Finding My Way to Acceptance
My heart horse left me four years ago. Our journey together was over in an instant. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye, but she was tired and in pain. As much as it hurt, I had to let her go.
I can’t remember what I had for breakfast this morning, but I remember every detail of our last day. The plan was for my 16-year-old Friesian mare, Zephra, to come home from the veterinary hospital after an 11 day stay recuperating from colic surgery. There were ups and downs in her post-surgical recovery, but the vet was cautiously optimistic that the remainder of her recovery could be completed at home. At noon, I was just about to hook up the trailer and go pick her up when my cell phone rang. It was the vet and she told me I needed to come to the hospital immediately, as the situation had changed. Zephra was crashing. In complete denial that this was happening, I mentioned our original plan that she was coming home but, the vet stated that due to her current status, her recommendation was to euthanize Zephra. Those words echoed in my head.
During the drive to the veterinary hospital, the grieving process began, and I experienced several stages of grief, all at the same time. Denial – This is NOT happening! We have come this far; we are almost home. Anger – several expletives came out of my mouth. Bargaining – PLEASE just let her come home. We never have to show again. We never have to ride again. Please don’t take her away.
The hospital staff led me into her stall in the isolation unit. My beautiful, stoic Friesian could hide her pain no longer. She looked drained. It was at that moment I knew she wouldn’t come home. Anger reared its ugly head again – this wasn’t fair to her, she fought so hard for so long. My best friend that took care of me every ride now needed me to support her. I comforted her, told her how much I loved her, that I would miss her, and she would never be forgotten. I had to be strong for her so that she could pass from this life and be free from pain. Zephra took her last breath surrounded by people who adored her and when she was gone, I broke down and sobbed. My heart was broken into a million pieces
There is no right or wrong way to grieve. I don’t have a magic pill to make the sorrow go away, but I can tell you about my experience and hopefully it will offer you some comfort. I believe you must do what is right for you. For me, grief came in waves, some big and some small. I “lived” between the first 3 stages of grief – Denial, Anger, and Bargaining – for a while. I didn’t want it to be true, I was angry it was true, and I would do anything to make it not true. However, it was true. How was I going to get through this?
If you want to cry, then cry! I cried a lot and on occasion I still cry. She was many firsts for me – my first canter, my first horse show. I cried for what I had, I cried for what I lost, I cried for what would never be. What I can tell you is that I cry less now when I think about her and I smile more at the memories. She was a great teacher who taught me lessons I will never forget. While it wasn’t enough time, I am thankful for the time we did have.
Some people suggest that when you are grieving, it’s best to get back to your normal routine. For me, my normal routine was being surrounded by fellow horse people who understood my sadness and heartache, but it also put me in a position that offered no relief from talking about horses all day. There were positives and negatives to both. I was grateful for all the support from family, friends, and co-workers because they understood how special she was to me. There is no expiration on grief. Give yourself permission to mourn your loss. I can’t tell you the exact day that my heart hurt less, but eventually it did.
In the end, sharing her memory helped me move forward. I created a video with pictures and movie clips of our life together and posted on YouTube. My friends would honor her with memorial class sponsorships at horse shows which eventually turned into me sponsoring a year end memorial trophy in Zephra’s honor through a local riding club. You will find your own meaningful ways to preserve your memories. Your connection to your horse is special and will never be lost or forgotten. As you move forward, look back with fondness. Forge new bonds but know that old ones are never really broken and that as long as you remember them, they aren’t really lost either.