October 26 thru November 1, 2015
The next day, my sister and brother-in-law flew back to Colorado. I worked from home, just like any other regular Monday since the end of August.
I took Bella out around lunchtime, but when I shut down the computer at 5:00 and asked her if she wanted to go out again, she didn’t get up. She was lying by my feet under my desk, so I went around to the front of the desk and asked again. Her hearing wasn’t so good…or was selective…so I thought maybe she didn’t hear me. She looked at me but didn’t get up. I thought, “Oh God, she’s had a stroke.” I lifted her up and put her on her feet, and she sat back down. By now my heart was pounding.
So, I put on my shoes, grabbed my purse, and scooped her up and put her in the car. The vet is less than a mile from home, so I had her there in a few minutes. The vet looked her over and said he didn’t think she’d had a stroke; he thought maybe she had just hurt herself somehow. I told him she’d been fine all day and just didn’t get up when I was going to take her out.
He gave her some muscle relaxants and pain relievers, told me to keep her calm (no stairs, no furniture, etc), and said to bring her back if she got any worse, like if she started to vomit.
So I took her home and blocked off a little area near my desk so she could look out the sliding glass door but wouldn’t be tempted to follow me to the couch. When I went to bed, I moved her bed to my room and closed the door so she was trapped in there with me. The hardest part was carrying her up and down the stairs every time she needed to go out, but I would do anything for her so it was fine. I think she kinda liked it after years of having arthritis and having to climb those stairs herself.
The second day she seemed about the same. When we got to the bottom of the stairs each time, I’d stand her on her feet and she’d creep across to the grassy area to go potty. One of my neighbors saw her and said she was way too drugged up, and I agreed, so I lowered her dosage on the pills a little. By the third day she seemed to be a lot better. She was walking a little better and even went to the top of the stairs by Wednesday night and acted like she was going to go down by herself. She also followed me around.
On Thursday morning though, she wouldn’t take her pills, wouldn’t eat anything, and what I did get down her she threw up. So I made an appointment to see the vet again. He ran some more tests and decided that, based on her history of the tumor, he wanted to keep her overnight, give her fluids, and have some more tests run the next day. I was seeing dollar signs lining up in my head, but I didn’t care. Unless they told me that it was really awful and would require invasive procedures to keep her alive, I was willing to see what was wrong before I told them to stop looking.
She was transferred to the overnight vet, which is basically at the end of my street, and they were going to do X-rays and other things on Friday morning and see if they could find evidence of tumors. I was prepared to hear the worst that afternoon and would make a tough decision, if necessary, because I didn’t want her to suffer if there were no guarantees…or if the line of dollar signs seemed endless.
On that rainy Friday afternoon, Jerri and my male friend both came over and went with me to talk to the vet. He said there was no evidence of any tumors, and it appeared she had pancreatitis, which he felt like they could treat over the weekend. I was elated. She was going to have to go to their facility a couple towns over since this one by my house wouldn’t be open all weekend. So, I drove around to the side door to pick her up and drive her over there. When she saw me through the door, she started pulling on the leash held by the vet tech. I will never forget that moment. I know in my heart that she loved me and was as happy to see me as I was to see her. We loaded her into the back of the car, and the 4 of us went to the other vet’s office. She was alert and happy, and I felt like everything would be OK by Monday.
On Saturday morning, the 3 of us went to visit her. The vet wasn’t as optimistic as he’d been the day before. Bella wasn’t interested in eating or drinking, and she wasn’t interested in going outside so they’d had to take her out on a gurney. She seemed happy to see us, but she didn’t make any effort to get up. They had her in a giant “cage,” which was big enough for Bella, Jerri & I to get into together, and that’s what we did. We laid down with her and talked to her. My male friend stood nearby and talked to Bella too. The vet explained what they were going to keep doing throughout the day, and he said I could come back in the morning.
That night, Jerri and I went to a Halloween/baby shower/housewarming party. She was a sock monkey and I was a Renaissance maiden. (I’d purchased several costumes for that other party and ended up keeping 2 because I liked them both. So it worked out well that I had 2 parties to go to!) I had a nice time, but my mind was back with Bella, wishing I could curl up next to her in that cage. As we were leaving, one of Jerri’s nephews walked us to the car, and he said a prayer with us for Bella.
On Sunday morning, the vet called and said that he felt like it might be time to make a decision about Bella. She was not improving and was actually getting worse. She was having labored breathing, she was not able to control her bladder, and the tests they ran throughout the weekend also showed she wasn’t getting better.
Jerri and my male friend both had things to do on Sunday morning, so I went to the vet’s office by myself. It was best that way. It’s mostly been just me and Bella for the 13 years of her life, so it needed to be just me and her at the end. I asked the vet if they had a room with a window ’cause she loves to look outside, so they put us in one. She even sat up a little so she could look out.
I spent as much time with her as I could, but realized I was going to have to just go ahead with what needed to be done. The vet came in and asked me to sit behind her and talk to her because he believed that hearing our voices helps our pets when they’re passing. I agreed. My only regret is that I was behind her and she couldn’t see me and I couldn’t look into her eyes.
