Our relationship with death takes on shapes and forms over our lifetime. When we’re little kids just taking it all in around us, we watch how the adults in our lives express themselves after a loss occurs. We watch, listen and feel it all. Sponges soaking every bit up. It’s so slick you don’t even know it’s happening.
How some taught
I grew up in an era where the adults in my life shielded children from as much pain as they could. Protection was paramount for my people. And, whatever you do, do-not-ask-questions. We’re not going to talk about it! That turned out to be quite isolating when it came to death and dying, not to mention confusing. Yikes!
An early death memory is of my great grandmother’s passing. (Apologies, for not counting the goldfish flushed down the toilet or the string of parakeets that just disappeared).
We’re not going to talk about it!
There was a lot of whispering and carefulness not to say too much about her death in front of the children. And, the children were definitely not going to go to her services. I remember all the women wearing black dresses and black stockings and black suits on Daddy and my uncles. They wore black for what seemed like a long time. I also remember seeing my father weep, so I knew this was some heavy duty stuff. We didn’t talk about her or her passing after her services until many years later in a casual memory.
We humans are united in the fact that we are universal beings and will at some point experience death on some level. And, we bring our past experiences of loss right along with us each time we experience death throughout our lives.
Meeting through sorrow
It just so happens grief is what brought the newest members of the family out in the corral to us almost four years ago. And, looking back, this is not the first time grief has served up horses in our life.
Almost four years ago, after having a blindsiding loss, I looked at the faces staring back at me in the corral and knew what I had to do. I’ve been known to be impulsive but this was a first even for me.
Because a week after that loss, I conjured up the girls. Two empresses who had fallen on hard times. When their person passed, they found themselves living under some harsh conditions. It would take two years for me to find out about them and their story. They patiently waited. I said, as we were trailering them home, they came to us to die.
Stay as long as you can, please
I always say to those coming in, especially those in midlife or elders – please, try to stay for a while. After all, it’s taken so long to find you, and we’ve only just met. But the truth is we never know. And I know their ‘a while’ rarely aligns with my definition of ‘a while’. I know eventually their family, who left before them, will be a pull and they’ll have to go.
And, like others that have come under grief’s auspices, the girls stayed as long as they could. One stayed longer than the other but it’s never long enough. Never.
Is it possible to learn
How to care and yet not care
Since love has two faces
Hope and despair
And pleasure always turns to fear
I find at least the moon at the window
The thieves left that behind
Moon at the window, they left that behind
At least they left the moon behind the blind ~ Joni Mitchell
And then we turned the page
But I wasn’t done after the girls came. I was still working my grief on impulse. By the end of that week, right on girls’ heels, came the little man from outer space.
And, a page had turned to another chapter.
He came wrapped in firebolt and lightning. Afraid and angry, he spent a lot of time expressing himself on his hind legs at the end of a lead rope. And eyes darting always looking for a way out. He was always looking – to run!! Initially I thought, oh lord, if he gets loose, we’ll never catch him again.
The world from whence he came
He came from circumstances where his only allegiance was to the herd. Humans, for the most part, either ignored him or signified something bad. This brown and white pint-sized Molotov cocktail showed me his grief in a series of rapid fire emotion.
And, the little guy wasn’t a youngster anymore either, knowing very little handling and no homey accoutrements. The product of disregard. So, his response to me was to act like a live spitting wire severed in a storm, laying across the asphalt. He sizzled and popped. Our relationship was an explosive beginning.
And, there we were…. both of us grieving.
On the other side of it
The little hustler has settled in, for the most part, after several years. One would never believe he was who he was when he first came. His new big brother is the center of his life and who he lives for. I believe he thinks I’m okay. And for the most part, I think he sees me as his. He’s learned about tenderness and good food and a dry spot to lay down. He does his best with routine, parameters and soft hands.
Every now and then, though, there are those times when something goes amiss in his head. A sudden movement, a quick hand gesture. Maybe a memory flicker. And he slightly reverts back to his past. But it doesn’t take him long anymore to come back to center. He’s a braver boy. But the spooks are still there in the echoes of mind.
Teachers along the way
All the hospice families I had the honor to serve, were no different. They all had their own special and very unique relationship with death. Whether they were younger people or older people, made no difference. Their journey of seeing their pet through last days on earth gave opportunity to being in that sacred space with their own alchemy.
And, to be invited into such a vulnerable circle as a companion to walk with them, is humbling. I was entrusted to hold the container for their reconciling relationship with death and sorrow in not just a compassionate way, but a non-judgmental way.
Permission, not judgement
It is a personal space to enter and one not to judge or evaluate, just allow. It is a place to get out of head and sit in heart.
And each time I was allowed to walk through that door with another, it gave me opportunity to reconcile my own relationship with death and sorrow once again. Together, we walked that trail connected by our hearts.