Saturday, October 27, 2012

Gravedigging for beginners

Missy, left, and B.G., right
This was a hard week.

Last month, B.G., who has been on-again off-again lame for most of her life, was finally diagnosed at four years of age with laminitis and arthritis. Severe changes in the outer claw of her left hoof meant that, for the last several weeks, she had been virtually unable to walk. The third vet to see her about the lameness finally got the diagnosis right, and it was not a happy one. NSAIDS and dietary changes did nothing to improve the situation, and the vet and I agreed on Tuesday that it was time to put B.G. down. I made an appointment for Thursday.

This decision came at around 10 am, and I went for a tearful muleback ride (my first in over a year, due to Fenway's old hock injury) thereafter. From the saddle I called my mom, which is always good therapy, and soon felt somewhat better.

I came home from that ride to the news that my friend A. ( had died of cervical cancer. She had a ferocious nearly four-year battle with the disease, which left her ravaged, and had been in hospice care for a week.

Here's what I think about A: she had a magnetic, joyful presence that made me feel amazing. I didn't get to know her as well as I would have liked, as we started running into one another (her sister-in-law is a dear friend of mine) just before she became sick. I took her a dinner, once, and often commented on her blog. I saw her at her family's parties over the years, and later I thought of her and worried for her and encouraged her from the sidelines. From the get-go, before and after cancer, she was an incredible woman: always smiling, always warm, always beautiful and creative and compassionate. She lit up a room. She made me feel like a good friend even when I barely knew her, and it felt like a privilege to be around her.

There came a time when she was sick, too sick to cultivate a new friendship, and I was busy and broke and living in another town. It's too bad I let any of that stop me. I should have signed up to drive her to Seattle for treatment. I should have taken her more meals. Four hours in the car with A. would have been four priceless, precious hours and I'm sorry I missed that opportunity.

A was surrounded by friends throughout, and it's no surprise: everyone felt drawn to her as I did, I think. The outpouring of love that I've seen on her facebook page and her husband B.'s has been tremendous. Her preschooler son C. got her beautiful smile, and those boys B. and C. are going to need these friends now. They are beloved by their entire community, as A. was. I hope I get the chance to know them better over the years.

As for my goat, she was beloved too. I'm not one to believe much in an afterlife, but I do take some small pleasure in thinking that if A. ever wanted a dairy goat, she's got a good one now. The tiny little part of me that wants to believe in magic can imagine them together, now, in some pastoral place.

The same part of me—the part that wants to believe in magic—saw significance in the tremendous double rainbow that appeared over Western Washington the day A. died. She loved rainbows, and her "rainbow connection" group (to encourage healthier eating) inspired me to bring more fruits and vegetables into my life. I'm going to blog about it, in guised and upbeat terms, on my nutrition blog for the Bellingham Herald later today.

I dug two graves yesterday—the first was easy going in light, sandy soil. I was two and a half feet down and feeling like a gravedigging machine when I hit the water table, and then I stood in two inches of silty water wondering how many fish would die if I put a poisoned carcass into the
Samish headwaters. I called around, learned it would cost $300 to have the body taken away, and decided I really did want her grave to be at home where we could someday visit it. I filled in my beautiful, shallow hole and hiked to the high side of the property, closer to the sunken railroad tracks than the spreading river. There, near Meredith Lane, I tried another hole. This one was gravelly but I was able to dig deeper without hitting water. I should have been thinking.

I buried B.G. in her mother's paddock—the mother who you'll remember, if you're following, as having also been scheduled for euthanasia that same day. The vet, my husband, and I finally decided that being thin, old, and lopsided is not the same as being in pain, and that Missy was not ready to throw it in. I'm glad of that, as she seems unfazed by the loss of a herd mate and I'm certainly grateful for her company now.

My nose keeps bleeding, off and on, from a whack B.G. gave me with her head as she went down under sedation. So much for chemical euthanasia as a clean method—she was clean, yes, but I was covered in tears and snot and blood. I was not at my most dignified when B.G. died, but she went with quiet grace. It didn't look like murder, anyway.

I wonder sometimes if a bullet would have been better for the environment. I do now have a toxic body buried on my organic farm, and a place where the clover will always be suspect. I don't know if roots can carry sodium pentobarbital to the surface, but I plan to cover B.G.'s grave in a thick mulch as a preventative measure, in case.

As much as I say I feel no attachment to the body, I placed value on the experience of burying her. I dragged her unceremoniously by her neck, apologizing through my tears, but when I had her in the grave I arranged her comfortably. I tucked her legs beneath her. I excavated a shelf for her chin, extending her neck into a somewhat natural position. I comfortably covered her body with earth but had to avert my eyes as it fell around her nose and eyes. She still looked too much like herself.

How's that for a rambling blog post? I'm not sure I said enough about any of this, but there it is. My week in a nutshell.



  1. I dont feel capable of constructing a sentence which would be worthy of appearing on the same screen as this. Beautiful, thankyou.

  2. You said plenty sweetie. And you said it well. May your pain fade and your heart heal. You did the right thing even though sometimes the right thing doesn't feel that way.

  3. Thank you both for your very kind comments. Blogging has been therapeutic for me, in part because of the supportive words of friends like you. It means a lot.


  4. Beautifully told, though a sad read about the death of B.G.
    Your writing is so thoroughly personal and intimate Marnie…you are at your poignant and soulful best. I appreciate it that you allowing us/me in…

  5. Marnie, I'm so sorry to read about the loss of both of your very good friends. Sending virtual hugs to all of you.

  6. Very sorry to read of the loss of your dear goatie friend. Having been there many times, with many more to go, your words bring it home once again. The decision, the attendance, the digging, the placement,the dirt on eyes seeming sleeping and mouth seeming breathing. The "gift" of an end to suffering it surely is, but how to console the heart? Your children must have been so sad as well.


Thanks in Advance for Your Mulish Opinion!