The Grief Recovery Handbook

Chaco and Maya

11/17/18

It has been a fascinating journey these past six weeks since Maya died, having many discussions about death and dying. What I found is that while I want to explore the topic and every nuance to it and think outside the box, people have different capacities to handle that conversation. I don’t force it, but rather look for who can engage with me in the conversation.

Years ago, when I experienced my first significant loss I was introduced to The Grief Recovery Handbook by John James and Russell Friedman. It has been instrumental for me in learning how to process grief whether it’s from losing a family member, a pet, or even the loss of a job or relationship. It has allowed me space to even want to take on the next senior horse, and not end up with a pile of unresolved grief from horse after horse dying.

What I realized about my other senior horse, Chaco, is that he is emotionally stable. He could handle being with Maya 24/7 in the weeks leading up to her death, and be fully aware that she was not well. He could handle her being in the dying process, just grazing in proximity to her but not hovering over her. When we moved Maya’s body the day after she died, he went out to her body and grazed close by. The next day when there was a significant stench, he still grazed in proximity to her body.

When I look at all of this, this is why I rehab senior horses, to see them fully alive, engaged with life and whatever comes their way, no matter how difficult. When I see what is possible in horses, it makes me want the same for myself. Thank you, Maya and Chaco. (Maya is on the right).

The Rest State and Dying

Maya

 

11/6/18

One of the things that bothered me about euthanizing Maya, was that she did not want to go. If I let her make the call, she would have died on her own. I’ve known many people who have euthanized their animals when the animal “told” them it was time. I had never heard of the opposite happening, until it happened with Maya.

In my research so far, what I’ve learned is that when she was in pain and no veterinary medication could help it, she was in the sympathetic nervous system state. That is the fight or flight.

Then I read about someone’s experience massaging above the eyes of a horse in a similar situation. She was able to slow the horse’s respiratory rate; the horse stopped thrashing around and closed his eyes. What I find fascinating about this is that she was able to help the horse move from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic nervous system (which is the rest state).

Thank you, Donna, for the tips about the acupressure points, and thank you Ellen for the suggestion of Lavender essential oil for a calming effect. What’s coming into focus for me is that while veterinary medicine could provide euthanasia, it could not provide the transition to the rest state in the dying process for Maya. What gives me hope is that through natural remedies that transition is possible.

Every death is unique and has its own set of circumstances, and there are no guarantees. Would I have still euthanized Maya? Perhaps. But I now have more tools to even try helping a horse to come to a rest state before they take their last breath.

From my martial arts training, it is in the rest state that there are a myriad of options that are not known to the rational brain. There is great hope there. Thank you, Maya, for allowing me to discover that.

Pain Management and Euthanasia

Chaco and Maya

10/26/18

There’s a lot of information about the care and management of horses, however, when it comes to death and senior horses the primary word I stumble upon is euthanasia. I have always loved horses, but never wanted my own because I don’t kill things. I would enjoy other people’s horses, and as long as I never owned one, I’d never have to deal with euthanasia.

Then the first senior horse came needing help, and I knew I could help him. So for him, I decided I would deal with euthanasia if I had to. It’s been 10 years now, and he’s still thriving.

Then the next senior horse came a handful of years later. With him too, I knew I could help him. So I decided that for just him, I would deal with euthanasia if I had to. Just shy of his fourth anniversary in retirement, he just laid down one day and died an instant, painless death from a ruptured aortic aneurysm.

Then Maya came. Of all the horses I have ever helped, she had the most internal problems that would most likely take her life if we couldn’t solve them in time. Euthanasia was a real possibility, however, I had hope and there were treatments to try. So I decided to take her on, and deal with euthanasia if and when the time came.

When Maya became septic and was in respiratory failure the last morning she was alive, my hope was that there would be a way to make her comfortable in the dying process, like they do with people. I soon found out that there is no palliative care for horses in this situation. I’d have to be giving hard core drugs possibly every thirty minutes possibly through the night just to manage the pain. And then the pain meds could stop working, and I’d have to find other ones. I’m not opposed to being up all night with a horse in the process of dying if I can make them comfortable. However, since that was not possible, and she was in severe pain, I decided to euthanize her.