Even though I know I did what I had to do, to this day, over 3 months later, I still feel like I let her down. And I miss her more than I’ve missed anyone or anything. Even more than the redneck. I would do anything I could to bring her back. She was my very best friend. I’ve had a lot of dogs and cats (and a weird hamster) in my 52 years on this planet, but there’s never been anyone like Bella.
So, Bella passed away on All Saints’ Day. I realize the Catholic Church has a very specific idea of what All Saints’ Day is in a religious aspect, but for me, it’s appropriate that my sweet girl left for doggie heaven on that day.
The rest of 2015
I didn’t get a lot of time to process my loss. The next weekend I went to Missouri with Jerri to attend another friend’s wedding. The next weekend my male friend had a heart attack! (It was mild…he even drove himself to the hospital. They put in a stent and he was home 2 days later and feeling great.)
The next 2 weekends were the bookends to my Thanksgiving trip to Colorado. That trip was hard because it was my first without Bella. I took her ashes with me though. I told my sister if I started to sleep with the box, then sign me in at the loony bin.
(Don’t tell my sister, but there have been a couple nights I did sleep with the box in my bed, including the nights I stopped in a hotel to and from my sister’s.)
It was wonderful to be with my family though, as always. And the scenery didn’t let me down either. This was the sunset on the night before Thanksgiving.
As for processing, dealing with grief, and healing…December wasn’t much better. On December 10, my male friend’s son died in his sleep as a result of a brain aneurysm. He was only 33.
By Christmas, I knew I needed to get out of town again. I had invitations to spend Christmas Eve with Jerri’s family, and I could spend Christmas Day with another friend and her family. My old boss and his wife even invited me to spend the day with them. However, I just needed to be with my sister, niece, nephew, and brother-in-law.
Against my better judgement, I headed toward the mountains. In the 20+ years I’ve gone up there, my now-ex-husband and I went up just once for Christmas. We decided long ago that weather is too unpredictable to go there after Thanksgiving…and even then the driving conditions aren’t always perfect.
The weather was absolutely gorgeous on my drive up. There was sun, clear roads, and no threat of any bad weather. It had snowed heavily the day before, but the roads were considered safe. Just before sunset, I had one pass left to cross, and it was a “baby” pass…not a monster like Monarch Pass on Hwy 50. I’d considered spending the night in Alamosa, but we looked at the weather and the DOT websites, and decided that it would be fine.
At 5:48pm, I turned onto Hwy 114 in Saguache.
3 minutes later, at 5:51pm, the road looked like this:
26 minutes later I was in the ditch.
I was creeping along at a snail’s pace. I had seen just a couple of vehicles since getting onto that highway, and they were all coming from the other direction. Not long after I took that last picture, a car came up behind me and I slowed further so he could pass. I wanted to follow his tail lights because it was getting harder and harder to see. The wind was howling! I had never driven in worse conditions, and I’ve driven in blizzards and hurricanes. I was able to follow that car for a couple miles and then, wham! I was in the ditch. I hadn’t done anything. My sister said it sounds like I must’ve drifted just enough out of the tire tracks that the snow literally sucked me into the bank on the side of the road.
I immediately turned on my hazard lights. I had also been sending texts to my sister to let her know what mile marker I was at, and at what time, just so she’d know where I was if something happened. Well, something had definitely happened. I tried to send her a text to tell her where I was, but I had no signal. I tried to call, but that, of course, wouldn’t go through either. I just kept dialing and dialing every time it would give up trying. I think I dialed her nearly 40 times.
I knew I was near marker #26. And the last time I tried to send a text it was 6:26. And right after that someone stopped to help me. My Mom’s birthday was June 26, 1926…6/26/26. In other words, and in my opinion, it was no coincidence that someone stopped when they did.
The guy who stopped to help pulled me out, with the assistance of another guy who had pulled up behind him. That second guy was from Texas and didn’t even have a coat on! I asked them if I could “sandwich” between them on the rest of the way, and they said OK. The Texan went first. And, because he drove like Texans drive, he promptly left me behind. The guy behind me stuck with me. Which was good because I soon went off the road again…this time into the left-side ditch. I was really freaked then because I thought I was still on the pass. I just knew that a few inches from the front of my car was a drop off to God knows where.
The winds were blowing so hard that I couldn’t even see if the guy was there, but I rolled down my window and heard him. He got me out of the ditch again, and this time it was witnessed by a guy in a DOT truck who didn’t even move a muscle to help. He merely told us to get out of the middle of the road. DUH! I’d LOVE to! Please tell me how to accomplish that!
I got back on the right side of the road, with my angels following, but the conditions seemed to be further deteriorating. I finally just stopped. Right in the road as there was no shoulder; even when the road is clear there’s no shoulder. I got out of my car and started walking back to the truck. I was prepared to pull my car over to the side as best I could and hitch a ride with them. Worry about my car later. I have insurance.
