Saying goodbye to a beloved animal is no small feat. Let’s take a look at what you might experience as you move through grief and recover from the loss.
The excitement of bringing a new horse home is uncontainable. You feel breathless when he steps off the trailer, wide-eyed, observing his new home. You have big plans! You decide on a color scheme and purchase some new tack. His first farrier visit is arranged, you measure for new hoof boots, and watch him eat from a brand new bucket. Beaming with elation on your first ride, you feel your life together begin and wonder how you ever lived without him. But time passes, as it always does. These pleasant years go by, and suddenly there is an illness, an accident or a monumental life change and you, most sadly, lose your horse.
Following your grief map
Everyone handles loss and grief differently. For some, it’s easy to move on to another horse, while for others the loss is overwhelming. Some never get over it completely. Being aware of where you are on your journey can help you feel more comfortable along the way. Here are four things you may experience:
1. Expressing grief through your body
Physical symptoms of grief are the most obvious and require the greatest amount of energy. For a while, you may experience crying, uncontrollable laughter, headaches, difficulty sleeping, lack of motivation and explosive outbursts. There may be fear and increased anxiety which causes frequent sighing and tightness in your chest or stomach.
2. Wanting to hide
Evasion and a desire to isolate may hit next. You circumvent the barn, and numb disbelief takes over. You can’t help but wonder – why this horse? You long for the days that his stall didn’t stand empty.
3. Acute grief
The acute stage of grief offers subtle nagging thoughts. There is a preoccupation and a sense of emptiness, and a lack of motivation, confidence and trust may lead to self-blame. You may begin to ask yourself if you could have prevented your horse’s death. Resentment towards other horses or their caretakers may arise.
4. Moving through to release
Rest assured, your usual vitality will eventually return. This final stage can be profound. You will regain your ability to plan and organize, go back to the barn, and reconnect or form new relationships. You may consider getting another horse, and will regain your trust and openness to joy. You’ll feel lighter in spirit and will have the desire to focus on more than just your grief.
Embracing grief on your terms
No matter how hard you try to avoid feelings of grief by evasion or distraction, they will eventually break through. The dam often breaks at inconvenient times, so better to control it. Set aside a few minutes each day to sit with grief. You could even set a timer, say for ten minutes. When the bell rings, go and do something else – something you love. Manage the grieving time, rather than allowing it to control you. Self-management and awareness of the process will deliver you through your sadness and straight through to the other side.