When I look back on this, I really wanted the last decision to be her decision, to let her determine when her last breath would be. Yes, she was in pain, and yet, she did not want to go. And up until this point, I let her make most of the decisions.

Given the information I had at the time, I’m ok with the decision to euthanize her. However, I wonder if there are alternative treatments to euthanasia to make an animal more comfortable in the dying process. Is there any kind of bodywork that could take the edge off? I know there is with lower levels of pain, however, this was debilitating pain. And as I write this I recall the plant “bleeding heart” that is used for debilitating pain. Are there herbal options for pain management when dying? In addition, I know how people view this kind of pain, but I wonder how animals do.

At this point there are more questions than answers, but I have Maya to thank for putting the death/dying/euthanasia topic on the table.

Being “With” Pain

10/11/18

Someone told me once, you don’t necessarily have to fix the pain, and maybe you can’t fix the pain, but you can be present with someone in their pain, and that is a gift. A few days before Maya died when we were trying to figure out how to best help her, there came an evening where there was nothing more to do, but wait until morning. I gathered up all my tricks that I had learned over the years of rehabbing old horses and put them in my pockets. I headed out in the dark, the moon just beginning to rise, to find Maya in her usual spot under the trees, hanging out with my other horse who she became instant friends with. They were in very close proximity which told me that, yes, they are friends, and also that she was not feeling that great.

I pulled my tricks out of my pockets one by one to see which ones she wanted. She said yes to one lick of yucca, which is a pain relieving herb. She was agreeable to flower essences on the tips of her ears. She enjoyed the Ttouch wraps so much that she fell asleep. I did a little energy work, and then prayed over her. After a long time, when she was ready to go eat, she slowly meandered off. I was glad that she still had the energy to let me know when she didn’t want anything more.

That evening I couldn’t fix the myriad of health issues going on, but I could acknowledge her and be with her in her time of need. It is moments like these that I cherish.

If you are new to Ttouch wraps and flower essences, here are some resources:

Ttouch wraps: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MgENe3frTfY
Flower essences: http://seniorhorserehab.com/flower-essences-and-grief-in-h…/

Ttouch for Colic

10/7/18

At the beginning of the week Maya died, just after the vet diagnosed a mild gas colic I recalled that Ttouch had bodywork techniques that I could do with Maya to help her resolve the colic.

I came out one evening after work. It was dark, and I walked into the field to see where I might find the horses. Before I got very far, my other horse came and found me, parked and asked to be itched. I itched away, and when I looked up, there was Maya waiting right behind him.

I eventually made my way to her, and did the belly lifts with the towel described in the article below. She relaxed and cocked a hind leg. After a long time, when she had gotten what she wanted, she wandered off back into the field, the moon having just risen. I was glad that there was something I could do to help her feel better.

http://www.intouchwithyourhorse.com/resources/TTouch%20tools%20for%20Colic.pdf

 

What Maya’s Rehab Looked Like

10/5/18

Of all the senior horses I’ve rehabbed, Maya is the first one who had significant internal issues involving the organs, namely the kidney. As I look back, it was a race against time. The good news is that with chiropractic care alone, we did see a change in urination. Before she spiked her first fever 2 months in, she was having what I call “medium urinations” with some regularity a few weeks before, whereas when she first came it had been a dribble. And we later found out that her uterus was no longer full of urine. That was cause for celebration.

Meanwhile, about one month in I found a homeopathic/Chinese medicine vet who gave me the most hope in perhaps solving the urinary incontinence/kidney issue. She said there were numerous remedies in homeopathy, and six different Chinese herbs for treating the urinary incontinence. I was thrilled, to say the least, that there were at least options available to help Maya, when western medicine had none.

Unfortunately, we were only able to scratch the surface on the available treatments before Maya was on and off antibiotics trying to treat the recurring infections to keep her stable enough to even try the homeopathy and Chinese herbs.

