One artist's journey: Trying to live a creative life with grace, grit, gratitude...and a border collie.
(or perhaps I should say: greys, grit and gratitude)

01 April 2013

Saying Goodbye...

Antelope Valley, CA  April 2003  age 17
Today is the birthday of one of the best little souls I have ever known.   He's been gone nine years and as I wander through memories of his life, I find myself thinking about his death.  He left in a way that was, to me, as remarkable as he lived.

If you have loved a long-lived animal, you have probably faced what we all dread…the "end of life" decision.  Gig was seventeen and had followed my every footstep throughout his long life.  He seemed bullet proof, he'd survived the van wreck against all odds (as told in a previous post)… and a couple of times during his last year he seemed close to death and then he would suddenly rally.  

On a visit to my Mom's, when he was almost 17, the family vet gave him his shots then said "at his age, he probably doesn't need shots anymore".  "Why didn't you say that BEFORE you gave him the shot?", I wondered.  That evening, Gig collapsed…the shoulder where he got the shot wouldn't work.  He couldn't stand, much less walk…and it kept getting worse.  Another visit to the vet, who said:  "It's neurological, there is nothing I can do, you're gonna lose him."  He seemed to be going down so fast that my family said their goodbyes and I tried to make him as comfortable as I could for his "last" days.  Then one morning I took him outside, set him down…and watched in disbelief as he stood and took a couple of unsteady steps.  By the end of the day he was tottering around again like his old self, unphased by his "near death" experience.  For the rest of his life, though…that shoulder would "go out" now and then.

With Dad on the ranch, Del Norte, CO   May 2003
In June, during a visit to my Dad's ranch in Colorado, I looked up to see Gig (who was nearly blind and mostly deaf) following Dad up the log staircase.  I launched myself toward him while calling out to Dad, who was just getting to the top.  We were both too late…near the top of the stairs, Gig toppled over backwards and tumbled down the staircase to the floor.  It looked like something out of a movie…I remember it in slow motion.  When he hit bottom, he writhed as if his back was broken, his neck twisted around and obviously in pain.  Sure that he had broken something, I immobilized him as Dad called the vet who lived down the road.  When we arrived at the vet's house and I set him carefully on the floor, he was still not moving.  The vet asked…"what did he do when he tried to walk?"  me:  "he hasn't yet, we brought him straight here".  About that time, the vet's Corgi walked by…Gig got up and tottered after the Corgi as if nothing had happened.  

Giggy the Poodle   October 2003
Over the next months, Gig was his old self, just old…and he traveled with me back and forth across the country, as always.  In Tennessee for Halloween at Mom's, I made "poodle" costumes for Gig and I…and together we won three costume contests.  In December, Gig was in the room with all of us as Dad died.  

Two Poodles   October 2003

In January, back in Idaho, I came home after walking to the Post Office and found Gig had fallen over the rocker of my chair and had not been able to get up.  I'd only been gone for about 20 minutes…but what if I'd been gone longer?  So we visited the vet to discuss what would be in Gig's best interest.  The kind country vet said:  "He is not in any pain…he is living because he wants to be with you".  

So, over the next few months, I tried to help my old friend be "old" as I processed my recent losses and faced losing him.  As we began this last phase of our long journey together, I told him:  "When you quit trying to eat and trying to walk…we'll go to the vet…you just tell me when".

In February, he traveled with me to San Diego for the opening of my "48 x 48" show…he always loved beaches, so I made sure he got to go to some.

On the road somewhere   November 2003
One day it happened…he had been eating less and less, walking less and less…then he didn't do either.  Snuggling him to my chest as I lay on the futon, I called my Mom to tell her I was putting him down.  She shared a good cry with me…but the moment I hung up the phone Gig got up, tottered across the room to his dish and started eating.  So, I postponed the vet visit.

The circumstances of my Dad's last hours had given me reason to believe that, as much as we have a right to live as we choose, we also have a right to die the way we choose when possible and humane.  It would seem that Gig was not ready or willing to have the "dying" part of his life decided for him…and who was I to deny him that if he was not in pain?

For the next few weeks, it was back to our routine.

My step-mother, step-brother and several friends were going to the C.M. Russell show at the end of March and I was going to visit them there.  A couple of days before the show, Gig stopped eating and walking again.  I didn't want to subject him to the stress of another art show (he had been to soooo many over the years), so I called Linda to say that I was still coming to the show, but I would be putting him down before.  Another call ended with everyone in tears…and, once again, as soon as I put down the phone, Gig got up and walked straight to his food bowl.

March 2004
So…Gig went to Great Falls with me.  He stayed in the car when I was in the show and I would check on him often…so worried that I would come back to find he'd died alone.  Then, one morning as we arrived at the show, he looked at me and something solemn passed between us.  Instead of going to the show, Gig and I went back to the room…I called a vet and made an appointment for the next morning.  With Gig snuggled in my lap, I spent the day reliving countless moments of our eighteen years together.  Linda and Kevin returned in the evening…they said their goodbyes and Kevin took the last pic of me and my old friend.  

I fell asleep with Gig in my arms, snuggled on my chest and his head under my chin.  Sometime in the wee hours of the morning, he pushed me awake with a paw…then he lifted his head, looked me in the eyes…and was gone.

There were so many times over the years when I thought I had lost him, when I worried something would happen and I wouldn't be there for him.  As it was, I can not think of a better way to say goodbye to this remarkable little soul who had been such an amazing part of my life…and I know he wanted it exactly that way.

Giggy the "Litebulbhead"   April 1, 1986 - March 21, 2004