The wind was blowing so hard that it took my breath away and made the snow sting my face like little bees. I felt like I was in an episode of Ice Road Truckers.
The guy told me not to leave my car in the road. I told him I couldn’t see anything. I said I was freaked out and knew I was going to end up in the ditch again anyway. I’ve driven this highway enough times to know we still had quite a ways to go to get to civilization.
He didn’t say anything, so I just turned around and headed back to my car. If I couldn’t ride to town with them, I’d just sit there in my car until the weather cleared, or the sun came up, or someone else rescued me, or I froze to death.
However, I didn’t have to do any of those things because as I was getting back into my car, the guy ran up to the window and asked if I wanted him to drive my car. I said, “Oh, yes! Please!” He told me to go ride in the truck with his girlfriend. I have never been more relieved in my life. I had no idea how the 3 of us were going to get out of there, but at least I wasn’t in charge of handling a vehicle anymore.
I climbed up into their big 4WD truck and immediately saw 2 giant huskies in the back seat. I knew everything was going to be OK now. The guy’s girlfriend is a biology teacher in Albuquerque and her boyfriend lives in Crested Butte South, so they were essentially going where I was going. I proceeded to blabber like an idiot, probably with horrible stress breath, but I felt safe, and that was good.
Then the guy went off into the ditch while driving my car. At least now I knew it wasn’t because I don’t know how to drive.
When the guy had gotten into my car, he said we had 4 miles to go ’til we got to the canyon and he believed that the wind would die down. I knew, though, that when we got to the canyon, we would be in the “twisty part” where the road follows the river. I didn’t want to drive through there either, as I was certain it was probably a giant sheet of ice and/or snow. I was praying the whole time that he’d just keep driving.
We got to just before the canyon, and he stopped. Crap!
But, he merely hopped out of my car and came to the truck to ask if we were holding up traffic because there was a vehicle behind us. His girlfriend told him they had asked her if they could follow because they didn’t have 4WD either and wanted to be a part of our convoy. He said OK and got back in my car.
Turns out the canyon wasn’t icy but it was a bit snow-covered. When we exited the canyon, we could even see the moon and stars.
That kind young man drove my car all the way to the intersection with Hwy 50, which would have been about 20 miles from where he took over. I was so very grateful and hugged him tightly when I climbed out of that truck.
But, I still had miles to go before I could sleep. As soon as I got on the highway and had a signal, I called my sister. She said, “Where are you?!?!?” She had last heard from me around 6:00 and it was now after 8:00. She’d called the Sheriff’s department for 2 counties. She was almost ready to go looking for me. I told her what happened, and I told her I was spending the night in Gunnison. I was only 30 miles from her house, but I couldn’t handle anymore ditches. The highway between Gunnison and Crested Butte is similar to the one I’d just traveled…no shoulders, twisty in spots, and had the potential to be snow/ice-covered too.
She went online and found a hotel for me while I ran into City Market to use the rest room. This is what my car looked like when I came out of the store:
I spent a restful night at the Comfort Inn, and the next day (Christmas Eve) my sister came to Gunnison so we could shop and eat. I didn’t care how or when or if I could ever get home. I was just so happy to be with my family.
That evening she and I met one of her friends in town (Crested Butte) and we laughed so much. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d laughed so hard. Between the family and friendship and quaint charm of the town, I felt like I was in a Christmas movie.
Christmas morning was magical too. I realized it was the first Christmas I’d spent with my nephew. He’s 17. We had one Christmas with my niece when she was 2 or 3, and that was the last December we made the trip to Colorado. She’s 21. So, this was a special day for me. It was special for my sister too, as she got teary-eyed while we were opening presents. She said, “All my people are here.”
I would still be there if I could. But I ultimately had to head home. I delayed my departure by a day because there had been a snowstorm in Texas…along with the deadly tornadoes that hit the Dallas area. The weather was fine and so were the roads. In fact, the sun was shining brightly as I went through the area where I’d gone into the ditch. Remember that I said I thought I was still on the pass when I went off the second time? Well, I wasn’t. I had been on a completely flat area that was in a wide open valley. That’s why the wind was so awful.
I did encounter some flurries when I got to Amarillo that night. And the next day I drove through some more freezing fog from Amarillo to just west of Wichita Falls! That was about 4 hours of driving time. But, the road was completely clear and there was plenty of traffic to travel with, so I made good time and finally made it home about 3:00 in the afternoon.
The trip to Colorado, despite the drama, had been a wonderful tonic for my soul. I felt like I could face things a lot better. I miss Bella every single day. I wish she could be here with me still. She has visited me in my dreams at least 3 times though. The first was the night she died. She came into the kitchen and she couldn’t walk very well. But then she left the room and came back and walked just fine. I was so happy that she was better, and I had the clear thought that all I had to do was ask, and she’d come to see me in my dreams. The next time was after a pretty difficult time of missing her for a few days. In the dream she was running around and playing with her toys, and every time she came up to me I could feel her fur and could feel her body when I hugged her. I hope she never stops coming to see me.