Category Archives: Grief

Confession Number Eleven: “Even Cowgirls Get The Blues”

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An Unexpected Decision:

It has felt like I’ve been seeing things from the wrong end of the telescope for quite some time now.  I’ve begun not to recognize myself.  Normally, no matter how sad or stressed or grief-stricken I am, there is always this well-spring of joy deep inside me that bubbles up and eventually washes away the sorrow.

This time is different somehow…

The duties, expectations and pressure of getting this little ranch up and running all by myself have been somewhat inexorable.  I’ve enjoyed much of it and I have wonderful, talented and integrous people working for me.  The land is truly God’s country.  The horses are happy.

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Morning antics behind the barn ūüôā

Yet, for the past three months, I’ve awoken each morning without my usual excitement to greet the day.  Instead, I’ve been waking up with an anxiety that recently has turned into what I imagine panic attacks to be.  Usually, going out to the barn to do the morning feed, even in subzero weather, has helped to calm down the panic attack symptoms. But not by much.

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Subzero Feedings…such beauty!

Then, since the diagnosis of my beloved cat, Hercules’ lymphoma and the aggressively growing mass in his abdomen a couple of months ago, I’ve had the constant pressure of unshed tears behind my eyes 24/7.  Oh, I’ve shed many MANY tears in private, but in order to do the work at the ranch, with folks around, there were many hours I couldn’t let them fall.  Any potentially joyful moments, instead of transcending the worries I was having, have fallen with a thud on my spirit.

I’ve needed to continually give myself pep talks that I’m doing right by my horses and that they’re okay if, for instance, the farrier flakes out on me, the temperature drops to zero in the middle of the night and I hadn’t blanketed them, if I don’t clean their hooves regularly, if, if, if….

Eventually, I found I’d stopped wanting to do anything and had just been “powering through” the hours in the day.

Then came help, in the form of a couple of dear friends, who were very vocal about my state of mind, “Christine, who the heck are you”?, “We don’t recognize this Christine”.  “You’re vibrating at too low a level for you”.  “What are you trying to prove”?

And the most eye-opening of all, “Did it occur to you that you weren’t meant to run this ranch all by yourself?  Maybe what God has planned was that you get the land, the place and the home ready.  Ready for the people and animals that are to come.  Now it’s all just about done.  Others can finish it up.  Why don’t you take a breather”?

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My home, before ANY improvements. But with that sun behind it…what’s to improve?

I thought long and hard about all this input. And here’s what I realized.

The pressures and grief about my cat and other personal losses  had put me into a “dark night of the soul” which was actually a profound blessing.  It was while wandering in this dark landscape of spirit that I realized I was tapping into areas of my being that were not yet healed.  Areas I hadn’t been able to access until now.

This healing is not a cathartic “one and done” type of process.  Instead it feels somewhat like the aftermath of food poisoning when the poison is out but one’s whole body is aching, cramping and sore.  My soul is aching, cramping and sore right now.  It will take as long as it takes…

So in order to take this “breather” (since, indeed, I’ve prepared this place and it’s ready!) I’m going to take the three darling horses and we’re going to rest in Florida until Spring.  I found a beautiful farm where I can board them and where they can be turned out in a spacious pasture just as they are here.  Their stalls are together and they can come and go into their stalls at night, as they please, just as they do here.

The grounds are beautiful.  The people are kind.  I will be visiting my sweetheart horses all the time but, for these months, they will be full-boarded.  In the meantime, I will get myself back to myself but, hopefully, stronger and more healed.  I will ponder the miracles that, even as I write, are pouring down upon me…as though God and the angels are trying to wake me back up to live in the joy that is normally mine!

And I will incorporate the lessons taught to me by Hercules, the cat and by my three horses.

As Hercules’ illness progressed, I observed him being slightly confused by his ever-changing condition BUT always finding a way to roll with it.  He adapted over and over again.  He showed me that one can adapt to just about anything.  It just feels different.

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Hercules in healthier, sassier times ‚̧

Baby Doe, my paint mare, has taught me to express myself honestly or just not bother expressing myself at all!  ūüôā  When I come to her with, either a hidden agenda for what I want to accomplish with her or with trying to hide what I’m feeling, she bites the air and throws her head and wants NONE OF IT.  But if I just talk to her with my voice and heart being in complete authenticity, she’s right there with me.

Spirit, my gelding, has taught me to find the fun in everything and anything, even if it’s just finding a huge stick in the pasture and carrying it up to me in his mouth.  He has also taught me that it’s okay to be very strict with him, albeit with tons of kindness and love, but to not cave in to him when he challenges me.

Serenity, my other mare, likes to take a nap in her stall after evening feed.  When I come down to the barn to let them out, there she is, lying down,  sleeping with her eyes open in a trance, her breath soft and slow.  I sit next to her, pet her and breath with her.  She has taught me by communicating these words, in thought, “Just rest, child.  Rest, next to me. See how lovely it is”?

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My three beloved, goofy, personality-filled teachers and companions!

I will miss Wyoming SO much in these next couple of months but it will be there strong and awe-inspiring, waiting for us to return.  We will return!

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My first glorious sunset at the ranch…way back in August.

