Grief: How do you do yours?

“Grief is the price we pay for love” Queen Elizabeth II

I’m not a great Royalist, but I have huge respect for the dignity with which our Queen conducts herself in the face of, well, all manner of things really!  And, in terms of grief, I couldn’t put it better than her very simple statement – grief is the price we pay for love.

Grief comes into our lives when we lose the focus of our love, be that through the end of a relationship, or the death of a loved one; a loved one, in my world, can be human, or animal and (shoot me down if you must) sometimes I have found losing one of my precious dogs, or horses far more crushing than losing a person.

Very recently, we lost our beautiful mare, Zahra.  Zahra embodied everything that Glint is about.  She had a troubled life when she was younger, which meant that she was quite a shy girl.  However, she learned to trust and flourished into the most beautiful, generous soul, touching the lives of so many of our clients through the support she gave them.

Zahra’s death was one of those unfortunate, unexpected, emergency events, for which one can never be prepared.  However, our vet handled the situation in the most pragmatic and sensitive way, which left me feeling a little perturbed when he said he wasn’t sure horses needed to say “goodbye,” when I said that I wanted the rest of her herd to be able to see her.

I’m so pleased I went with my gut instinct, because what happened over the next few hours and days was moving, to say the least – fascinating, enlightening, humbling are all words that also spring to mind.

Our other 3 horses were in the little paddock adjacent to where Zahra was put to sleep, so I opened the gate to give them chance to do whatever they needed to do.

Gertie, our mini Shetland, marched straight up to her, had a little sniff, then walked away as if to say “yup, you’ve gone!”

Cloud, my Arab refused to leave the paddock, but stood alongside Zahra, on the other side of the fence, with his nose resting on her neck.

Billy, Section D and appallingly bad leader of the herd, came out of the paddock, walked up to Zahra and started pulling her ear, to get her to respond.  When this didn’t work, he tried nibbling at her neck, progressing to quite determined biting.  Obviously, he still couldn’t rouse her, so he then went to her head and tried to lift her by her muzzle.  He was quite distraught and spent the rest of the day shouting for her.

Cloud joined in with the calling and it went on into the night.

The next day and for a few days afterward, none of the 3 would communicate with each other and stood as far away from each other as possible, each appearing to need time to process what had happened.  Thankfully this has now changed and very different and quite surprising changes in the herd dynamics are starting to appear.

Cloud has always been badly bullied by Billy and Gertie.  Zahra could be mean to him, but was still his pal.  It’s become clear how much she must have been shielding him, because he’s a changed horse now, standing his ground with both Billy and Gertie.

It’s been a horrible time, but I also feel very privileged to have been able to witness how they responded both at the time of Zahra’s death and over the subsequent 10 days.

Personally, I’m still processing the loss of my beautiful, ancient soul; the horse who made me into a much better human.

Grief: it’s a very personal thing!

The thing with grief is that, despite any cultural conventions (of which there are undoubtedly many), there’s actually no right, or wrong way to do it.  And there’s no time limit.

My horses have shown me that the loss of a single soul can affect those closest in wildly varying ways and that we all have to do what we have to do to be able to move forward.  There may be conventions that we need to follow, but our emotions sit outwith those conventions and need to be processed in whatever way works for each of us, personally.

Grief: it’s good to talk!

The other thing I’ve learned about grief is that we need to talk about it!

Since losing Zahra, I’ve had to continue working with our clients and, for some, that has meant supporting them with their grief – she has touched so many lives.  However, we haven’t shied away from talking about how we feel; where Zahra has influenced our lives; how we want to honour her memory.

Talking and crying with people who shared my love for her has helped me start to process my own emotions in a positive way too.  I’m heartbroken, but I don’t have to pretend that I’m not and, somehow, that feels honest and appropriate…. It feels akin to the way my herd have processed their loss.

For more information about the grieving process and to get support, these are a couple of really useful websites:

Cruse Bereavement Support: https://www.cruse.org.uk/understanding-grief/

MIND: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/guides-to-support-and-services/bereavement/experiences-of-grief/

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