Archive for Death

Maya’s Wisdom on Death and Dying

It was a year ago at this time that this lovely lady, Maya, started her dying process. It alarmed me and took me to the edge of my capabilities at that time of witnessing pain and death in another being, so I euthanized her, not because she asked me to, but because I didn’t know what else to do. She has taught me so much since her death, and when I asked her today what she wanted me to say, here’s what came to me.

“We all live. We all die. Allow us to live. Allow us to die. You do not need to expedite our death. Our body already knows how to die. Let us have those dying moments. So much happens there that you cannot see, but only feel.

If we want something from you, we will let you know, but first you need to know what dying looks like and the natural shut-down process the body goes through. If we stop eating or drinking or start losing weight, we are preparing to go. If this is new to you, it can be alarming. It is easy for fear to take over. That is why it’s important to be educated on what dying looks like. Then you can distinguish between what is normal when dying, and what is us asking something of you.

When in doubt, observe, relax, breathe, feel and embrace what is happening. I know this is a tall order, but it’s where you can connect more deeply to us in our moment of passing from this world to the next. You do not need to fix it, nor make it go faster. It takes as long as it takes.

Some deaths are quiet and peaceful, others are dramatic with a lot of energy. A lot of energy does not automatically equate to being painful, but it can be disconcerting to the observer. If pain is involved, ask us how you can help. Do not assume we want you to euthanize us to get rid of the pain. All living beings are capable of feeling many emotions at the same time. Do not let pain blind you to all of who we are in that moment. We are multi-faceted and complex. We are more than just the experience of pain.

The biggest gift you can give us is to hold the space for our last moments on earth and listen to us. What we have to say may surprise you. You do not need to “figure anything out”, but rather, breathe, relax, feel and let nature take its course. It is called dying. It is normal. It is ok to witness it and allow it to happen. If we need something from you, we will tell you. Every being on earth will take this journey at the end of their life. Let us too.”

Do Horses Have Emotional Lives?

When I got back into horses as an adult, I volunteered for several years at an equine therapy program for at-risk youth and teens in drug and alcohol recovery.  The horses did a great job helping these kids learn how to make positive, healthy choices in their lives.

The horses were so good at it that I didn’t realize they had emotional needs themselves.  Yes, they had their basic physical needs met, like shelter, food and water, and they had some emotional needs met in that they lived in a herd and were not confined to a stall.  But I had no idea they had an emotional life of just being a horse that had nothing to do with the people they were helping.

When I took in Chaco, my first senior horse retiring from therapy work, he was burned out.  How did I know he was burned out?  He had always been a hard keeper, but it started to get even more difficult for him to maintain his weight.  But even more than that, he was also a docile horse that never bit or kicked.  When he started a pattern of biting people, that is when we knew he was burned out.

Knowing that physical and emotional needs are intertwined, I began with revamping his diet to optimize his nutrition on the physical side.  To attend to his emotional needs, I put him on acreage with space to move day and night in a herd.

As he became healthy and his curiosity returned, I realized that there was much more to his emotional life.  In his state of new health, I now had something to compare to when he had an off day.  If his demeanor was different on a particular day, I could look around and consider what changed in his environment that might affect him.

When one of his pasture mates died a few years later, his demeanor was visibly different for 2 weeks.  It was then that I realized this was an emotional issue, and it was on a scale I had never witnessed before in a horse.

This experience introduced me to flower essences  While his demeanor over the first week improved with the help of flower essences, he still wasn’t quite his usual self.

I tried to think of who might be able to lift his spirits.  My sister came to mind.  The first time they had met, they instantly hit it off.

When she came and spent the day with him, his eyes brightened and his curiosity returned.  It was a positive turning point for him in processing the loss of his horse friend.

The emotional lives of horses.  If it still seems outside your experience, spend time watching them and being around them where they are free to be themselves and you are not asking anything of them.

After years of observing and comparing different experiences, I can say that I have seen JOY in Chaco.  I have seen GRIEF in Chaco.  I have seen SADNESS in Chaco.  I have seen EXCITEMENT in Chaco.  I have seen FEAR in Chaco.  I have seen PANIC in Chaco.  I have seen ASTONISHMENT in Chaco.  I have seen APPRECIATION in Chaco.  I have seen CONTENTMENT in Chaco.

