Not a bad way to go really, when you think about it. Warm, dry, having your ears stroked, with fresh hay, vegetables and bunny treats within easy reach. I wouldn't mind ending my own days like that. He was a good age and, although cataracts and a spot of arthritis had taken their toll, he was still relatively sprightly, meandering round the garden hunting grapes and the occasional dandelion:
We'd known he was on his way out for most of the day and so were a little way prepared for the inevitable, but feeling his tiny body come to a stop with a small tremor and a bit of a stretch was quite the emotional wrench.
If you're not one of the privileged few fortunate enough to have had a house rabbit as a tenant, then you might think I'm being daft, but there you go. Emotions happened. Occasional tears were shed.
But then we've had him through some tough times over the last eight and a half years so perhaps not that surprising after all. He's been a fluffy constant at home through some of the highest peaks we've had, as well as being there through dark times, through those minor tragedies inherent to all of of us during our lives unless we're very, very lucky. Small wonder we will cling to whatever tiny rock, whatever small solace we can. Bert was, I now recall, a living, breathing source of succour and comfort.
Or at the very least a sock-shagging distraction.
Try being depressed with a randy bunny clinging to your Totes Toasties.
When I hear someone is thinking of getting a bunny type critter, I now implore them into making it a house rabbit. That way, instead of a savage isolated bitey thing in an oft-neglected pen in the garden, they get a socialised, confident, very entertaining companion running circles around you whilst making soft honking sounds, leaping on to the walls and pushing off like a chinchilla in The Martrix, running up and down stairs ten times in a row for no other reason than it seems like the thing to do, or nudging your feet with his nose until you agree to fuss him for forty solid minutes whilst watching the telly.
His official title once our children came along was Officer In Charge Of Animal Appreciation, a duty he carried out with aplomb, supplying many hours of stoic fortitude as our children fussed him the wrong way, tried to pick him up, stuffed his ears into their mouths or pushed him along the floor like a living brush. Never biting, the most he would do when the attention got a little too much was hop off, occasionally showing his displeasure with a loud foot thump.
Bert's final duty was, as with many pets, to be an introduction to death. My five year old son became more aware of the ephemerality of life, that nothing lasts forever and even about the practicalities of being dead. We held a little burial ceremony, gave Bert some of his favourite treats in case there's a bunny Valhalla, wrote his name on the box, said thank you for being such a wonderful pet before burying him next to the lawn he'd frequented on sunny days for most of his life.
Demonstrating his newly acquired grasp of solemnity and respect for dead loved ones, my son turned to me and, in hushed tones, said "Daddy, I've just done a massive farp."
It comes to us all, son. It comes to us all.
And so a week after Bert left us I wanted to look at some photos of him, including the one above which is the last I took. Not to mourn him particularly because he was, at the end of the day, an old rabbit, but maybe as a little reminder that, for most of his time with us he was a bounding, leaping dervish who really did seem to enjoy being alive, to go wherever he pleased, and who fully considered our bed his own:
|Sorry, no room for you on here. My stuff's on it.|
A friend of mine quoted (perhaps inevitably) from Watership Down, suggesting Bert had been called by Frith and gone to dance with the black rabbit, which was poetry and sympathy in one fell swoop (thanks Jon). In the book, the black rabbit is an allegory for death as the rabbit's constant companion, and I like to think we protected Bert from that. I also feel he was a bit of an agnostic and so prefer the idea of him enjoying frith in the original sense of the word, where it means peacefulness and freedom from molestation.
He won't have his ears tugged by the children again, or have his apple stolen off him by a human toddler, or have his wood shavings piled up on top of him to "keep him warm". He won't be chased around the garden with a toy watering can, won't have a hat put on him and won't be taken to school for Show Your Pet Off day. I'll always admire his fortitude in staying serene in the face of children.
Of course, as a grown up medical professional, I felt that one should let a rabbit BE a rabbit, and would never stoop to such games solely for my entertainment.
Well, almost never.
Good night Bert.