I don’t believe in signs. I think when people are animals die they cease to be. I don’t believe in a heaven or a hell, nor reincarnation nor karma. I have always considered that when people die they stop breathing and then nothing happens. Nothing. Not a thing. Nix.

This morning I walked outside and the flowers I planted after my dog Henry died were covered in butterflies. Some people believe butterflies are a spiritual sign of life after death, some believe butterflies represent direct communication from a dead loved one.

I think butterflies are beautiful. I don’t believe they have any other meaning.

But today would have been Henry’s birthday. He would have been sixteen.

If he didn’t have to leave us two months ago he would have woken up this morning and we would have sung happy birthday to him. He would have lain on his back I his most vulnerable position and my husband would have used his special dog talking voice to tell him how much we love him. Then Henry would have got up, walked to the bottom of the bed and started licking whoever’s legs were the most sweaty.

It’s still hard to be in the house without him, it’s even hard to be out of the house without him. There are memories of him in everything I see or do, it’s like a tiny part of him still lives inside of me. But I know it’s not real. Because I know that when things die they cease to be. There is no heaven or hell, no reincarnation nor karma. When Henry died he stopped breathing and then nothing happened. Nothing. Not a thing. Nix.

On his birthday, just like every other day, we would have gone for a walk in the morning, just an ambling wander around the neighbourhood, me playing on my phone, him sniffing the grass and checking to see whether I was keeping up. We would have come home and he would wait for some toast with butter because no matter how hard I tried he would never accept toast without butter. Even margarine he’d turn his nose up, he liked butter, Lurpak was his preferred brand.

We have his ashes in a box in the lounge and I can’t even begin to equate those with him. He was soft and beautiful and wilful and funny — he wasn’t a small pile of ash. And when I think of his little body being cremated I want to scream in pain. The knowledge that he is a pile of sand means he’s really gone, he has no form, he can never come back. I know that’s a stage of grief I still need to move through. Because I know when things die they cease to be. There is no heaven or hell, no reincarnation nor karma. When Henry died he stopped breathing and then nothing happened. Nothing. Not a thing. Nix.

Towards the end of his life we made sure he wasn’t left alone. My husband and I used to joke that Henry was the one who came up with coronavirus because he loved nothing more than his people all at home together. He would spend his days lying between beds — one at my feet and one at my husband’s. Even though it pains me to admit it he chose to be at my husband’s feet a lot in the last few weeks. I like to think he was preparing me for his death, my husband likes to believe Henry preferred him. He didn’t.

Today my husband and I went for a long walk without Henry, a walk he wouldn’t have managed for at last the last two years. I pointed out the butterflies to my husband and he marvelled at how excellent it was to see butterflies in the garden. He didn’t even think to associate them with Henry because he also knows when things die they cease to be. There is no heaven or hell, no reincarnation nor karma. When Henry died he stopped breathing and then nothing happened. Nothing. Not a thing. Nix.

Tonight we would have stayed at home because we never wanted to leave Henry alone at the end, but in this life we will go out. We won’t leave him on the bed with the lifestyle channel on for company and I won’t bend down and kiss him and whisper ‘I’m just going to the shops, I won’t be long’ because that’s what I told him every time I left the house for sixteen years. We won’t come home and race upstairs to see him and then spend an hour pointing out to each other how cute he looked when he lay like that or when he put his head like this or when he turned like that.

When things die they cease to be. There is no heaven or hell, no reincarnation nor karma. When Henry died he stopped breathing and then nothing happened.

But everything changed. And the butterflies came to my garden.

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