Dealing with the grief of death

I’ve had several posts that have been in draft form in here for months. None as worthy of posting as this one.

I blessed to be able to own three horses now. However I always intended on keeping one of my horses – we will call him T – forever. And, forever in horse language is until they pass away from old age. T was only 11. He should have had at least 10 more years ahead of him.

Instead, I was out with a close co-worker friend of mine after work one day and get a panicked text message from mother, EMERGENCY – T. It’s bad.

My stomach drops but I immediately pick up the phone and call her. She is sitting with him and answers the phone. In between tears she tells me that she found him laying down and that she called the vet and they think he broke his leg.

I don’t hear anything else after this.

A broken leg is a death sentence. I broke down in the middle of the store we were in. We were trying on clothes… I never shop for damn clothes… And my friend heard me and was hurrying to finish up but in the meantime I had random strangers coming up and asking if I was OK.

No, I was not OK.

I had T for nearly 8 years. He got me through times in my teenage years when I was suicidal and had no one. When I needed to escape, I would go out to the barn and just be with him. Sometimes it wouldn’t even involve riding. Just being there with him was all the therapy I needed. And I would cry with him. It was the only safe place to cry.

We did some horse shows together.. Never as many as I would’ve liked due to money issues, but they were still good. That horse put me back together. In our first horse show together, we unanimously won our first class under both of the judges who were judging it. I was so happy and surprised that I cried after I left the ring. Not even when I won my world championship way back when I was 14 did I cry. This made me so much happier because the emotional journey that I had taken to get to that point had been so harrowing and yet there I was. And T was the one horse who willingly and bravely took me there, only wanting love – and some grain and hay – in return.

He wasn’t with me consistently through all 8 of those years.. For three years while I was in college, he was leased to a woman in Texas where he got to eat grass and hay all day. He was happy there.

Then we tried leasing him to another woman who had a nice, reputable trainer to guide her. 4 months later, T had lost so much weight, you could see all of his ribs as well as each of his hip bones. So despite the fact that I wasn’t sure how I would afford it, I took him back just to get him out of that situation. I had no idea that he had lost so much weight or else I would’ve taken him back much sooner. I’ve never been so angry in my life as I was at that woman for neglecting my horse. She didn’t do it intentionally – she didn’t know better. But by golly if you are going to take on someone else’s horse, you sure as hell better make sure you know better.

It’s hard to be grateful that he was in that situation, but I am, because that’s what led to him coming back to me permanently.

I rent a nice little house with a 4 stall barn on 6 acres. I found it by accident.. I was just looking for a pet friendly apartment for me and my dog. But then when I needed to bring T back, this was a blessing. The fencing situation where I rent my house and barn is not very good. Mesh wire on the bottom with one barbed wire strand along the top. I’ve hated it since I moved in, but my horses never had a problem with it until last month with T.

When my friend got out of the dressing room and saw all of those people crowded around me, sobbing uncontrollably, she knew something was terribly wrong. I told her between choking breaths and she started to cry, too, and stopped and gave me a hug and told me she was sorry. Then she to me to give her my keys so she could drive me home and stay with me.

When we got home, T was laying in the paddock, covered in sweat. When he saw me, he started to pick his head up and almost whinny, but it only came out as a groan. I glanced down and over at his back leg to see and immediately knew with just a glance that he needed to be put down. All I wanted in that moment was for him to be free of pain. Screw what I was feeling.

I was in a white t-shirt and flip flops but I didn’t care. I laid down on the ground next to him and stroked his face and his neck and spoke softly to him. He lifted his head a bit and I shifted myself so that it was resting entirely in my lap and I just softly ran my hands along his face.

I asked my mother furiously where the vet was, since she said she had called him at least 30 minutes ago. He had apparently complained that it was his day off.

I called a friend who knows someone that’s close to the vet who typically can get him to show up quicker. I told her that T needed to be put down now and we needed Dr. L here 30 minutes ago.

Dr. L pulled up about 10 minutes later. Fucker.

He came up all cheeky, talking about how T had worked himself into a sweat and then saw the damage. I just begged him to stop wasting time and please put him down. Maybe if I hadn’t rushed him, he would’ve done it right.

He gave T a sedative that should’ve made the process of giving the final injections much easier but he didn’t give enough. Probably didn’t account for the fact that his heart was beating at twice the normal rate due to the amount of pain he was in, so it would take more sedative to have the same effect.

I think he partially missed the vein for the final injections. T started seizing before he finally laid his head back down for the last time. It took far too long for my sweet boy to be put out of his misery.

As far as what happened and what kind of injury he had – it appears that T was rolling and got his leg caught in the mesh wire fencing and dislocated his hock (the equivalent of a human’s knee, except in the back leg) trying to get it out. I believe when he tried to stand up on this dislocated hock, it caused further injury up his leg, resulting in worse fracturing higher up. However, we will never know for sure exactly how it happened.

We laid him to rest under an apple tree at the back of the property. I took most of the next week off of work, because I was crying too much and too often to do anything effectively. And, I had decided I wanted to create a garden for T’s grave, and I couldn’t concentrate on anything else until that was finished. I did it all in 4 days. It has a natural rock border with a wave petunia pot hanging in the center on a shepherd’s hook. There are two sunflower plants, two Shasta daisies, and two Ruby Tuesday heleniums. In the center is a Linten Rose. It has evergreen leaves but doesn’t bloom until toward middle/end of winter. I thought it was nice because it gives T flowers almost all year round. I have solar lights dotting the garden with refracted light. In the center of the garden, I arranged the slate stones around the base of the shepherd’s hook and put a solar light there. At night, the reflected light looks like a halo and the stones look like wings. I didn’t even mean for it to look like that, but it’s so beautifully fitting that it does.

In dealing with the grief of this, I feel guilty for celebrating the positives that have come out of it. When I was laying with T as we were waiting for the vet, I told my mother that I wanted to move. And so we are. We actually are in the process of buying a house with 8 acres and a barn. The barn needs updating, but a gift that T has given us is an insurance payout. We’ve had him insured for years, hoping we would never need it. But it is now allowing us to renovate the barn to accommodate my two other beautiful horses that I’m so blessed to have. So if all goes well, we will close on the house at the end of August. My mother is co-signing on the mortgage with me and is moving with me as well, however this house has two entirely separate living spaces, each with their own private entrances.

I’ve been shown how supportive my friends and coworkers are. They were all extremely understanding, although I know none could understand the depth of the relationship.

T has been giving me gifts for years, in many forms. These were his last ones to me. But something tells me that I will continue to find small gifts left by him for years to come. Nonetheless… The grief from his loss is still so powerful. It will take me a long time to learn how to adjust to life without him.

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2 thoughts on “Dealing with the grief of death

    1. Thank you, Lisa.. As a good friend of mine put it (the only friend, in fact, who I trust with every detail of my life), he was the only thing I loved that loved me back and didn’t hurt me. And it helps me make sense as to why it’s taking me a long time to adjust.

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