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Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Pets 'n' Stuff | The Hardest Of Goodbyes

"If you must die, sweetheart. 
Die knowing your life was my life's best part."
Keaton Henson

Although this is an entry I knew was coming for some time now, it's an entry I never truly imagined writing. I know that doesn't make sense, but that's how it feels. On Monday the 4th of August we had to say goodbye to one of our family members for the last time. That family member was none other than our Shih Tzu, Gracie. As I've said before, I know many people don't hold their pets in such high esteem, but I considered Gracie my sister. I referred to her as my sister dog all the time. She was 16 years old in a couple of months, and my 18 year old sister Eva had no memory of a time before her. Although I was 8 when we got her, even I feel like she was always just there.

I remember the day we got her like it was just yesterday. My parents had gotten her as a surprise for Christmas. We had finished opening our presents and they told us there was one more for all of us and told us all to hold hands. A few moments later they came in with her. A little brown and white bundle of fluff. She was smaller and looked like a little pompom, but she still had that grumpy old lady look on her face. It was completely adorable.

Gracie with me when she's about a year old.

You know, I started this entry a couple of days ago and I wanted it to be perfect. I wanted to explain how much Gracie meant to me and how this great loss has affected me, but I can't. There are no words to encompass how important she was in my life and how wrong things feel now that she isn't here. I wanted to reminisce and talk about the memories that stick out most. Like when my parents brought her to the doors of the hospital to see me when I was in for my back surgery when I was ten. But while those memories are everything to me, they seem so trivial when written. Here I am more than a week after she left us and I know no more what to write now than I did then. I thought having time to reflect would help, but it hasn't.

So all I'm going to say is... for the passed 16 years Gracie was my constant. She was always there. She never let me down. I was never alone. Wherever I went she followed. 

Gracie had been wandering around the house looking for me.
When she found me in the bathroom she barked at me.
It was as if she was saying, "Where have you been! I've been looking for you everywhere!"

She was the best friend I could have asked for. An amazing sister. And despite her small size, a protector. When she got pregnant at far too young an age, she took to motherhood so naturally. She almost died looking after those six beautiful puppies, most of which went on to live long and happy lives. Despite that, she outlived most of them and I hope they were there to greet her when she crossed the rainbow bridge.

My sister's and I with Gracie's puppies.

My mum with Gracie's puppies.

Eva with Gracie and her puppies.

In the end Gracie's kidneys began to fail. She slowly got worse over time, but eventually lost a lot of weight. For a long time despite it all, she still had her fire. She had started to have trouble walking, but she'd go from barely being able to walk to darting up and down the hall. She had lost most of her hearing and sight a few years ago, but she coped very well and never bumped into things or anything. She was happy. I mean, you couldn't tell by her face... but she was. I truly believe that. Nothing had ever kept her down, but in the end it was like she was just tired and ready to go. Having an animal put to sleep is never an easy decision, but I truly believe they let you know when it's time. And Gracie did.

We took her to the vet in the morning, and he confirmed what we had thought. The kindest thing to do was to help her over the rainbow bridge. We weren't ready to have it done then and there, so we took her home for a few hours to spend time with her and say our goodbyes. It was awful having to ring our sister in England to tell her the news, and I also had to let my aunty know. We gave Gracie her favourite food, a few tomatoes. She hadn't been allowed treats much for a long while because of her kidneys, so I think she really enjoyed them. Gracie had always loved tomatoes, and another favourite was bolognese. I really wish I had a photo of her with the little orange beard she used to sport.

We sat with her the last few hours, watching tv and just spending time with her. We took a lot of photos and had lots of cuddles. I got a group photo of her with our other dogs. They were all very close to her, she was the matriarch after all.

Sitting on my lap when we just got back from the vet.  

Group photo with Edwin, Berty and Baby.
It took us a moment to get a decent photo.
By that stage Gracie had given up and gone for a nap.

One of the last photos I took of her.
Her perfect, iconic Gracie face.

Eva and I had decided we would be with her when she passed. It was terrifying because I wanted to be strong for her and not freak her out by being upset and giving off negative energy, but you never know how you're going to react once you're in that situation. We had been crying around her and stuff, but she didn't same phased. In a weird way she seemed more relaxed and at ease than she'd been in a long time. In the end my sister Eva, my dad and I all went with her. And we all held it together. I was lucky enough to be able to hold her on my lap and in my arms as she passed and we were all around her, comforting her. The vet was so good and respectful, and it was all so peaceful. I don't know what I expected, all I know was that it was so much better. And we really couldn't have asked for more. Once she had passed we didn't cry until we left the vets, but in a weird way it was like a weight had been lifted. Gracie wasn't in pain anymore. She was free.

I don't think it properly hit us fully until later, when we realised empty the house and I guess our lives felt without her presence. She was such a big character. Even now I sometimes forget she's gone. I'll hear a snuffle or see a shadow out of the corner of my eye and think it's her. Our other pets didn't really seem to notice too much she was gone at first, but it broke my heart the next morning when our Labrador was wandering about the house crying. It was like she'd just realised Gracie wasn't here. I guess you could say Gracie was (my Labrador) Baby's  constant as much as she was mine. Gracie was 7 or 8 when Baby came along. A big chocolate Labrador puppy, almost as big as Gracie was. Despite the size difference, there was no mistaking who was boss. And even though Gracie did boss Baby about quite a lot, they still loved each other.

And then when Effy and Findlay, my cats came along she welcomed them too. Findlay in particular loved her. We were all just one happy family. 

Baby, Effy and Gracie.

Kitten Findlay and Gracie.

Grown up Findlay and Gracie.

Lastly, about two months ago Edwin and Berty came along. Mine and my sister's Chihuahua puppies. And at the grand old age of almost 16 Gracie welcomed them too. Two annoying little puppies. And that is what I'm most grateful for. That they got to know her. It was a joy watching them with her. And even in her ailing health, she still put them in their place when they got out of line. In a weird way it's like having a little bit of her still here now. Like she taught them the ropes of how to get the most out of life, and well... us and every day they do little things that remind us of her. 

Some of my favourite photos of Gracie with the boys. 

So yeah, for the last 16 years Gracie was my constant. And I hate that she isn't here anymore. As clich├ęd as it sounds, it feels like a light has gone out. But no matter how bad this feels, I will never feel as bad as I feel lucky. She had a long and happy life, and I got to share all those years with her. As I said before, this whole entry doesn't even come close to encompassing all I feel for her and how much I miss her. But that's okay, because I know. I hope she does too. 

Rest In Peace,
Our wonderful little woman, Gracie.
1998 - 2014

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