This is SoCo.

Short for Southern Comfort because my identical cousin in Tennessee shipped him out to me 11 years ago and since then, he’s been a little part of my Southern home I get to keep with me wherever I go. He is the sweetest, most snuggly pony and has a heart that needs closeness.

When Tris (my horse of 18 years) passed away, I pulled back fast from any kind of connection—human, horse, or otherwise. And now, four years later, the love is still right where I left it, but I’ve got some big work to do on rebuilding our trust and partnership.

We’ve gone on a few, short rides but mostly, I’m focused in the round pen, on the lunge-line, and on taking naps together—communication and being a warm, happy, reliable presence in his life.

Picking up the pieces after painful losses can be almost as heartbreaking as the losses themselves. I’m still working through my guilt at how I all but deserted this precious pony when he’d just lost Tristan, too. And he’s clearly working through a fear of putting faith in me and being left in the cold again. It hurts but I can’t go back and change it. I can only start where we are now and go forward showing him I’ve grown, I’ve learned, and I’m back for good this time.

These naps and snuggles are some of my favorite moments and fill me with hope for where we’re heading. No matter what kind of relationship it is, love isn’t enough to sustain it, but love can sometimes hold you together while you work out the rest.

An Armful–The Contents of the Closet

Written December 29th . . .

“I was never really insane except upon occasions when my heart was touched.” -Edgar Allan Poe

If you’re wondering where we’re going, no words of my own could say it more accurately and succinctly than Edgar Allan Poe already did. Grief is strange and we do strange things when we’re in it’s grip. For instance, right now I’m sitting on the floor in front of the closet (not inside because I discovered mouse poop once I started pulling things out so a thorough bleaching is going to be necessary before I do any sitting in there) and I’m holding a literal armful of horse hair.

Let me write that again. I am holding a LITERAL ARMFUL of HORSE HAIR.

But before I get in to that, let me lay out a few of the things I did to prepare for this moment. Again, it all seems a little insane when type it out, but all I can tell you is that I promised myself I would listen to my intuition as I went through this process. This is what I felt like I needed to do and for the first time in years, instead of doubting or questioning, I just did it.

  1. I brought coffee and water-coffee is soothing for me, especially in the morning and water for hydration because I figured I’d be doing a lot of crying (I was not wrong.)
  2. I put on my husband’s shirt–it feels strangely like armor. He couldn’t come with me for this, I needed to do it alone, but his shirt is a comfort.
  3. I brought a clean notebook and pen to jot thoughts for more in-depth writing later.
  4. And finally, I brought a pair of shoes, not to wear, just to remind me that if it gets to be too much, I can and should get up and walk away for a bit.

There are so many reasons I’ve put this off and I’d planned to come down here this morning and start small, approach the half-asleep beast of my grief nice and easy . . . but instead, I opened the door and looked at all this horse hair and there he was in my mind, thrashing out his last moments, eyes rolling, and obviously in great pain. It’s my worst memory. I have avoided it so consistently and successfully since it happened because I knew just how awful it would be to go back in my mind.

I loved him so much. I’ll never be able to write how much I loved him. And all of our life together he gave me absolutely everything a horse can give.

Yet the one thing I wanted to give him so badly in the end–a quick and painless death, I couldn’t. And it guts me still.

Instead, I watched and spoke soothingly in his ear the same way I did when a train passed too close or that pack of four rottweilers ran up on us, or when bicyclists went by “Easy, easy boy, easy.” and I didn’t cry because I didn’t want my sobbing to be the last he heard of my voice. When he was gone, I stayed with him until his body started to feel cool under my cheek. And then, I apparently cut off almost all of his tail hair like a complete lunatic.

It was the same with the tufts of Why?lee’s undercoat I kept, which are also now in my lap. I can’t think of a single, normal reason to have kept all this, but I remember the horrible feeling as I watched him breathe his last three breaths. I counted them while they euthanized him. Three breaths and he was gone.

Sitting here now, with all of it in my hands, I first thought, Why did I do this? What was my plan? But I know I had no plan. There was no thought to the future at all, just an overwhelming desperation to keep them with me: any way I could.

And one thing that has become clear this morning, is that keeping this hair has done nothing at all to make me feel closer to my lost loves. It’s all become an ugly weight in the center of my home–representative only of the guilt, pain, and fear I felt in their last moments.

Written January 13th . . .

As often as I can, I get up very early and spend time just letting myself remember, letting myself cry, writing my thoughts, etc, and I’ve come to a few conclusions over the past two weeks:

  1. The initial pain was possibly even worse than I imagined it would be, but even that first day, after I pulled myself up off the floor and had a long, hot shower, the relief I felt at having finally opened that closet and acknowledged its contents was undeniable and immense.
  2. I can now say with confidence that I do not want to keep these mementos of their deaths–neither the armful of hair/fur nor the plaster paw print of Why?lee’s I got just after he passed. But I can’t throw them in the garbage either. They need to be laid to rest properly, I’m just not sure what that means yet.
  3. I frequently feel crazy as I move through these intense thoughts, memories, and feelings. Yet, every time I allow myself to do what I feel like I need to do, the relief is instant. My body and my heart know just what they need, it’s my mind that resists and denies.
  4. The longer I hold on to what was, the longer I go without opening my heart to what is and there’s so much here before me to fall in love with.

