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Becoming Masters of Sadness

Updated: Jun 2, 2023

Deeper, stronger, and less afraid to feel grief

My husband, Rod, has asked me to advise readers to have a box of tissues on hand before reading this...

When I co-created the Way of the Horse book and card set with Linda Kohanov, I created this work of art for the card deck. In the artwork, we are greeted by Noche. In life, he was the horse Linda called The Master of Sadness because in his work as a therapy horse, he would often intentionally seek out people who were grieving. During their expression of grief, he exhibited signs of release, and over time, the therapy he provided seemed to release some of his own troubled past. In those years before his death, through loss and back to loving, he became more of the horse he was born to be.

In my blog Noche's Nudge I tell the story of my intuitive journey with Noche that led to the creation of the art. The story I didn't tell, was the one where The Master has led me on the journey through my own sadness.

In using the Way of the Horse card deck, when I ask questions about my life and pick a card at random, I often draw the Master of Sadness card, sometimes in reading after reading. There have been times I've asked myself, is the grieving and sadness ever going to end? And the answer is, probably not.

In 2000 we bought 8 acres of beautiful semi-tamed farmland which was home to a rustic cottage built in 1918. We started our farm with a rescued thoroughbred racehorse, a goat, a dog, and a feral kitten who befriended us. As our hearts and imaginations began to experience the beauty and peace of the farm, we began to get requests for animals seeking rescue or a happier life. Thus, over the course of the next many years, we took in a total of twenty-nine animals. These consisted of seven horses, three llamas, five goats, six dogs, two pot-bellied pigs, three cats, and three guinea pigs. At our peak in 2004, we had twenty-one animals. All the herbivores lived happily together and grazed the wild acreage down to a landscape resembling a golf course. The three dogs, cats, and guinea pigs all shared the 800 square feet of our little cottage.

Many of our animals had come from unhealthy or unhappy circumstances, so the farm seemed like heaven on earth. We thought that they would all live happy healthy lives, and die, with or without assistance, as peacefully as possible when their time came.

Within a short time, living with so many species of animals began to reveal the other side of that fantasy, which involved the reality of having to learn about all the challenges of environment and behavior, feeding and management, health, and critical care.

Then in that first year of happy husbandry, death arrived in the form of the sudden traumatic illness of our little goat, Angel. We had only had Angel for six months. She was a year and a half old, so it seemed impossible that this adorable, lively goatlet could be stricken. When we had to help her pass, the loss was a deep shock.

Her death was the first, initiating us into the true stewardship of animals. From that time on, death became a counterpoint to life, as some of our dogs, our guinea pigs, and our goats passed. Then several of our horses passed, and others developed chronic health issues. Some of the deaths were gradual and gentle, and others were heart-wrenching and sudden. As the toll mounted we began to realize the burden that we had taken on. We were surrounded by a family who were likely destined to die before we did, and it was a very daunting prospect.

In 2012 our lives began to take another toll, a human one. I survived a sudden heart attack. Six years later, Rod nearly died of pneumonia brought on by aggressive cancer. He miraculously survived both. His one mantra was his determination to be here as long as possible to help me with our farm. Our commitment to our animal family was clear. We were here to be of service to them.

Grieving and Loving

In the movie “A Series of Unfortunate Events", the narrator describes experiencing the death of a loved one like walking up a set of stairs in the dark, and as you are stepping onto the last step, you find the step isn’t there, and with a feeling of bewildering disorientation you are thrown off balance."

It has been difficult to maintain our balance, after and during so many repeated missed steps. Almost every year, we have experienced every form of death and dying, and every manner of grief. Now we are down to our two aging horses with chronic critical health issues, and two healthy, happy cats. Death is ever at the edge of our awareness, accompanying us through life. Grief has become a way of life. We now understand that grief isn't something you get through, it is something that is a part of you.

The other day, Rod summed up some of our feelings about grief when we spoke about our most recent loss of our mare, Darma.

Rod's thoughts

"After the last biggest experience of Darma's being, after the physicality of her death, I am left with a deeper amount of loving and caring, in some ways even more than when she was alive. I have decided to not be wounded by her death. Of course, I am saddened by the loss, but the loss makes me love her all the more.

I think sometimes we can’t get to the beauty until we feel the pain. It is human nature to try to avoid the pain, but the love we have had in living and in death. makes us feel more alive and more caring in the now and the future. We can transfer those better stronger feelings to loving the ones still in our lives. So, in the end, the loss supports us rather than bringing us down.

I feel like we have this golden opportunity to love, and though when they pass we can’t have the love anymore in that form, we have it in this new way. We haven’t truly lost our loved ones, because the love we have for them fills what would otherwise seem like a void. When I look at the photos of our family, I think of it like a prayer flag, and I tell them each time how much I love them.”

Weeks ago as I was composing my weekly Inspirations email. I randomly picked documents and notes on Noche from the files. Little did I know that our sadness initiation was about to receive its next lesson. As I write this blog, we are possibly facing the impending deaths of our two remaining horses. Looking back over our shoulders, we see the path we have traveled to have the courage to make these choices. We are better for our loving, and better for our loss because, through it all, we have become more of the people we were born to be. We have become masters of sadness. Love and grief go hand in hand, hand in hoof, hand in paw, and in every other way of holding on, and letting go.

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