Over the last few nights I've been reading a few chapters of Marley - a dog like no other (by John Grogan) to my six-year-old son, Kieran.
It's a children's version of Marley and Me, the international best seller. I'd picked up the adult version and kept putting it down. I couldn't get into it, couldn't see how it had sold so many copies. But it's sold millions, so I obviously missed something.
The kiddie version of Marley appealed, Kieran loves dogs.
Together we met the naughty Labrador and heard how the poor thing obviously suffered from various phobias that his novice owners didn't understand. I winced at the references to choke chains and at John's happy discovery that kneeing the dog hard in the chest stopped him jumping up at people!
Bu despite these negative adult observations, Kieran (my 6 year old) was falling in love with naughty Marley. Every night he was more eager for the next installment.
With every night I was getting more and more worried about where we were going. Of course Marley got ever older and weaker.
By the way - if you have read the adult book, how annoyed were you at the poor old dog being packed off to the vets while they all went to Disneyland? I can't imagine anything more stressful for a dog than staying at the vets!
If you really love your dog you'd put non-essential trips away on hold when they're so near to the end. (I once missed out on going to a party at 10 Downing Street because my old doggie didn't like the dog sitter who I'd booked. I wouldn't have been able to enjoy myself for worrying about the poor old girl - she was on a hair trigger and if she got stressed she'd end up on a drip after losing copious amounts of blood - my car used to look like a meat wagon. The dog sitter had brought her own dog with her and Sally hated other dogs.)
Anyway I tried hiding the book when we got down to the last three chapters, but Kieran was insistent. He wanted to hear the ending.
It was hard to read it aloud. I think we both cried in equal measures - passing each other tissues and giving each other hugs.
I have too often cried into a beloved dogs' fur and felt that dull ache as the gentle loving eyes lose their sparkle so I was probably remembering all those times. But it was all new for Kieran.
I couldn't help recall my mum's death as I read to Kieran. The doctor's had turned up her morphine and stopped assisting with her breathing. It was inevitable she was going to slip away in the next few hours. I got to stroke her hair, and hold her hand and tell her how I felt about her, too. I don't think I'd connected all those bereavements before I read Marley to Kieran.
(I'm welling up again just thinking about it.)
This morning Kieran was still thinking about Marley. He is a gentle little fellow. He hugged our dogs extra hard and told them what great dogs they are. Words that John had whispered to Marley at the end.
Who'd have thought a kid's book could stir up so much emotion!