A life well lived

Our beloved paint mare, Marcie (Liberty Sunshine) left this earth four years ago on Monday, July 25, 2005 at the age of 30. We had had a lovely trail ride alone together at our local state park the previous Saturday morning.

Sunday, she looked a little off. I acupunctured her and gave her some medicine. Marcie had had many episodes of colic throughout her life, and I wanted to prevent an episode. I noticed her gut seemed empty, and that she had some trouble eating. The water trough that had been clean and clear was grey and cloudy. My husband and I had noticed some drooling. On our Saturday walk, I heard some breath sounds that were abnormal, rather like gurgling.

I had talked to several colleagues, who said it was probably a mouth problem. The Colorado State University equine dentistry crew was scheduled to come out the first of the month and see the horses for their 6-month checkups. Monday, she had that look in her eye that always told me something was really wrong. Earl and I didn’t want to wait and see Marcie decline. We knew when we took Marcie into the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital that we were probably looking at euthanasia, but we had to be sure it was the right thing to do. Endoscopy and radiographs showed a growth on the back of her tongue that screamed cancer to me. Her blood work was abnormal as well. Major surgery on a 30-year-old horse in an unreachable place was not an option.

It took a while for the tests, diagnosis and final decision. We stood with Marcie in a stall and talked to her. She was never alone on that last day. My girl was a true lady that trying day.

As said in previous posts, it is never easier to make the ultimate decision on an animal family member just because we are veterinarians. We cried like babies together in each other’s arms just as our clients do. The kind equine staff of the CSU hospital set up the apparatus, put Marcie under anesthesia in a padded stall, and let me euthanize her as indeed I did for Franny in 1996. Euthanasia is a special gift we have that physicians do not. Earl stayed outside the closed stall, preferring not to watch. I had to do this for my best girl. I helped our beautiful friend drift peacefully out of this life and into the next.

The following morning we went to pathology to watch the necropsy. That might seem gruesome to some, but we were vets, and Marcie was gone from her body. The pathologist on duty called Marcie’s medical team from the day. They had found something significant for them to see. Marcie had a fist-sized cancerous tumor called a squamous-cell carcinoma on the back of her tongue that threatened to block her airway. That was what caused the abnormal breath sounds while we were riding on Saturday.

There was a lively discussion of her case at pathology rounds that Friday. It was common tumor in a rare location. No one there had seen this before. We took comfort that we did the right thing for our precious pet.

We had 27 wonderful years with this special creature, from pulling her off a ranch in Wyoming four years before we were married, to the last minute. My mother saw her on the ranch before we brought Marcie and Franny, to town. Marcie was the last pet that either my sister or I had that our mother knew. Mom died in 1979 when I was 26. I actually had my horse longer than I had my mom.  Marcie lived three years longer than my sister Natalie, a horse lover and owner, who was killed by a drunk driver in 1981 at the age of 27.

I am a believer that there is a reason why things happen. I think Marcie lived so happily in her last year to help me relearn riding three times after the misery of my orthopedic trauma suffered the previous summer that involved multiple surgeries including the total hip replacement. When we celebrated her 30th birthday on June 1, I was not yet cleared to ride. My cousin, Gail, and my husband took her on a birthday ride with her buddy, Scoot, while I stayed at home.  The instant I could ride, it was “cowgirl up” on my gentle beauty.

Mom always said that kids should not have pets or grandparents, but there is a lot to be said for the human-animal bond. We honored Marcie’s long and graceful life during our grief. Animals also grieve for their friends. Scoot whinnied all that night and into the next day, looking for her after we returned with an empty trailer. Hannah, the Baby, was puzzled that there was no one to trade stalls with to search for after dinner morsels.  Our dog and cats knew too.

There is a quote from Stephen King’s book, Pet Sematary, that brings me comfort:  …”time passes, and time melds one state of human feeling into another, until they become something like a rainbow. Strong grief becomes a more softer, mellow grief; mellow grief becomes mourning, mourning at last becomes remembrance.” The poem, Rainbow Bridge, author unknown, while it always makes me weep, gives me hope for the future with no fear of death when it comes.  My image of heaven is riding Marcie on a warm summer day in the foothills at Lory State Park where my ashes will be scattered when my time comes. I have many animal friends waiting for me at Rainbow Bridge, and Marcie will be there ready to take me over the bridge on her back.

We wished Marcie well on her journey to Rainbow Bridge. She had what we all hope for: a life well lived.

As a postscript to this piece, I had every intention to post it on my blog today. I had no idea that six weeks earlier, Marcie would meet Earl at the Rainbow Bridge and carry him across. You can be sure she was waiting for him, and they are having one joyous reunion.

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