The Gift of Love, Life and Loss
“And ever has it been known that love knows not its own depth until the hour of
separation" - Khalil Gibran
Life on our organic farm has taught us many lessons, but none is greater than the lesson of impermanence and letting go. To journey through life in your head is one thing, but to delve deep into your heart, and live through love, is a whole other story. Here is one such story of the heart.
How quickly life can change
Nikki was doing so well all summer after I re-balanced her aged body with mushrooms, flax, organic food, cannabis tincture, and ground elder back in May. But then everything changed within 24 hours and we said goodbye.
She was standing with us while we talked with our friends that Sunday, and showed us how well she was walking without the pain in her legs (she was a jumper in her younger days). Then by 9 pm she could barely walk, wanted to lie down, had a bad belly, and was refusing to eat or drink. I was trying to understand what was happening. I asked her to help me understand. I lifted my face up to the drizzle that was gently falling as I stood beside her. She nuzzled her head into my chest and I rested my forehead onto hers and we breathed in unison together. She was so warm. Every cell in my body took a snapshot of that moment and it’ll be mine forever. With closed eyes, I inhaled that luscious horse scent I know so well. My heart sank, and my belly filled with dread because I felt what was coming. I knew she was telling me that it was time to go. I felt her restlessness and her energy to move forward...it was palpable. I knew my children were about to say goodbye to their first love of a horse.
She had been with us for so long. We didn’t have her for her entire 28 years but the time we did was etched into our beings. She touched the lives of so many: people who came here to visit, attend a workshop, or volunteer and were afraid of horses, or just afraid, learned to release their fear and could move forward.
What sentient teachers animals are. Most importantly, though, she was a gift - literally. My parents bought her for our children as their first horse. A gift so grand that no entity can contain it. Nikki blessed our lives with tenderness and taught our children lessons of empathy, compassion, and divinity. She taught them to conquer fear- and there is no greater gift than that, for fear is the mountain between us and freedom. Our beautiful horse taught us the lesson of Love.
My daughter and I slowly walked Nikki and her sister Indie out to the front field for the night. I had no idea what I would find in the morning. After a sleepless night, I looked out the window and saw Nikki lying down in the sunshine. She looked so peaceful. I secretly hoped that she had transitioned on her own overnight, but she was still with us and couldn’t get up. She tried but then lay there exhausted. We wouldn't allow our girl to suffer or lose her dignity. We had our vet out in under an hour.
I told her I would let go of any selfish desires we had to hold onto her and that she was free to go. My heart ached. Through a puddle of tears, I thanked her and told her it was ok to journey on. I kissed the soft spot above her eye and called my husband and children closer. We embraced her and formed a circle around her, along with Nikki’s sister Indie. We cried and grieved and rejoiced at all Nikki had gifted us.
With gratitude, we let her go.
For the Love of Our Animals
Love knows no boundaries. The form may change, but love is an unconditional presence that permeates all things. You see, it is not the physical form that we love so deeply; it is something far more profound. Call it what you will, it is the essence in all that lives.
The last day with your animal will be the hardest of all days, but one that you can walk through together as a family. The experience will strengthen you as a family unit and teach your children valuable lessons in impermanence, reverence, dignity, grace, and above all: love.
The need to be loved and nurtured is at the core of our existence and nothing teaches love like an animal does. I’ve heard people say that they can never have another pet because it hurt so much when they died, but the love of an animal will transport you to another place altogether, and it keeps drawing you back time and time again.
Those precious ones we call our pets hold our hearts within theirs. We are all interconnected. Our animals are the greatest of teachers to our children and impart lessons of compassion, empathy, kindness, laughter, divinity, selflessness, life and love... yes, there is so much love in these relationships. And all of them are unique. Our animals have boundless energy, an exuberance for life and can love unconditionally. They teach us to treasure the daily gifts life brings by demonstrating what it means to live in the moment.
What helps children say goodbye?
On our organic farm, my children have said goodbye to treasured beings several times, each one different and each experience equally as hard. In asking my children what helps them move through their grieving process, they gave numerous replies. They shared how they gain comfort and strength by standing together as a family, by being close and hugging, openly sharing feelings, and from taking as much time as they need on that fateful day of the loved one’s passing. When our precious horse died a few weeks back, we sat together for many long hours by her side. Time stood still as the sunset and darkness came. When night fell, we huddled together, lit a candle to bring back the light, and found solace as peace settled into our hearts. We reminisced, laughed, cried, and bonded. Teaching children to be present and to live in the moment, as animals do, is a true gift indeed.
Helpful things to do as a family when journeying through loss
Honesty is paramount. Gently tell the truth, based on the level of understanding of your children. Allow them to stand beside you and witness your grief and emotions, as this will help them sort through their own feelings in a healthy way. Expression of emotions is just as important, if not more so, than expression of words. Your strength as a family will carry you through this difficult time together and will strengthen your bond immeasurably.
Honour your loss through making a photo book, journaling, drawing in a memory book, watching home videos, looking at precious photos together, or by making something special like a braid with their hair or fur. Take an imprint of their footprint and keep it in a little memory pouch that can be carried close to the heart.
If you think your child is too young or not aware enough to understand what’s happening, think again as their knowledge and innate understanding most definitely exceeds what you believe they are capable of. Trust the process and, more importantly, trust your children and show them that they can trust you.
Finding comfort in those around you and moving through this process together will help everyone reclaim their strength and will open the door of the heart. Through the heart, anything is possible.
Death and life are inextricably and beautifully intertwined. At the end of every day, hold those you love close. Every day is a gift, for life can change in an instant. Live without fear or regret, and love freely - for life is short. Too short. May we honour all life as the beautiful and miraculous thing it truly is.
In memory of Nikki, 1992 - October 5, 2020