Not sure how it happened, but there she was on her side. Bones poked out of her skin. The foreleg dangled from a bloody piece of hide just below the knee. She tried to stand but collapsed. Her nostrils flared. I knelt beside her, cradled her head and whispered, “Easy girl.” Fear and pain stared at me through wide bloodshot eyes.
A quiet river ran down my trembling cheeks, but inside I was a screaming, raving lunatic. But, I had to stay calm for her. I didn’t want to spook her and cause her more pain than she was already in.
If I can grab her leg—both pieces—I can put it together, splint it. Fix-it. I knew that wasn’t true, but denial clouded my mind.
“Easy girl, easy” I reached for her leg and she kicked. Razor sharp bones sliced the air next to my head. I placed my hand on her forehead and the side of her neck. “Easy Sugar.” She quieted.
Dad stood behind me, “Son.” That was all he said, but I knew what he meant. I heard the click as he chambered a bullet. I felt a hand on my shoulder.
I turned and stood all in one motion and pushed him back. “No, she can be fixed. It’s not that bad. I’ll stay with her. I’ll make a splint—a cast. I’ll feed her by hand. I’ll make sure she doesn’t try to stand and hurt herself. She’s strong. She can make it through this. She’s my best friend. I love her. I can’t...Please Dad. We can fix her.”
He holstered his revolver and hugged me without saying a word. Finally he kissed the top of my head and whispered into my hair, “This isn’t about fixin’ —it’s about easing her pain.”
I stepped back and looked up at my dad. I hated him at that moment—how could he. “But, we fixed her before. Remember, she hurt her leg and couldn’t walk and we fixed her. We can do it again. I’ll do it if you won’t. We can—”
“This isn’t a pulled muscle.” He looked over my shoulder toward Sugar, the horse I’d owned for ten years. Dad brought her home from the auction on my second birthday. A two year old for a two year old, he’d said.
“But can’t we try.” I said. We both stared at Sugar’s leg hanging by a thread.
He put his hands on my shoulders and stared me square in the eye. “Son, this isn’t about you…Nursing your pain…prolongs hers.”
Sugar made a sound that made me shiver. I could smell dust and sweat and blood. I wanted to hold her and cry until the tears ran dry—until I didn’t hurt anymore. But I knew that it was selfish to make her suffer more than she had, just so I could attend to my sorrow.
“Sometimes doing what’s right—” he slid his pistol out of the holster—“means doing what’s hard.”
I knew I had to put her out of her misery. And the longer I waited—the longer she suffered. I nodded. I could mourn later. I figured I’d cry for the rest of my life. But for now, I had to do right by her. Ease her pain. Bring her peace. Bring her comfort. That’s what she deserved. No matter how hard or how bad it made me feel. “We’ve got to put her out of her misery, Dad.” I held out my hand.
“Son, you don’t have to. You can go—”
“No, she’s mine.” I swallowed hard, clenched my teeth and felt pain leak out and run down my cheek. “I’ll do it.”
Dad laid the revolver in my palm. I gripped the gun with two hands and tried to stop it from trembling—it didn’t help. I knelt next to Sugar and placed the muzzle against her forehead. She exhaled a long slow breath stirring up dust under her nostrils. My finger was straight beside the death cold trigger. My vision blurred and I tasted liquid sorrow cross my lips. I sucked in two jerky breathes and held. I clicked off the safety, closed my eyes and applied pressure to the trigger.
Sugar was gone.
Last night I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned and at 400 a.m. this scene was playing in my head. Only the horror of it came after pulling the trigger.
I opened my eyes and saw my hand on the gun. Only the gun wasn’t a gun, but a needle. And Sugar wasn’t my horse but sweet Grandma Mary.
The haunting words from the Hospice nurse started echoing in my head, “We’re not in the fix-it business—we’re in the comfort business.”
The connection became clear. We do to people what we do to horses. Put them out of their misery. Not with a bullet, but with medicine to ease their pain, to make them more comfortable. We do it because we love them and we don’t want them to suffer. We do it at our own hurt.
• We let a quiet river run down trembling cheeks, while inside we’re screaming, raving lunatics. We stay calm for her. We don’t want to scare her or cause her any more pain than she’s already in.
• We accept that it’s not about fixin’ —it’s about easing her pain.
• We recognize it’s not about us. And that nursing our pain…prolongs hers.
• We want to hold her and cry until the tears run dry—until we don’t hurt anymore. But we know that it’s selfish to make her suffer more than she has to, just so we can attend to our sorrow.
• Sometimes doing what’s right—means doing what’s hard. So, we limit our visits for her sake. We won’t deny her the rest she needs by saying, “She’ll get all the rest she needs soon enough.”
• We can mourn later. But for now, we’ll do right by her. Ease her pain. Bring her peace. Bring her comfort. That’s what she deserves. No matter how hard or how bad it makes us feel.