Strange things have occurred with regard to Fancy's dying.
With Fancy's body on the bucket of our tractor, Edgar drove through two pastures--past the remaining four horses grazing in the field--to bring her into our horse pasture cemetery, where a large hole had been dug and where she would lie for eternity next to Nicky, Shadowfax, Lillie, and Merry, her mother. I walked alongside the tractor, and through my tears I saw the other horses, their heads down. Three of them were grazing as usual, undisturbed by just another piece of machinery driving past. But my hair stood up along the back of my neck at sight of Timmy.
As we drove slowly past, careful not to jostle Fancy out of the bucket, Timmy, our old Saddlebred, picked his head off the ground and snapped to attention. His head was high, his body as still as Fancy's. But it was his expression that unnerved me. His eyes held to the bucket wherein Fancy lay, and they were as wide as I've ever seen them--struck still, staring, staring hard. His expression was, in no uncertain terms, one of complete horror.
I nodded at Edgar, and he glanced at Timmy. And when he saw Timmy's reaction, Edgar, began to cry. I was already sobbing at the disconcerting sight of Timmy's shock seeing Fancy in such a compromising and ultimate position. Clearly Timmy was stunned, horrified, to see her being carried, helpless, across the pasture.
His reaction spoke volumes about the ability of an animal to realize death. To see this old horse stand so erect and in catatonic attention was proof, as far as I was concerned, that he knew Fancy was gone. His expression told us he was overwhelmed with the realization that her position in the bucket was unnatural and, therefore, final.
Here's the other odd thing about dealing with death, and it's no stranger to us, having been through many of our pets' deaths. It has to do with what our brains are accustomed to seeing. It happened with Nicky and Fax; I suppose it happens, too, when humans die. One's brain does not adjust very quickly to an animal's or person's absence. The brain "sees" the pet on her cushion, in her favorite chair, at her food dish in the corner of the kitchen. In my case, when I went to feed the horses last night, Fancy's stall was obviously, screamingly, vacant. It erupted a lump in my throat. Every time I passed by her stall, I had to deliberately adjust my brain for the absence because if I didn't, the fact of her death came pouring unmercifully over me. Habits die hard, and Fancy had been a fixture in that stall for a little less than thirty years. Fancy's presence in that stall had become hard-wired in my brain, and it was struggling to adjust.
This morning's feeding wasn't any better--still the horrific emptiness of the stall hitting me. And Julie, Fancy's sister and her pasture mate, stood by the wall between their two stalls, waiting, waiting for Fancy to come back. Julie's brain, too, had become conditioned to Fancy's presence beside her.
Until our brains adjust to this robbery, I vow to help Julie deal with her loss, too. I'm going to visit her several times a day while she's out on pasture. I'm going to fuss over her so that the 28 year old horse feels just a little less deprived of Fancy's company. And I'm going to pay extra attention, too, to poor Timmy, who almost had the life shocked out of him.