Hard Choices – Elusive Truths
It’s been a long time since I’ve written. It’s as though I turned sixty last March and my brain stopped formulating thoughts into words.
No, that’s not the whole truth of it.
There was a lot going on besides reaching an age that could be called “old.”
My horse, Luke, had been having one heaves* attack after another. I would find him wheezing and coughing this horrible ratcheting sound, followed by a long moan that raised goosebumps on my arms and made my own breathing stop. I’d call the vet, cry while I waited, unable to do anything but massage Luke’s neck and press my face against his fur.
When my vet would arrive, I’d watch her fill one needle full of medicine after another and wonder when she’d run out of rabbits to pull out of her hat. She would spend hours working on Luke, then leave me with a bagful of medications and a whole body worth of fear.
This all began in November of 2016. By March, 2017, I began to have panic attacks as I took my daily drive to the barn to treat Luke, wondering what condition he would be in when I arrived. I would search the paddock or pasture as I drove in. If I saw him, I’d be studying to see how he was standing. Was he eating? Could I see his sides moving like a normal breathing horse? Or was his head hanging and his nostrils flaring?
My time was spent running back and forth between work and the barn and home and the barn to give Luke his medications and make sure he was okay. I didn’t have the energy to do much else.
But that’s not the whole truth of it either.
I perhaps could have slipped in a writing session. And I did start an essay on this or that thing that was on my mind. But it all rang hollow and not fully true or at least not completely reflecting what I was thinking and feeling. Or maybe it did reflect my brain in it’s emptiness. I was so busy throwing stuff into my head-closet, trying not to think and feel the bad stuff, that I didn’t notice that I wasn’t being very selective in what I grabbed and tossed.
In May, I moved Luke to a new barn that had big pastures and enough grass to eat so he was completely off hay (one of the possible triggers for heaves). It took a couple weeks of recovery before Luke was off medications altogether. He became bossy with the other horses and instigated many of their wild gallops around the pasture.
Those were blessed months. I began to relax just a little bit.
Well, that’s not the whole truth of it either.
I still watched and put my hand against Luke’s sides to see how smoothly the air was flowing in and out. I put my ear to his nostrils to listen for any squeaks or creaks. I checked the air quality and level of allergens on my weather app every day. And I prayed. A lot.
Then after three of months of seeing Luke getting healthier and getting in a few rides, I watched with fear as the weather changed.
Around mid-August, it turned dry and windy. The dust blew around, while at the same time, the humidity kicked in. There wasn’t much grass for grazing so the hay bales came out. Then in September, wild fires broke out in Canada and the smoke blew into Minnesota. Luke became more and more ill and I returned to treating him every day and watching his sides and listening and praying and hugging his neck and burying my face in his fur and trying to figure out what to do.
I made the hardest choice anyone who owns an animal ever has to make, and I put Luke down in late September.
I try not to second guess that decision, to not beat myself up with thoughts like, “Maybe I gave up too soon.”
And questions like, “Did I put my horse down because I was so exhausted I felt I couldn’t keep going? Was the decision based solely on my welfare and not his?”
Because after I treated Luke and he could breathe for a while again, he’d go back to grazing, seemingly oblivious that tomorrow we’d be spending another hour doing nebulizations and oral medications. If you have animals, you know that’s how they are, simply living in the moment. It was me who was sick all the time. Who was suffering and in pain all the time. Who had given up doing anything else I loved. Who didn’t have time for my dogs, or my partner, and was struggling to get away to visit friends and family.
The truth is, I can’t turn back the clock. I can’t wish Luke back to life and to his pre-heaves funny, sweet, playful self. I can’t get back the past year of my life or give that year back to anyone I’ve been withholding myself from.
But I can go on from this point.
And I’m not sure if I’ve reached the real truth yet. That may still be out of reach, somewhere at the back of my closet. But it’s all the truth I have right now, so it’s true enough.
Luke and Murphy, winter of 2010
*Heaves: similar to chronic emphysema, characterized by coughing and labored breathing.
My heart aches for you with the loss of your Luke…I had a similar experiences with two of my dogs over the years. Making those decisions and then carrying them out were two of the hardest decisions EVER in my entire 60 years of life. (so far)
“…trying to formulate thoughts into the words.” I can so relate to this! Is it something about moving into your 60’s?
Thanks Robin! I do think I’m feeling loss and life changes in a different way in my 60’s than I did in my “younger” years. Maybe it’s the value of each day and each life that you come to appreciate so much more as you age. And thanks for the writing encouragement. That’s another thing about age, feeling like it’s too late for something you haven’t already established yourself in.
I am so sorry Maery. I wondered about Luke over these past months. The grief after a loss like his can feel like a 1000 lb weight holding you down. I hope that maybe you’ve come out of that intense phase. I know that it sounds trite but your dedication to him was crystal clear – and so I know that you did what was best for him. Sending hugs and love.
Stumbled on this post today, Maery, and I am so sorry. Losing animals is so hard. I’ve also felt my imagination be taken over by stressors. It takes a lot to push it all aside and write again. Sending love, even if it has been awhile.