In addition, in holistic rehab, knowing the patient is paramount to selecting the appropriate treatment. When Maya came, I did not know her at all. There was a moment early on when I realized, I need to really know you, so I can help you, and ultimately, you will die in my care, and that may be sooner than later.

Chaco and Maya

I wanted to know her for who she was at her core, not for what she could do for me, and with no expectations from me. I let her make most of the decisions, even when it contradicted my training. Without a doubt, I listened to her voice in ways I’ve never done with any other horse. Letting her tell me what she needed was the best way to navigate the tight rope we were walking.

Horses are also masters at hiding their pain, so just figuring out there is a problem and how significant it is, can be challenging. Hindsight is often 20/20 vision.

In the end, I would do it again, simply because Maya had several weeks of freedom to just be a horse with horse friends and no human expectations. I know she was very happy having met her new best friend, my other horse, Chaco. And she died in the most natural of environments I could give her: outside with her herd.

Maya and Chaco-a special friendship

10/4/18

My first senior horse rehab case, Chaco’s, 10-year anniversary with me was the week before Maya died. Over the 10 years he has outlived four other horses that had been a part of his herd at one time or another. He has maintained his position as one of the fairest herd leaders I’ve ever seen. He is also the first horse to teach me about how horses process grief.

His relationship with Maya was special. When they first met 3 months ago, he was so curious across the fence line. Maya grazed just outside of his reach, but clearly had her eye and ear on him. Chaco had both his eyes and ears on her, hoping she’d come closer.

A few hours later, I let them out together in the several acre field. To my surprise, there were no herd dynamics, no dominance gestures on either of their parts, no nothing, just curiosity about each other. Within a few hours they were grazing side by side. It wasn’t until 3 days later that I saw the first ear pin. They were grazing in close proximity, and then Chaco nonchalantly ambled over closer to her as he slowly laid his ears back, asking her to move a little. Maya responded by taking one step away from him while she continued to graze. Completely satisfied with that response, Chaco brought his ears back up and just grazed next to her. It was then that I knew she was number two in the pecking order, and yet Chaco also gave her tremendous leeway, far beyond anything he had done with any other horse. On more than one occasion I saw Chaco go around her, rather than ask her to move for him.

Chaco and Maya

In the days leading up to Maya’s death, Chaco was often side by side with her. When she was in the process of dying, he was grazing in proximity, eye and ear on her. When the vet and I made the decision to euthanize her, the vet went up to her truck to get her supplies. Chaco and the other mare in the herd followed the vet all the way up to the gate.

The following day we needed to move Maya’s body to be picked up. When we went to get the tractor to do the job, Chaco immediately walked all the way out to Maya’s body and started grazing about 15 feet away (which is a horse’s sense of personal space). The following day I found him grazing once again about 15 feet from her body. By this time, there was a distinct smell from decomposition. Horses have an incredible sense of smell well beyond human capabilities. Yet, this did not stop Chaco from being in proximity of his friend, Maya. When the rendering truck came the following day to pick up her body (there was no pickup on weekends), Chaco stood and watched once again. The day was dawning, but still had some cover of darkness when Maya’s body left the property.

In Maya’s life and death, Chaco was ever present, never shying away from what was happening. It was a great comfort to me, knowing that he was there 24/7 with Maya these past weeks leading up to her death and afterwards. Wow, Chaco. Thank you for your incredible example of how to navigate life and death, support Maya, and give acknowledgment to the end of her life on earth. She was so lucky to have you as her friend.

Maya died. Now what?

Maya enjoying retirement

10/3/18

Thank you everyone for your condolences and for all the ways you have supported me and Maya over the past few months. When I got the call about her possibly being retired to me last spring, I told God, “Now is not a good time.” God said, “Here’s a place, here’s some money, here’s what you’re going to be dealing with, so you can go pick her up.” When God calls, I answer. Every horse that has ever come to me for retirement has been an act of God. They come with such clarity that I had never experienced anywhere else in my life, that I knew I was being called. A friend recently told me, “You aren’t just called. You are chosen.” When I look back on my life to this point and see all the ways God prepared me for what was to happen on Friday when Maya died, it blows my mind.

