Soon after I started my first job post university, my dad developed depression and was put on long term sick. My plans to move out were abandoned so that I could stay and support both my parents through this.
One of my clearest memories of that time is of sitting on the stairs with my mum as she talked about how hard it was to interact with my dad, how he spurned offers of help or sympathy, and particularly how easily he snapped at the most innocuous comment followed by a sinking into abject guilt. We walked on eggshells most of the time, not knowing how he would react. And, most painfully for my mum, he simply withdrew from all company and contact for the majority of the time.
However, there was one presence he could tolerate, even welcomed: our dog, Rhauaridh*.
My mum had insisted that Dad continued to take the dog for his regular evening walk. Where we lived in London there was a reputation for assaults and muggings, so it wasn’t considered safe for a woman to go out alone after dark. With my brother away at university, that left Dad. The daily dog walk became the anchor to his routine, made him exercise and leave the house, even the occasionally have a short interaction with other dog walkers; it was a lifeline.
Throughout the day, when Dad shut himself away in our back room to just sit on the sofa for hours, the dog would patiently curl up next to him, head on his lap. He said that Rhauridh’s* was a comforting but completely undemanding presence. Dad needed company but found human conversation or questions too much whereas the dog provided just what he needed. It was as if he knew that Dad was ill and had found the most effective way of telling him that he wasn’t alone.
(pronounced ‘Rory’, it’s Scots Gaelic for ‘the red one’)