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Ceci n’était pas un chien

Written by Huib, published Monday February 12th, 2018

During the last two months I’ve been writing a series of short stories about the cancer diagnosis and later death of my dear dog Mats. I also shared parts of what that meant for me. Stories about hope, deadlines and simply mourning. She died 20 days ago already. I’ve had time to think about communication and language, inspired by the Magritte painting ‘La trahison des images’. Which means ‘the treacherousness of images’ in English.

“Language is a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we long to move the stars to pity” – Gustave Flaubert

With this title Margritte tried to explain with language that his surrealist oil on canvas was not an actual pipe, but the image of a pipe. In the same manner language is an image, not the object it is trying to describe.

As a writer I often find myself in a ‘love – hate’ relationship with language. Can a tool that can be used to create worlds aIso be used to tear them down? Or make a sphere appear as flat?

When I think about language, I am often reminded by how Stuart Chase brilliantly introduced his 1936 book ’The tyranny of words’, in which he tried to show how abstract language and rethorics were then used to promote the rise of fascism.

He wrote: “This book is an experiment. Is it possible to explain words with words? Can some of the reasons why it is so difficult for us to communicate with one another by means of language be set forth in that same faulty medium?”

Almost a century later we still believe we need language to communicate. But do we? I’d like to tell you an anecdote of two weeks ago and then paint a contrast with a scene with my mother’s dog Jetje.


The last three years the now famous pizza evenings of my friend Arthur have created a weekly rhythm for me. And they have become a very pleasant tradition. His daughters can decide who they want to invite, which fortunately includes me and a small group of friends. One of these friends, S, is somewhat awkward in social situations, but we found a way to move around him and enjoy our time together.

This edition of the pizza evening, two new people would come join us. After three days of crying I kind of liked the idea of some pleasant distraction, so I decided to not talk about Mats at all. I almost managed, as the first one who greeted me asked if ‘all was well’.

‘Hmmm…’ I replied and she asked ‘oh shit, did your dog die?’ I nodded and she gave me a kind look. That was enough.


Later in the kitchen another friend of Arthur told us of how her daughter has severe headaches and how they were told around Christmas that a brain tumor may be the cause. After more research this turned out not to be the case. Fortunately.

I could easily have done a ‘#me too’. Mats was also diagnosed with cancer around Christmas and had died of it. Instead of taking over the conversation like that, I said ‘wow, that surely freaked you out’.

YES, she exclaimed and started talking about how it affected her rather than about the outside layer filled abstract medical words.

I did not need to talk about Mats to use my own experience with recent shock, fear, stress and sadness to give her a sign that I understood what she was talking about. Good.

The new people had brought an old white Chiwawa dog; about the exact opposite of a black Dobermann. I took it on my lap, because it was shivering with nervousness and stroked it. “About 29 kilo’s difference”, I silently joked to Arthur.

Not silent enough though. “Ah, do you also have a dog? What kind?”, the male visitor asked me. “A Dobermann”, I replied, so I could steer around the topic without making him feel awkward.

“Have? HAVE? HAD!!!”, friend S shouted. “He DIED. Last week”, he went on to correct the errors in the conversation, looking rather pleased with himself.


Apart from the fact that Mats was a female and died three days before instead of last week, this intervention did not really hit home very well with me.

I could have punched him on the chin, but the last time I did that was when I was 15 and a younger friend got bullied. I could have attacked him verbally and upset the whole company.

So instead I walked out into the garden. And almost literally cried my heart out. With wails and sobs like a young child.

When I came back to the room, I just wanted to buy a bottle of wine and go home. “Are you leaving already?”, S asked in a undignified tone. It was clear he had no idea of any impact of his intervention.

The next day I sent him a text message: ’S, I don’t think you have any idea what happened. If you want to know, let me know’. He asked if he could call me and did two days later.

I decided to tell it to him in the way I’m writing it down now: as a theatrical scene with clarified motives and context. I didn’t believe he intended to cause any harm anyway. And using judgemental language or analysing his character would not be helpful to achieve more subtle communication between us.

S was shocked and apologised sincerely. And because I’ve had a few days to digest the experience, I could now tell him that he probably pushed a button in me that had something to do with my father. Who also wasn’t the world champion of subtly expressing sympathy.

My father put my first Dobermann to sleep without me knowing it, when I was 15. I came home from school and her basket was empty.

I never forgave him until last month. That is one of the benefits of crying: when sadness is expressed instead of repressed, there is no need for shields and anger. Mats gave me many farewell presents.


My mother’s dog Jetje was the ‘adopted pup’ of Mats. When my mother went to get her at the breeder, we took Mats with us on purpose. When Mats died, Jetje was there. And happily ate the rest of Mats’ bone, after she fell asleep.

Going to my mother after Mats’ death was one of the things that I dreaded most. Would Jetje be looking for her and miss her?

I always try to go through scary things as soon as possible. They tend to get smaller, when you just take them head-on. So I went to my mother the day after Mats died.

Jet was very happy to see me and did not even look for her. As if she knew. I had brought some of Mats’ toys and bones as a present for her and when I mentioned her name, Jetje just wagged her tail. No sign of loss or anything like it. Amazing.

But when I started crying an hour later, because a new wave of grief suddenly came up, Jetje jumped on my lap and started licking my face. And I could not help but start smiling again.

The point?

Recently I realised that I only investigate and write about topics that I don’t understand. My main motivation is not to actually understand them or come up with solutions or ‘tips’, but rather to explore why I can’t understand them. Then I move on. And this one could call ‘education’: learning from the investigation and curiousness of others.

The only reason why I have spent some seven years on the topic of Lyme, is the abundance of topics surrounding it that are mind-boggling. It seems my getting lost in Lyme Land has helped others appreciate that they are indeed and in fact not crazy.

As the world seems to become increasingly insane on a number of topics, what a wealth of possibilities this presents for a curious writer! Chase’s book still seems to be relevant.

In this case I could not really understand why people like S (or my father) seem to completely miss a social ‘radar’ and I found it fascinating in contrast to the perfect response of my mother’s dog.

“Trying to understand the behaviour of some people is like trying to smell the colour of the number nine”, a friend of mine posted recently. Maybe it’s simply that.

Our choice is to react and retaliate, or to investigate and communicate. I thought that this was worth sharing.

Le chien?

Oh, the picture? I took some pictures of Mats laying on the couch just before we went on her final journey to the vet, in case I ever needed to remind myself how ill she was if I would feel guilt about the decision.

When I put my camera on the table, I just saw the image that you can see above this article. To me, it seemed to show a Dobermann in exactly the same position as Mats was in behind me.

In reality it was no dog, but some crumbs of tobacco on a glass thingy on my table. It wasn’t a dog. Or in French: ceci n’était pas un chien.


drs. Huib Kraaijeveld

In: Blog Philosophy Inspiration Mats a Dog Social

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