I learned from the last senior horse that died in my care that the learning doesn’t stop, nor does the relationship once they die. It is just no longer in physical form.

So I will be continuing to post about Maya and everything I learned from her, and what I am continuing to learn. My life’s work is to help more horse’s like her, and give them a little piece of heaven on earth before they go. I was in the process of forming a non-profit specifically for this purpose, but put it on hold because Maya’s needs were so great. I will let you know when its formation is complete.

For now, grief is front and center, as I’m sure it may be for others who knew her. I don’t enjoy the grief process, but I don’t shy away from it. It is a part of being alive. Here’s to Maya, and all she still has to teach.

The Day Maya Died

At the end of September 2018, out latest rehab case, Maya, died.  She has a facebook page documenting her retirement and rehab story.  When she died then it became 6 months of research on death and dying.  In the event that not everyone is on facebook, this next series of blogs will be the story of her greatest lessons to me:  death, dying and grief in horses.

Maya 6/2018

Here is the day after Maya died, 9/29/18.

It is with great sadness that I share with you that Maya died yesterday. This last infection went septic over night, and there was no way to turn it around. Death was inevitable. I always knew this was a possibility, but I wasn’t going to cross that bridge until it actually happened. Yesterday, it happened. Her pain was increasing, and even pain killers did little to help, so I made the decision to euthanize her. She was a fighter, and fought right to the end to stay in this world. Her body was giving out, but her spirit was so strong and not ready to leave. I even had treatment plans and ideas in the event that she could pull out of this one. We were both very willing to keep fighting, but her body couldn’t do it. When the inevitable sunk in, I told her that there is only one place that is better than what you have right now, and that’s back with God who created you.

Maya, it’s been an honor to care for you these past few months, and give you a retirement where you were free to come and go as you pleased. As challenging as it’s been, I’d do it again in a second. I couldn’t have asked for a more tenacious partner in the twists and turns of your rehab. Your will to live is an inspiration to me. Rest in peace, dear Maya.

Welcome Maya – our next rehab case

It’s been just over two months since Maya, a 21-year-old therapy horse, retired to us.

Maya came to me suffering from urinary incontinence, so health-wise, this summer has been touch-and-go: one week she had an allergic reaction, another week, a bloody discharge, followed by an infection.

While western veterinary medicine has no cure for Maya’s condition, I work with a holistic vet who has seen results from alternative therapies, including chiropractic care, which has helped clear the urine collected in Maya’s uterus.

The vet also ran blood work and discovered that Maya has significant kidney damage. Despite this, I believe we have turned a corner and I am committed to doing what I can for Maya and others like her.

Maya has a fire in her, and she has made it clear to me–on more than one occasion–that she only needs a little help and will do the rest herself.
 She loves people, and after many years of working as a therapy horse helping at-risk kids make healthy choices in their lives, it is our turn to help Maya in her time of need.

For me, this has been an intense summer: between working full-time and caring for Maya.  I’ve had little time for much else besides eating and sleeping, but now I can provide this update and ask for support.  I am in the process of forming a non-profit to help more senior horses like Maya.

Would you consider making a donation to help support Maya? A donation in any amount would be greatly appreciated. No donation is too small.
  I’ve set up a Go Fund Me page to accept donations.

Our immediate needs are:

1. $550 for the latest veterinary bill
2. $125 will buy a one month supply of hay
3. $30 will buy a one month supply of a probiotic (after being on antibiotics)
4. $15 will buy one bag of hay pellets (to help her gain weight)
5. $80 will cover the cost of one chiropractic appointment
6. $60 will cover the cost of the business license to finish the set-up of the non-profit to help more senior horses like Maya.

Donate here.

Help spread the word!  Please share with your friends.  On behalf of Maya, thank you for your support!

Follow Maya’s rehab on facebook at:   https://www.facebook.com/Mayas-Recovery-1084344138370764/

With hope and gratitude,

Mary Walby and Maya