost her, Matt handled the discussion and the paperwork. I could barely manage a nod between the sheets of tears running down my face. I don’t even remember he and I discussing anything, but we must have said something on the subject. Perhaps when sitting in the car outside waiting for her test results. I would guess I probably said something, even though I was sitting there feeling numb and in complete denial as to what I knew in my heart was likely to unfold.

Matt gave instructions for a private cremation, with ashes returned in a wooden casket, engraved with just her name.

We went together to collect her ashes on Monday 26th February. It was the most bizarre feeling. The vets handed me a little carrier bag. I couldn’t look inside, but I clung to it all the way home and sat frozen with it on my lap for a good half hour when we got here. Again with silent tears streaming down my face the whole time. I’m pretty good at crying.

I had tried to avoid giving it much thought, but I hadn’t expected the little box to be a wooden replica of the sort of stone tombs you see in ye olde graveyards. I also hadn’t contemplated how heavy it would be. I was however very pleased to see that it was a fully sealed box and so there was no way of “accidentally knocking the lid off”.

My dressing table was hastily cleared (one swift swipe of everything into an open drawer) and Milly’s little box took up it’s position, and there it will probably stay forever.

Since walking out of the vets on that awful morning of February 15th I have had Milly’s collar either under my pillow, round my wrist, or in my handbag or pocket. Realise this probably sounds nuts, but it has given me a shred of comfort and something very physical to cling to – literally – when the sadness washes over me.

I do know that this probably isn’t practical, and cannot continue forever.

With a little bit of research, I think we have found the next best alternative. Ashes into Glass are a company who take cremation ashes and, using traditional methods, handmake them into glass crystals that can then be set into pieces of jewellery. I’ve known about this company for a few weeks and have been looking back and forth over their website, but haven’t made the time or frankly had the courage to get in touch. They offer a postal ordering service and will send you out a pack on request. Somehow this doesn’t feel quite right. I don’t like the idea of sending something so precious through the post and am not sure I could cope with unscrewing her little box and removing the teaspoonful they require to set into the gem either.

So, instead, we decided that a visit to the workshop was best. Not only could we see the products offered, but we could hand deliver Milly’s ashes, and have them discreetly and respectfully take what they need.

By now you must realise where this post is going….

Milly’s birthday was obviously the right day to make that trip. My super parents drove down at lunchtime, and the four of us set off to Billericay, Essex. I am aware that I wasn’t a barrel of fun today, and despite trying to put a brave face on it I created a fairly sombre mood in the car there and back.  I also probably drove too fast to get there.  As always I am so thankful for my non-judgemental, non-critical parents, who are always so good at gauging the mood, and knowing just how to “be”.  Not to mention Matt., who is the most consistent and solid rock standing by my side.  With zero words between us he knows exactly what I am feeling, and exactly how to give me comfort and strength.

Ashes into Glass have their workshop in a really sweet craft village at Barleylands. It is a lovely setting, with lots of artisan craft studios and stalls, and a farm next door. On a practical note it is also extremely easy to get to, easy to find, and easy to park in the huge free car park. It’s a shame the weather wasn’t drier and milder because it is the sort of place you can spend a good couple of hours mooching around.

No need for that today though as we were there with one purpose (well maybe two if you count the post-shopping visit to the Tea Room). The Ashes into Glass showroom is a small area right next to the workshop where you can see the glass making process up close. Although it is a “working” workshop, with the background whoosh of the high temperature furnace running, it felt very peaceful and just respectful. Apparently you can arrange to be present when your actual glass gemstone is being made, which is pretty incredible, but a step too far for me.

I already had a good idea of the piece I wanted, but for something so special it was important to see them on display before making a decision. The salesman was a very gentle guy, and not really a salesman at all to be honest. He just stood quietly waiting whilst I looked at the display and then spoke softly and kindly as I choked back tears trying to place my order. My stone and jewellery will be ready in around 6 weeks. They will call when it is finished so I can arrange to go and collect it in person. I am pleased that I will have it before my birthday, and that then Milly will truly never ever leave my side.

I have chosen a beautiful round pendant in white gold, with simple engraving on the reverse. The gemstone will, of course, be black.

because Milly…