Weeks have passed. And the pain has not subsided. Every time I think about it, my heart starts racing and I feel like I just got stabbed in the chest. It's a jolt, still. Gracie's death.
Gracie is the smallest of the golden retrievers photographed with me on O, The Oprah Magazine's January '06 and '07 covers. She had just turned 2 on May 21. I thought we'd grow old together.
She choked to death on a plastic ball she found in the grass (it belonged to Sophie, my 12-year-old cocker spaniel). The goldens were not allowed to play with those clear little balls that light up. I feared they'd chew them, or worse.
The worst happened on May 26. Gracie was out with her dog walker, on a walk I often do myself after their evening meal. On this sunny Saturday, having just returned from a late lunch with friends, I decided to let the caretaker do it—walk all three.
I hugged them all goodbye, leaving a lipstick print on Gracie's furry white forehead, where she loved getting kisses. Twenty minutes later, I got a call: "She's down and isn't breathing."
I ran barefoot out of the house and found the dog walker and one of my security guys pumping her chest. Just as I reached them, the security guy looked up and said, "I'm sorry, ma'am. We tried everything. I'm sorry. She's gone."
Gone??!! I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Yes, I saw it. I saw the caretaker rocking back and forth on the ground, his arms wrapped around himself, crying hysterically. My brain took in the whole scene, but it wasn't tracking properly. The first thing I remember saying is, "It's okay. It'll be okay. Tell me what happened." Through his sobs I heard: "…choked on a ball."
And I knew, this was real. Gracie is gone, Gracie is gone, Gracie is gone kept repeating in my head.
I stood there dazed, stunned, crying—and watched as they placed her in the back of a golf cart, her still-warm body with the lipstick stain on her fur.
But even in my stunned state, I knew this was not what it appeared to be: a freak accident with a clear plastic ball that lit up inside. I don't believe in accidents. I know for sure that everything in life happens to help us live.
The day after she died, I went to the spot where she took her last breath and called again, "Graaaacie! Graaaacie!" I was hoping security wouldn't hear me and think I needed medical—or psychological—attention. Of course I knew this time she wouldn't come running through the brush. Out of the pond. Shaking her wet fur and racing to my arms with a smile. She was always, always smiling.
Not until I knew there'd be no response did I realize how much pleasure I had taken in calling for her. So I called and cried. Called and cried. "Graaaacie!" Tears of sadness for the shocking loss. Tears of joy for the pure happiness she'd given me for nearly two years. I have never seen a being, human or animal, always so full of joy. This dog lived every moment as though it were her last.
Her life was a gift to me. Her death, a greater one.
Ten days before she died, I was getting a yearly physical, and to lower my blood pressure I'd think of Gracie's smiling face.
Just days before the "freak accident," the head of my company came into my office to have a serious talk about "taking some things off your schedule—you're doing too much." Maya Angelou called me to say the same thing. "You're doing too much. Don't make me come to Chicago," she chided. "I want you to slow down."
I'd broken a cardinal rule: The whole month of May I'd had no day off, dashing from one event to the next. But though I appreciated everyone's concern, I still had to finish the season. Wrap up the year's shows. Have foundation meetings. Meet with auditors. Review plans for a new building, and on and on. So many people on my list. I literally forgot to put myself on the list for a follow-up checkup.
When the doctor's office called, I confessed. I hadn't heeded what I know for sure. I said, "Doctor, I'm sorry. I had so many meetings with different people, I forgot to put myself on the list."
The next day, Gracie died.
Slow down, you're moving too fast. I got the message.
Thank you for being my saving Gracie. I now know for sure angels come in all forms.