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Friday, 29 August 2014

Operation Diagnosis!

"The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time."
Abraham Lincoln

Yesterday was the second of two hospital/doctor appointments I had this week. The first was on Wednesday with my local GP. I didn't mention it in my last entry because well, I kind of rambled on enough.

In order to get the assistance I need to attend class, I have to give Learning Support a proof of disability letter from a doctor. I guess my inability to walk and electric wheelchair doesn't speak for itself. I know, I know. It's just standard for everyone, and not all disabilities are obvious to the naked eye. Anyway, the receptionist at my local health centre told me I had to make an appointment to get the letter. My doctor however was less than pleased that I was taking up an appointment. I think he thought it was all a giant waste of his time, and they should take my world for it or something. He asked did I have to give one before, but I don't remember ever giving one. They said my old info would have been archived by now, and when I told my doctor that, he said it was a fancy word for them being too lazy to look. It was a little awkward how annoyed he seemed, but I know he wasn't annoyed at me. I guess he was just annoyed at the system.

After his slight hissy fit, I felt embarrassed for him when he said, "so, is it just Spinal Muscular Atrophy or do I need to write anything else?" I mean if you're going to be annoyed you have to write a proof of disability letter, and even more so that the receptionist had said I needed an appointment for it.. you probably should at least get the disability right. I mean my records were right there. I corrected him that it was Congenital Muscular Dystrophy, and then he asked if there was a fancy name for my chair. He seemed disappointed when I said it was just called an electric wheelchair. He really had no clue what he was supposed to write in the letter, so it ended up being about two lines long. I guess he doesn't do them much. I think it says a lot about how the system works when they can't take my word for it, but they can take the word of a GP who took my word for it and didn't even look at my records to check what I actually have. I literally could have told him I had anything and I'm pretty sure he'd have written it down. Oh well. Now I just have to wait and see if I get accepted, and then take the letter to Learning Support for them to do their thing. I'm really hoping I get a good classroom assistant this year.

On Thursday was the big diagnosis day! I'm not going to lie, I was kind of nervous. I'm not exactly good with change. I mean... I usually avoid it at all costs. Since I was three and a half I've been diagnosed as having Congenital Muscular Dystrophy. I knew it was an umbrella term and in the last few years they had isolated some different kinds. But I dunno, no matter how much my specialist said that I was technically undiagnosed, I felt weirdly loyal to the CMD label. Like it mattered what name I gave this disease, like changing it would make a difference to me. Sometimes the unknown does seem less scary.

The obligatory 'on the way to the hospital' selfie!
This is my nervous face. 

I ended up going with my dad again. I had wanted to go with my sister after how my MRI went with my dad. Luckily he was in a better mood on Thursday, and we were actually early for a change! That was even after getting stuck in traffic. I really like Belfast City Hospital. It has this weird homely feel to it. I guess it's because I've been going there for annual check ups for years. There's nothing like going to a clinic and seeing a friendly face that knows you. Some of the nurses haven't changed since I was a kid and even remember my goth teenage years! I remember a couple of years ago my older sister and I got the train to get to my appointment because my dad couldn't take me. This one nurse who has always been really nice to me couldn't believe we'd come up by yourselves. As if she'd just realised I'd grown up. She said my old doctor would be so proud at how independent I was. I mean, I could have totally found it patronising, but I knew it was coming from a good place. Anyway aside from the homely feel, I also just think the building is kinda cool. It stands out like a sore thumb. 

So like I said, we arrived early. It wasn't like my usual muscle clinic appointments because they didn't bother weighing me or anything. I also wasn't seeing my usual doctor as it was someone else that was diagnosing me. You may or may not recall the time I had an appointment at cancer house (it was the only place they had room for my appointment), well it was the same person I met then. I had prepared myself for there to be no news. I had been warned when they sent my blood away to London to be tested that they might not find what they were looking for and may have to do further tests. As much as I wanted to avoid change, I was also ready for this to be over and I didn't want to get my hopes up they would actually have something to tell me. Mostly I didn't want to have to listen to my dad complain about another wasted trip to the hospital.

It didn't take long for me to be seen and after we exchanged pleasantries he got right to it. He told me,

I finally had a diagnosis! 