Written this afternoon . . .

SoCo and I took all the fur and hair and the plaster paw print to the woods this afternoon. It was very cold and snowy and I like to think that maybe a bunny or a bird will find the dog fur and tail hair useful for a cozy nest. I thought it would be incredibly hard to let it go and walk away but when we found just the right spot, I didn’t hesitate. Turns out, before I rode into the woods today, I’d already let it go and walked away–the power these things have held for the past, nearly four years is just . . . gone.

And now, well, I don’t know what now, but I’m ready to find out. : )

To Err is Human . . .

to forgive divine. ~Alexander Pope

When Tristan died, I lost my best and closest friend. I’ll never have all the right words together at once to describe how I feel about him, so I’m going to leave it at that. Besides, this post isn’t actually about Tristan. It’s about my other precious horses–Daisy and SoCo.

We were all devastated when he died. And when I should have been out there with them, grieving and showing them how much I love them, showing them we were all going to be okay, I was hiding in the house. For the first few months, I couldn’t even look at them, it hurt so much.

When I did finally make my way out to the barn, it was just to take care of chores–feeding, watering, mucking. A year after he passed, I finally went back into the tack room only to find that my tack was moldy. MOLDY. Even as I type this, I haven’t been back in his stall, I haven’t used my saddle (although I did thoroughly clean and condition it), and I haven’t thrown out the rest of the bag of beet pulp we were using to help him put on weight. I have a lot of work to do.

But what I have done over the past year, is reconnect to my loves who are still here. It hurt at first–going out there and not just taking care of business, but breathing them in and loving them, letting them love me back. And they do. Despite my pulling away in fear, knowing how much it hurts to lose those I love so much, they held back nothing. And how silly to pull away when I still loved them just the same all along. Pulling away doesn’t make it hurt less to lose who you love, it just leads to regret and wasted time.

To err is human, thankfully, horses are divine.

Unburdening

Sometimes, no matter how hard you pray, no matter how many right steps you take, no matter how badly you want or need something to go a certain way . . . it doesn’t.

And the end result is this thing–dark and heavy, ugly and mean, that sits on your sternum, but can move in a blink to your throat.

It’s everything you wish you’d done differently.

Everything you want to be but aren’t.

Everything you so desperately hoped would happen that never will–

The path you can’t take.

And somehow it goes with you on the path you’re on

until you dig it out

set it down

and

walk away.

 

 

 

 

Of Course

Of course I am lucky.

Lucky to have had them,

lucky they lived so long

lucky to have loved them so deeply

and felt that love returned ten-fold.

Of course I understand.

I understand they live shorter lives than we do,

that it was always going to come to this and

that I did all I could with all I had

to keep them here and happy and healthy.

Of course it will get better.

Of course life will move forward and so will I.

One step will become twenty will become a thousand

and I’ll be in another time

where missing them is not white hot and searing

but a golden glow–

warm sweet memories I can sit beside . . .

1

And of course,

none of this helps at all.

Welcome to Grief,

where knowledge is not power

and there is no way out but through.

Tristan

What can I possibly write?
eighteen years of your unconditional
(if sarcastic and a bit dry) love
cannot be condensed into words.

For three days after your passing
I wrestled with whether I truly love horses
or I just loved you.

Turns out, I don’t know
but I know I love my sweet SoCo and my wild Daisy, too.
And that’s enough for now.

Writing season is just around the corner,
but who will carry me out of myself
when the words start to pull me under?

No living being on this earth
will ever be so patient with me
as you were.

I used to feel good that I could read your eyes,
that your ears and the set of your mouth
would tell me how you felt.

But in your absence, I keep asking
did I give you even a fraction
of the strength, joy, and peace
you brought to me?

Tristan, I am lost.
And you aren’t here to take us home.
Tris-n-Me-Sept-14th-042.jpg

 

 

A List is all I have in Me

  1. The last time I felt this tired, it was due to a life-threatening, medical condition.  Motherhood and loving horses are not for the faint of heart!
  2. Nothing went as I planned when I planned this trip.  I thought it would be too long, and yet I find myself scrambling.
  3. I am so afraid for my horses–moving like jellyfish in the ocean of my life, at the mercy of currents they cannot control.
  4. Tris put his two front feet in the trailer of his own accord for the first time in the fifteen years I’ve known him and I cried.
  5. The first time my sweet Sunshine rode a horse, it was in the same driveway where I first rode a horse when I was three years old.  Best of all, my dad was there to watch and help, just as he watched and helped me nearly thirty years ago.  Tristan was every bit as good to her as Missy was to a very little me.  : )
  6. I am looking forward to a long, dark, quiet winter full of coffee, momming, writing, coffee, knitting, horses, coffee, dogs, and more snowy, northeast adventures.
  7. I have so much more to write it’s silly, but not one more millimeter of head or heart space to give to words until my horses are safely on the other side of their incredible journey.  Please keep them in your thoughts, by early October we should all be safely together again where we belong.  : )