It was seven years yesterday since I first held my baby boy in my arms. And at almost the minute he was born I held our pet rabbit as the life drained from him. He was wrapped in an old baby blanket, the same green flannel wrap I used to swaddle Lewis in as a newborn, to stop him struggling as the vet found a vein in his ear that would take the needle. It was the nearest thing to hand from where we sat in the sunshine near his hutch, but I kept remembering how it had felt to hold my own son as a new mother while I cradled this warm, living thing in my arms for the last time. I sobbed as she checked that his heartbeat was gone for I had felt it stop, and his body go limp. I cradled his warm, soft, grey body gently and wept as I walked to the shed to find a spade, then placed him carefully beneath the nectarine tree while I dug the hole. I unwrapped Storm and arranged him, curled as if he was sleeping in a burrow, then shoveled the earth over him and walked back to the house to get the muffins out of the oven for the birthday party that afternoon.
We gave Storm to Lewis for his birthday when he turned six. They knew each other for just a year. When I told him the vet would be putting him to sleep forever he questioned the timing. "Does it have to be on my birthday?" But that was the day the vet could come and we could not let him suffer for another weekend after the myxomatosis which had ravaged his airways rendered him blind. There was still so much life in him but he could no longer see and there was no longer any hope that he would get better. Lewis was at school when the vet came to visit. He took his friends down into the garden to visit the grave when they arrived for the party. They talked about their pets which had been put to sleep, and then we lit the fire and celebrated my boy as we toasted marshmallows and gathered sticks from the forest for the flames.
Life and death, they are so closely entwined. And there is such wisdom and knowledge in my boy's eyes now he is seven. I am taking him on a hike through the forest to the sea, just the two of us alone under the stars for one night, to mark the milestone. Our packs wait by the door.