As he explained the ins and outs of what they had discovered it all didn't seem so scary anymore. He didn't deliver the news with the hint of foreboding my usual doctor does. I have a Collagen VI Myopathy. Whilst trying to curb my anxiety about being diagnosed and what it might mean, I'd always told myself it wouldn't really change anything. I am what I am. My disability is what it is. My family had said much the same. And in some ways that is true. There's no treatments, so it's not like they can cure me because I have a fancy new name for what I have. I can't do any more or less than I did before and unless they do find a treatment, the future is going to come much the same as it always was. But as he explained about the disease and what it meant, we realised a lot of what we had always believed about my disability had been wrong. So... I guess I'll try and explain a bit about what this fancy new name means, well what I understood from what he said. He tried to get a little technical with DNA and genes etc. I got a little lost, but this is the gist. 

My doctor explained it all on this scrap of paper. 
But I guess his doodles won't mean much to you. 

Basically I have a faulty collagen gene. My COL6A2 gene to be exact. So rather than my muscles themselves being faulty, it's the collagen within them that has a defect and causes them not to work properly. Myopathy just means muscle disease. 

When I was diagnosed as a child my parents were told CMD was autosomal recessive, meaning both of my parents had to be carriers of the disease for me to have it. However they have now found that Collagen VI Myopathy is actually autosomal dominant, meaning only one of my parents gave me the faulty gene. He said since both of my parents are healthy and there's no history of the disease in our family, there is really no way to know which gave me it. It could have even been as random as my mum having one faulty egg that just so happened to be me. 

Another thing we'd always been told was that I couldn't be a carrier because I had the disease, so my children wouldn't have it. But both of my sisters could be carriers, and may have children with CMD if the father was also a carrier. However that also changed with this new diagnosis. He explained that because neither of my sisters have the disability, they don't have the faulty gene to pass along. So it's very unlikely their children would have it. However, there's a 50% chance my children would have it because I have it. Basically the kid would either get my faulty gene, or their dad's healthy gene. I was glad for my sister's that they probably don't have to worry, and I guess it kind of cemented the decision I'd already made not to have kids. I know there's a lot they can do when it comes to genetics these days, but for now it just feels like confirmation that my decision is right. 

Prognosis wise, he was very positive about everything. I guess that's what I'd been scared about all along, because I know certain types are more severe than others. He said I should be pretty stable strength wise now that I'm fully grown, but that possibly into my 50s to 70s that I'd experience more weakness much like anyone does when they get old, but a bit worse. I shouldn't develop any heart problems because of it if my heart has always been healthy, and it has. Well he said heart or lung problems, but I already have respiratory trouble. Though, even my breathing has been pretty stable. I've only had the levels on my BiPap changed once since I was 12, and I hope that was because I had a growth spurt between 12 and 20. It makes sense with the difference in size that your lungs would need more air to help fill them. If anyone knows if that's a thing, I would like to know? Anyway, I'm going to do my best to keep my lungs healthy.

And that is the story of my diagnosis. It wasn't as pointless as some people might have thought it would be (namely my family). And what the doctor said is true. Even though there isn't any treatments right now, if something does come up in the future for people with Collagen VI Myopathy, I know that's me. He also said I'm the first out of his patients that he's diagnosed with this type. Go me!

When I came home I did some Googling, and I kind of regret it. It kind of just made things confusing. I should have just taken his positive prognosis, but Google told me that it's still a spectrum and there are some more severe cases than others. But he didn't mention either of the types of Collagen VI Myopathy (Bethlem being the least severe and Ullrich being the most), so I guess I just fall somewhere in between. I shouldn't worry about it too much. If this has taught me anything it's that life is unpredictable. You have to take whatever doctors say with a pinch of salt, because they are learning new things all the time. Just a couple of years ago making this diagnosis wouldn't have been possible. Who knows what they'll come up with further down the line.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Education Station

"In youth we learn; 
in age we understand."
Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach

Well I sincerely hope the above quote is true as I made a slightly rash decision to sign up for a part time course this year. I had been toying with the idea of doing something this year for a while, but I was put off by the fact I don't have the best track record when it comes to education. The truth is I pretty much bombed at school and proceeded to drop out of almost every course I started once I'd left. 