 

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Confession Number Ten: I Am Very Bad At Grief

 

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The Wyoming Winter Sky Echoes The Sadness Within Me

An Unexpected Death Watch:

I tried, I really tried to make him well again!¬† I knew my boy cat, Hercules, wasn’t well.¬† He had dropped a lot of weight in a short period of time. His little spine felt like a dinosaur skeleton.¬† He was lethargic and vocally¬†complaining a lot.

I took him to the wonderful vet, Dr. Brenda, and we did everything. Some things we did twice.  She was very accommodating, even though she knew by palpating the mass in his abdomen, looking at the x-rays and the blood tests, that, in all likelihood, he had lymphoma.  But she bore with me as I asked for yet another round of antibiotics, for more tests, for more ex-rays, ANYTHING to somehow make it not so.

Finally, this past Wednesday, we both realized she needed to open up his abdomen to see what this was, if it had spread, if it was removable.¬† She sent me on errands around town rather than have me drive back up to the ranch.¬† But in just a few minutes,¬†by the time I had filled up my truck at the gas station, I had a call from her asking me to come immediately back to the vet’s office so I could see the mass for myself.

Most vets wouldn’t have invited the patient’s “mom” into the operating room, but Dr. Brenda had already observed my ability to watch surgical¬†cutting, gore, and spewing blood when I remained present for Baby Doe’s leg “boo boo” surgery.¬† She knew I wouldn’t faint at the sight of Hercules’ open abdomen ūüė¶

What I did see in my precious boy’s abdomen was the largest, ugliest, most grotesque, hateful mass imaginable.¬† It surrounded his intestines, it made viewing some of his other organs almost impossible.¬† For me, it was “hate at first sight”.¬† Dr. Brenda was right there with me, hating this hideous monster of a mass in my boy’s belly.

She gave me the choice whether to sew him back up and let him live out what was left to him or to give him the meds that would let him gently drift over the rainbow bridge.

After ascertaining the pain management options available to him, added to the fact that he had still been eating, drinking, trotting around with his tail straight up and cuddling with massive purring, I had her sew him back up.

Many might disagree with this decision, but as long as he wasn’t suffering in pain and he was still vibrant enough to get all the love and goodbyes that we all needed to give him, I would wait with him for when he decided it was time…

And so, now, it is just a matter of time.  At the first sign of no appetite, hiding out, and pain in his eyes, I WILL do what is necessary.

In the meantime, there is one room in which he likes to hang out by his water fountain.¬† I’ve been putting a blanket and pillow on the floor at night¬†to sleep next to him for¬†the few nights I probably¬†have left with him.

My grief is almost unendurable.  He has been an amazing companion.

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Grief….pure grief….

I tell his story on my other website Christine Hendler’s Blog in¬†a May 2014 post titled A Tail of Four Cats as well as a description of what I now realize was the beginning of his cancer in an October 2014 post titled Try To Remember The Kind Of September

In most of my posts, I try to find the lesson to be learned in the experiences I have.¬† In this experience, here’s what I’ve learned.

First Lesson:¬† My neighbor, who is a tough Wyoming cattle rancher, and who checks in on me regularly ( I think he can’t quite believe a petite, blond girlie girl¬†is managing and living on¬†80 acres all by herself), actually reacted with kindness and complete understanding when he came by the other day and all I could do was sob (ugly sobbing, believe me!)¬† He actually¬†praised my ability to let out my sorrow rather than hold it in.¬† Who knew that even the toughest cowboys “get it”.

Second Lesson: In horsemanship discussions, it is reiterated endlessly that one has to be the leader that one’s horse can trust.¬†Being herd animals, horses look to the leader (whether horse or human)¬†they can¬†confidently follow.¬† For me, this has been an ongoing challenge in learning about “true” leadership.¬† I often berate myself and feel like I will never get to that point that is so prettily written about¬†in the articles and books I read.

On the night I realized that Hercules is indeed dying of cancer, I was having a heck of a time removing the eye mask that Baby Doe must wear daily, since her light eyes could be severely damaged by the sun.

She was in one of her mare-ish Princess/Diva Doe moods and having none of it.¬† Finally, in my anguish, I said to her “Look, Baby Doe, Hercules is dying and I can’t handle you and your f—ing Diva ways tonight so f—ing let me get this f—ing thing off.”¬† At which point I broke down sobbing and couldn’t stop.¬† She slowly turned her head to look at me, took a step closer, bowed her head and touched my shoulder with her nose and invited me to get the mask off without any trouble whatsoever. (By the way, any horse person who tells you they’ve NEVER dropped the “F Bomb” with their horse is not exactly telling you the full story…:)

I learned that leadership equals honesty.  Horses never lie and one can never lie to a horse.  They know.  My anger and grief were my truth and she responded to that truth.

My worry about Hercules, the horses, the ranch and my loved ones,¬†is so intense these days that my forehead needs botox! ūüôā¬† But I still have tremendous faith in God.

I choose, now, to¬†sit in a place of ¬†love and gratitude for my beloved Hercules.¬† I choose, now,¬† to¬†wait with him for the moment he tells me, “It’s time. I’m ready.”

I choose, now, that he and I will watch for death…together.