The Greatest Gift – The Deepest Pain

I’m not really sure where to begin. How does one truly describe a life altering event? Does it begin when the event itself happens or does it begin at the very beginning?

The briefest synopsis is that I was given my Missy on April 6, 1993. We shared more experiences than I can really explain in a reasonable manner that may interest anyone other than me. Or a stalker, but I’m certain that I’m not interesting enough to have any of those. During the 24 years, 7 months and 11 days of our journey we covered countless wooded miles of trails in 3 states. She saw me through high school, college, jobs, boyfriends, a husband (who had no idea truly what marrying a “horse girl” meant, poor guy), jobs, babies, homes and starting a business. She jumped jumps I had NO business pointing her at. She saved my butt landing those fences when she had every right to let me hit the ground. I felt the exhilaration of a full gallop in wide open spaces with her. I felt the terror of a full gallop in wide open spaces with her too. I saw the pride in my children as they learned to ride her and the pride she seemed to exude in protecting her small charges. I rehabbed her from injuries and illness that could have killed her. And by the way, horses do things that could kill them with relative frequency.

Missy was the reason I chose my college major, my college, my jobs, my homes, when to have children. I’m fairly confident no major life decision was made without Missy as a driving factor. Without Missy I would not have met my best friend who would not have introduced me to my husband. Good god how different life would have been.

So when one goes from a wild, unstoppable, unruly, untrusting, unbroken in every sense three year old thoroughbred mare and hears people tell you at every turn to “get rid of her”, “kill her” and “you have to keep bad kids, you don’t have to keep bad horses” (yes, exact quote that crushed my 16 year old self), and despite it all perseveres to end up looking at a nearly 28 year old best friend who can’t keep weight on despite feeding roughly 10 times the amount of feed that used to make her fat and then hearing the vet tell you that her heart murmur has gone from mild to “sounding like a washing machine” in less than two weeks time, what do you do?

You cry. A lot. Then you make the gut wrenching, soul crushing decision to make the only fair choice to your best friend. You agree to let her go.

But you also have kids. And you need to tell them that the magnificent, larger than life creature who has simply always been there, who has carried them around making them feel invincible, who they visit daily and love feeding cookies and peppermints to when they think you aren’t looking, will not be a part of their lives any longer. And you need to do this in a way that honors their grief while still not having any remote control over your own.

And you are scared. Scared of your grief. Scared of your future. Scared of not knowing who you are without being a horse owner and going to the barn and working around them every day. Scared of the final moment when you know from experience that it is not always peaceful. It can be dramatic and awful and dreading that being your last memory of this amazing creature who has helped to create you as the person you are today. And terrified that your final memory may be crushing and scary.

I felt all of that. And more. So much more than I can put in words. I also felt love. I felt the love from those around me who know how much I love her. I received so many calls, texts, messages and in person visits leading up to euthanizing Missy. I had an army of people standing by us as it happened.

I had an AMAZING vet who changed her schedule to be there for us and I only found out when she arrived. I was so happy for that that I walked away from Missy’s open stall door, leaving only her stall chain across the door and the barn doors open. Something I’ve told every single person in the barn not to do, as she will crawl out under and go for a jaunt. And that is exactly what she did. And then the horse who has barely had enough energy to amble around her stall in weeks was off like a shot with her tail in the air, galloping around the farm and teasing every horse in every paddock. She was whinnying and in a lovely, uphill gallop. She really looked amazing. I was somewhat afraid in that moment that her heart would just give out. But I was also inwardly high fiving her for making this her goodbye tour on her terms. What the hell, she lived her entire life on her terms. Why stop now??!

Of course I’m going to openly admit that she made me second guess myself for a brief moment. But the harsh reality was that she was failing fast. She had an amazing time but her body was truly failing her. With the cold coming on so fast and her body so thin, her upcoming weeks were more likely than not going to be a brutal struggle with a terrible outcome. Today was windy but sunny and bright.

When she was done she stood quietly for me to put her halter on and we walked to the field where she would be buried alongside her friend who had passed away a few years prior. A horse she stood beside as he passed away.

As I sobbed the vet sedated her and when the sedation made her very relaxed she administered the final injection. The vet tech was well versed and assisted Missy beautifully so she did not have a horrible fall. It was slow and controlled and she was at peace. I was so deeply sad but also relieved that I would not find her one morning having fallen down overnight and struggled until she was found in the morning. This amazing animal gave me her all. I owed her this much. She had a dignified death with a grand adventure that lead to a story that will always make me smile.

The tears come in waves. I tend to do a huge amount of “pre-grieving” with loss. I’m NOT about to say that means I don’t grieve after. I so very much do. But the peace and knowing that I very much let her go when the time was right, she was failing but not failed, it makes it easier. She did not suffer. She was declining rapidly but was not so declined that death itself was a relief. We should all be so lucky.

I laid on the ground over her for some time patting and kissing her beautiful face. I removed her halter. I have her blankets which I hope to repurpose into pillows and tote bags for myself and my daughter and cut her tail to have made into bracelets for us as well.

Each day will bring its own wave of challenges and sorrow and I will honor those waves. They are important and necessary. But it will also bring smiles of amazing memories, even more necessary. I wouldn’t trade those for anything. They made me who I am.

Someday I may consider another horse. I can’t envision a world where they aren’t a part of my life. But for now this wound needs to heal. I look forward to a time when it does because I think Missy would want the many lessons she taught me to go forward and benefit another.

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