Over the years I've made many excuses, but when it comes down to it I think I was just full of laziness and bad habits. My parents were never the type to push us, and I think that kind of rubbed off on me and in turn I've never really pushed myself. Much like they figured I'd always live with them, I always assumed that University and a career just weren't on the cards for me, and I guess that made trying seem pointless. Academics never came naturally to me. I've always been more of a physical or creative person. As a kid I wanted to be a dancer, a vet, in the army, a police woman or a bin man. As you can imagine, being disabled and using a wheelchair doesn't really lend itself to any of those jobs. I mean, I wasn't exactly bottom of the class. When I started secondary school I was in the top classes. The first snag I hit was when my breathing problems started at the beginning of second year and I struggled to stay awake in classes. I was eventually taken into hospital and I missed a bit of school. Everything went down hill after that. I got behind and started to get mini panic attacks when I'd go to class and not have a clue what we were doing. That meant I missed more class and it was kind of a vicious circle. The fact they allowed me to skip class so much didn't really help. You tell a kid she doesn't have to go to maths if she doesn't feel up to it, she's probably not going to maths. 

Looking back, I probably persuaded myself I needed to skip class more than I really needed to. I didn't just decide I didn't want to go. I'd convince myself I had a legit reason to skip, because it wasn't like I didn't care about school at all. I'd always be in two minds. On one had I'd beat myself up for missing class and on the other I would tell myself it was necessary. I would worry about getting behind while I procrastinated, leaving all my work to the last minute.  While doing anything but work, I believed I didn't care about school or my grades and that it all didn't matter. When it came almost time to hand work in, I had major meltdowns. In a weird way I also felt like if I didn't really try, I didn't really fail. Worse to have put all your effort in and fail, than to fail and it wasn't your best anyway. A stupid logic, but a logic and habit I'm still trying overcome today. 

I ended up having to drop three classes. French, Spanish and Science. In first year I had been at the top of my Spanish class and that was why in second year my teacher had pushed me to do French as well. I'd also always been very good at Science, but after missing so much I freaked out every time I went to class. In the end they decided it was best I concentrate on the subjects I was passing. I ended up only going to school 4 days a week at one point too. I'd have Wednesday off to rest. Sometimes I feel like I was just being lazy, but even now I find it incredibly tiring being out of the house too many days in a row. I wonder how much of it it is due to my disability and how much of it is just the type of person I am. In the end I just coasted. I did the bare minimum to get by. I had little to no social life in my later years at school and spent most of my time in the library with my classroom assistant. I didn't study for the GCSE exams I did do, but just passed all but one subject. Thank goodness for coursework. It really brought my grades up. 

In hindsight I wish I had stayed at school. I thought leaving and going to the freedom of tech would be so much better, but my pattern of procrastination and worrying continued. I ended up dropping out of my art course when it all became too much. I underestimated how physical art was. I never properly went back to education after that. I started a couple of other courses and dropped all but one. I finished a Psychology AS Level, but failed. I had put so much more effort into it than I had any of my courses before, but it felt like my mind just didn't absorb the material. When it came to the exam my mind totally blanked, and I didn't have the course work grades to fall back on as course work wasn't part of the course.

I'm ashamed of myself when I look back on my education history. I really could have done so much better for myself and I wish I could go back and change things. I see my disabled friends graduating University now, and wonder if I had realised that was a viable option would I have tried harder and not fallen into the bad habits I still have today. I wonder if I wasn't disabled and the careers I had always dreamed of doing were an option, would I put more effort in? I like to think yes, but I know I can't use my disability as an excuse like that.  I am who I am. 

So that brings me to last week. My parents were away for five days and my sister and I were playing house, practising for when we move out. I mentioned to my sister about doing a course this year and she was really supportive. I looked into what they had on offer and thought about doing a leisure art course, but they didn't really have anything that grabbed me. Then I realised I didn't want to do a leisure course, I wanted to do something that might benefit me. I had hoped for some sort of creative writing course, but they didn't have any. That's when I seen GCSE English Language. I already did it at school and passed with a C, but that was eight years ago and I had always felt I could have done better. While I was browsing the prospectus I noticed it said the enrolment day was THAT day. I felt like that was a sign I should go for it. If I had too long to think it over, I might chicken out. Eva and I got dressed and she took me down to enrol. I didn't realise that I would have to do an assessment to see if I was right for the course then and there. They took us into a room and explained about the course and then we had forty five minutes to write one of three topics. I wrote about someone I admire. I picked my sister Eva. In the past I may have been too overwhelmed to be able to do an on the spot assessment. I may have decided to go home and say I'd go back a few nights later when they were having another enrolment/assessment night, so I could mentally prepare. I could have told myself I had a valid reason to leave it since I hadn't got my wheelchair tray and couldn't reach the table to write. Likelihood is that old me would have psyched myself out and I probably wouldn't have gone back. New me just got on with it. I found a work around to reach the table and was able to write myself, rather than have my sister write for me. I'm hoping I can continue rationalising and pushing myself to succeed, rather than run away. 