Today, if someone asked me if horses have emotional lives, I would say “Yes, absolutely, and it has much more depth than we realize.”

I’m sure there is still more to Chaco’s life as a horse that I will come to understand over time.  It’s like a great mystery novel.  I can’t put this book down.  It keeps getting better with every page turn.

100_1650

Contentment

315

Appreciation

100_0085

Curiosity

100_0118

Excitement

 

Death and Euthanasia

I have never been a fan of euthanasia. While death is a reality of this world we live in, I do not want to be a part of ending a life.   However, with horses being such large animals, and the kinds of accidents and things that can happen, euthanasia is an unfortunate reality in some circumstances.

Yet, I didn’t want to touch euthanasia with a ten-foot pole, so I never owned my own horse.  I enjoyed other people’s horses, and I would let them deal with euthanasia if it ever came up.  But not me.  My reasoning was, if I never owned a horse, then I’d never have to do it.

That all changed several years ago with a 26 year-old gelding named Chaco who was in deteriorating health.  There was talk of “putting him down”.  That’s the nice phrase for “kill him”.  When I heard that talk, my stomach churned.  I took one look at him and saw a horse in chronic pain who could no longer cope with his environment.  Off the top of my head I could list five things I would do differently if I owned him.  I decided that for this horse only, I would deal with euthanasia if I had to.  I took him into my care.

A few years later, another senior horse in deteriorating health showed up named Thunder.  With him too I knew five things I would do differently so he could thrive in his golden years.  For him as well I would deal with euthanasia if I had to.

I told both of these horses regarding their death at the end of their life, “It’s ok if one day I just find you in the field.  We don’t need to do chronic illness, nor deteriorating health, nor euthanasia.  When your time is up, it’s up.  It will be a sad day, but you can go peacefully on your own.”

Years went by, and they thrived.  Then one day a few months ago, it happened.  We found Thunder dead in the field:  peacefully and on his own, at home, in his herd, in his favorite napping spot.  My wish for him had come true.

Thriving in their golden years, and dying a natural death at home.  That is what I want for the senior horses at God’s Window.  Euthanasia?  If it ever comes up, I will deal with it.  For now, I just enjoy what is, and it doesn’t get any better than that.

100_1214

Thunder enjoying the sun a few weeks before he died. (1985 – 2015)

Flower Essences and Grief in Horses

Years ago I had heard of Rescue Remedy and the Bach Flower Essences.  I had never had a reason to use them or investigate them further, until I had horses.  A holistic vet told me that flower essences can be useful with emotional issues in animals.  At the time they were completely outside my experience, and a little too “woo-woo” for me.  Emotional issues and animals?  Well, okay, but I kept the idea on my back burner for future reference.  When it came to the well-being of my horses I would consider it when the time arose.

When my horse’s pasture mate died of colic, that time came up.  My horse’s demeanor was visibly different for days.  He just stood in the corner of the field away from the other horses with a low head and sad look in his eyes.  He looked depressed, and there really wasn’t anything I could do to fix the situation and bring his horse friend back.  Then I remembered, “Flower essences!”  Maybe they could help.

I pulled out my animal wellness collection of 23 different blends of flower essences.  (Yes, they were a little woo-woo, but if my horse indicated he wanted them then who was I to argue)?  I chose a couple of different blends like “grief and loss” and “transitions”.  I put them in my pocket, and then went out to see my horse.

Without me looking at the labels, I let him sniff each one.  On some he turned his head away.  I took that as a “no”.  On others he tried to nip them out of my hands.  “Okay,” I thought, “I guess you want those.”  I placed a single drop on my fingertips and touched the tips of his ears with it.  Then he did something he’s never done before, or since:  He licked it off my fingertips.

Twice that week he wanted the flower essences I offered.  Then on the third day, he no longer wanted them.

While I don’t fully understand flower essences, I do trust my horse’s instincts, and I’m more than happy to let him tell me what he wants.  The bonus for me is that I get a little glimpse into his world of being a horse, and I come to understand him that much more.