Goodbye gentle Willow

I still believe in miracles, but today the miracle went to someone else. As we held Willow’s paws, while Heather injected the fluid that would end his life, we wept. It hardly seems a week ago to the day when we were all so hopeful as this brave bear was into his third day of recovering from the massive tumour removed from his liver.

But the warning bells sounded just two days ago as vets Heather and Lara alerted us all to the bright-yellow bile seeping from his surgical wound. Knowing how invasive bile is....seeing bears arriving from the farms suffering from the final impacts of peritonitis, we knew the situation was grim. For his part, Willow didn’t seem to know anything at all in this last week of his life except that he was thoroughly enjoying an array of fruity medicated shakes, ever-changing toys to play with and the endless loving care of his human friends just willing him to live.

Now seeing Willow on the surgery table for another exploratory operation, the news was exactly as we’d feared. Although the surgical site where the liver tumour was removed had completely healed over, the tumours’ legacy had begun a cycle in his body that was now impossible to heal. As staff on site sadly trailed over to say their goodbyes, to hold his soft, warm paws one last time, our hospital staff prepared for the next few hours of recording his death. I'll leave it to Heather’s own words for summing up:

“On post mortem, it showed that the bile leakage came from an inflamed area on the left side of Willow’s liver. We suspect that the tumour cells remaining in his liver had infiltrated his bile duct, blocking the drainage of bile from the liver into the intestines and causing a build-up of bile, which resulted in the rupture on the left-hand side.”

Ironically, if the bile hadn’t seeped through his surgical wound, it would have continued evading his body, and would ultimately have led to the full-blown and very painful peritonitis, which is killing these bears on the farms.

Last night I fed him two fruit gums and smiled as he took the first – a green one – and began investigating something obviously never enjoyed before. A few cautious, but interested, licks before setting the sweet down onto the back of his paw – plate-like – as he had a few sniffs and decided that, yes, it was quite safe to eat. The next – orange this time – saw exactly the same routine before he settled down to suck happily with all the quiet relish of a small and contented child.

This afternoon as we say goodbye to Willow and send his spirit to the sky, in his grave among his favourite toys and food will be a single yellow “moon crescent” fruit gum for him to explore and enjoy as he starts his new journey and leaves a world where he was loved and respected. We also sent him off with a CD of his very own song, which was written and recorded by our wonderful Aussie supporter, Bernard Curry. You can click here to hear “Willow’s Song”.

One person missing at his funeral was his sponsor – our own Media Manager, Angela in Hong Kong. Devastated by the death of her beloved bear, Angela has written some words in memory of her beautiful Willow.

“I gave you a name that spoke of your beauty, your grace; of China and the West. I gave you a name that spoke of the unspeakable – your past, your sorrow, our shame.

“You gave me so much more – a lesson, not yet learned. I think of you and feel the earnest brush of your tongue, so grateful for the fruit I fed you, so careful not to hurt my hand. You forgave the unforgivable and tried to teach me to do the same. So now I’ll wear your fur in a locket, a reminder of all you meant, and still mean.

Weep no more gentle Willow. Take your place next to the rushing stream and let the good earth warm your soul. And sleep your deep, bear sleep. It’s going to be a long winter this year.”

And now, with Willow’s friends lying lazily out in their enclosures on a sunny and bitterly cold day, where the sky is blue and the clouds sometimes froth into images of bears tumbling on their backs, we smile through our sadness as life goes on.

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