I'm still waiting to hear if I got in or not. Since I signed up I've been stressing over whether I should go through with it or not. I'm scared of having to do presentations in front of the class. I'm scared of being socially awkward and not making friends. I'm scared of falling back into old habits. I'm scared that my panic attacks will get worse again. Most of all I'm scared of failing. But I know this negative mindset is exactly why I will fail. I know I'm smarter than I give myself credit for, and I'm so much more confident than I used to be. I've been pushing myself to better myself and although a part time course, one night a week from September to June, not to mention a course I've already got a pass grade in, doesn't seem like a big deal. It's a small but necessary step towards getting over all those bad habits I had at school. Prove to myself I can finish, I can make an effort, I'm not dumb or lazy anymore. That being said, I purposely picked a part time course so I wouldn't take on too much at once and set myself up for a fail. Still, I'm hoping it will lead on to more. Some day I would like to be proud of myself and feel like I've achieved something in life. I don't want to coast anymore.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Appointments Are Like Buses

"Patience is not simply the ability to wait - it's how we behave while we're waiting."
Joyce Meyer

So last Friday was the first of four appointments I have this month. I would say hospital appointments, but one is at the dentist. I guess that doesn't count, but it is at my local doctor's surgery. Close enough? Anyway, on Friday I travelled to my beloved Belfast City Hospital for an MRI. They were scanning my hips and legs to help determine how my Muscular Dystrophy is affecting me. Or something. I don't really know what they're looking for, just that it's part of Operation Diagnose Bloo.

I kinda knew what I was in for because I'd had one before, also in a bid to diagnose me. They had scanned my brain because some forms of MD affect the brain, but nothing turned up on mine. I mean, a brain did. And some abnormal white matter that my neurologist said was 'probably asymptomatic'... whatever that means. I probably should have questioned him more about that. Anyway, I kind of forgot how sucky MRIs are. 

Things were made worse by the fact my dad kept me almost half an hour late. I had repeatedly told him the form said to be fifteen minutes early, but he did the old 'dad knows better' routine and gosh, I thought I was going to blow my top. I have to say I'm not the most punctual person ever, but that is something I have tried my best to overcome. So I was ready on time and right around the time we were supposed to leave, my dad decides to jump into the shower. I would be a lot more understanding if my dad wasn't usually the one stressing and getting annoyed that we're going to be late. 

We finally got there and signed in. My dad was all smug because we were 'barely late'. I reminded him that we were actually fifteen minutes late because it said to be there fifteen minutes early. He was all 'Oh yeah, and then they keep you waiting an hour. Wait and see.' I rolled my eyes and waited for the radiographer to come out and go through the routine questions with me. By the time she came out another fifteen minutes had passed, so we were effectively half an hour late by that point. We finished up my info and as expected she said that because I hadn't been on time they'd let someone else go in front of me so we'd have to wait for half an hour. My dad got all annoyed like it was their fault. I know thirty minutes isn't very long and usually I wouldn't mind, but it was the principle! If it had been me keeping my dad late, he'd have been pissed off. 

Not only that, but there was other little things that made waiting more worse than usual. Even though I knew what to expect, I was nervous. I wanted to get it over and done with. I'm not claustrophobic, but being inside such a small space isn't comfortable for anyone. Not to mention how noisy it is. Normal people discomforts aside, I was also anxious about the fact I would be lying down so long without my ventilator. I can lie down without it, but breathing takes more effort which can make me panic sometimes. I know I was going to have to go through this whether I waited half an hour or not, but there was also the fact I was hungry. I had to sit and watch my dad have a lovely scone (the City Hospital scones are the highlight of our visits. We share one every time I have an appointment) and I couldn't have any because if I had ate I would have found it even harder to breathe when I was lying down. It doesn't sound like it makes sense, but it's a thing. Also when I'm hungry my acid reflux gets worse, which also gets worse when I'm lying down. In bed I'm usually more upright because I have a spiffy hospital type bed. So when it was finally my turn I had all these worries going through my mind. What if I couldn't breathe? What if I started to feel sick? What if I wasn't strong enough to press the call button? 

