Some of you will be saying she was only a dog, it’s not as though you lost a family member. But dogs do become part of the family. She has followed me round the house for years always hopeful that I might be about to take her lead down and take her for a walk. In latter years there was an ever longer delay in her reaching the room I’d moved to, but the spirit was still willing.
Perhaps it was to be expected that she died now, February is a time for dying. More people die in the winter, November to February, than the rest of the year. The statisticians call it ‘excess winter deaths’. I can vouch for this from personal experience, there has been a lot of death in my family over recent years and all at this time of year. Some years ago my Dad died in December, more recently my Mum died at the end of October. My mother and father in law died in February and January respectively and my brother in law died in December.
I have been to funerals at other times of the year, but my abiding memories of crematoria are cold, wet, grey winter days.
Why do more people (I’m not sure if it applies to dogs) die at this time of year? It seems to be linked to the weather and the cold, but a fascinating discussion of the subject on Radio 4’s ‘More or Less’ programme discovered that it’s more complicated. Apparently it’s not as simple as poor old people can’t afford the heating and die in the cold. Clearly sitting in a cold flat is not good for your health, but it doesn’t mean that you will die during the winter months.
I often hear people who have lost someone say that they think of them everyday. I don’t know about you, but I don’t, not really. I suppose I think of them superficially every day. As I write this I’m sat at the dining table that I grew up with and had every family meal at – so it has memories. Then there are the photos around the house. But I don’t stop and really think about each much-loved relative that often, certainly not everyday.
Lately I have found myself thinking of a friend from university who took her own life some twenty years ago. At some point over Christmas I was consulting the Dairy Book of Home Management and out of its pages fell a postcard. The picture was of an expressionist painting, but more excitingly on the back was the track-listing of a mix tape.
Are you familiar with mix tapes? In the golden age of the cassette tape some of us music obsessives spent too long in front of the hi-fi compiling ninety minutes of music, trying to concoct the perfect combination of songs onto one C-90 cassette. We would then impart our musical taste on friends and family, or simply put them in the car in the days before iPods.
Our friend Elaine had made a particularly good tape that introduced me to Northern Soul, a genre I knew little about in the 1990s. The tape has long since disappeared, and we don’t have anything to play it on even if it did turn up. But now we are in the digital age, so last Saturday afternoon I downloaded each track from the list on the postcard and stored them on my computer as a Playlist – the modern equivalent of a mix tape.
I played it back whilst I cooked tea and found myself dancing round the kitchen and turning it up ever louder (apologies to my neighbours). Of course it brought back so many memories: some happy, some sad plus a bit of anger and guilt thrown in. The anger and the guilt are to do with the suicide. If you’ve known someone who has taken their own life you will know that feeling you could have done more to help them and you will feel angry with them for doing it. But mostly you will feel love for them, happiness for the time you had together and sadness that they are gone.
I’ll be back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.