When they lay me on the bed another worry popped up. The bed was incredibly hard as it was made out of metal. They decided to scan me on my side. I don't think I could have taken the weight of the weird heavy things they strap over you. That's another thing. You're literally strapped down to the bed with these heavy weights on you (I kept imagining I was in American Horror Story Asylum). Gosh, how do claustrophobic people have MRIs at all? Although being on my side was more comfortable, the metal was really sore on my ribs. I really could have done with more meat on my bones. So then I started worrying that I wouldn't be able to tolerate lying there the full time. 

All these things whizzing about in my head almost had me having a panic attack before I was even in the machine. They lay me down and I got a bit dizzy. Probably a bit of a head rush, but I really did think I was going to have a panic attack. Luckily I've gotten pretty good at talking myself down from the edge, so I was able to relax enough. They did a number of scans and in total they took about forty five minutes. It felt like ages, but the fact they supplied you with earphones and music helped pass the time a little faster than it might have. Even if the music was super dated and at some points drowned out by the noise of the machine. A song that really reminds me of my ex (and not in a good way) also came on. Talk about kicking a girl when she's down.

When it was over they brought me out and got my dad. The radiographers were both women and super nice. They kept telling me how well I'd done. Another day I may have found it slightly patronising, but that day it felt nice. I don't know why, but I felt so rough after the scan. Kind of fragile. It was nice to have someone being nice to me. My dad on the other had was less than sympathetic. I told him I didn't feel good, to which he replied 'Oh, I'm sure it was awful for you while I was stuck out here waiting'. Usually him being in a grumpy mood and belittling what I'd been through probably wouldn't bother me. He's been like that a lot lately. Belittling is his way of coping, I think. But that day I just felt fragile emotionally. I guess I was probably just tired from the extra work of breathing. He said he's stuck in machines every day of his life. Dramatic much? Oh yeah, did I mention he fixes machines in a factory? That's what he means. 

So yeah, that was my first of four appointments this month. I don't know why they've all popped up together. I knew what the MRI was for. The next is at the muscle clinic, but not with my usual doctor. I'm assuming since I was only at the clinic a couple of months ago for my annual check up that maybe my blood test results are back from London and they might have some news on whether they've confirmed I have the type of Muscular Dystrophy they think I might have. I hope they have some kind of news or else my dad will be annoyed at a pointless trip. I'm thinking of possibly having my sister take me instead, but I don't know. On one hand I'm a little nervous. My whole life I've had Congenital Muscular Dystrophy. I'm not sure I feel ready to start telling people I have something different, even if it won't actually change anything. So I kind of feel like I'd rather have one of my parents there, but then maybe not if my dad is just going to belittle things and stress me out. My mum hasn't been able to go to my hospital appointments since they gave me 18 months to live when I was 12. She gets panic attacks. 

Then there's the dentist appointment. It's pretty straight forward. After that I have another respiratory clinic appointment. It's another mystery. Last time I was there my respiratory nurse she said she'd have me back in six months rather than a year because of my panic attacks, but it's only been three months. The only reason I can think of for me having one so soon is that I cocked up my sleep study. I find doing sleep studies properly super hard because I go to sleep so late and they want the oxygen monitor back so early. So yeah, I'm hoping that's what it is. I'm a little nervous that it's something else, but I think that's just my anxiety about my breathing getting to me. Panic attacks are still being a bitch. 

Gosh, this entry has been a lot of complaining and feeling sorry for myself. For the record I know MRI's aren't a big deal. I was just having an off day. And all complaining aside, I can understand why my dad is annoyed about hospital visits even more than usual as he's been spending a lot of time at the hospital with my granny. We're hoping she gets to go home soon though. 

On a slightly different note, I dyed my hair! I kind of did it on an impulse. It was supposed to be a slightly darker blonde, but it came out brown. It's been ages since I've been this dark! Though the bleach underneath means it's lightening up with every wash. I'm kinda glad. I miss my blonde hair if I'm honest. Still, it's nice having a change. I guess I'll finish off with a photo! 

The day of my MRI. 
While I was waiting and my dad was having a scone!
Belfast City Hospital have the best scones. 
Oh, and my hair is a bit darker in real life.
Looks a lot lighter in this photo. :) 

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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