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“In the depth of winter I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”

~ Albert Camus

Big-wind-2

It seems that in times of joy and times of grief I always have something to learn from our two old horses.

If you recall, a month ago, on April Fool’s Day, a tremendous wind blew down the shed that provided shelter for the pasture horses. This was Pepper and Chickadee’s favorite hangout. They hunkered down against wind and snow inside that shed. They took a break from the glaring sun in that shed. It was their shelter. Their home base. And now it’s gone. There’s nothing left. Even the boards have been carried away and used for another project.

 

What’s interesting to me is that the horses don’t look back.

They don’t hang around the location of the shed, grieving. Wishing it were different. Wishing it was still there for them, though I imagine they do miss it. April has brought us snowy days and horrific winds–times when a cozy shelter would be a welcome relief. Instead of mourning what was, they have made do with what is. They find shelter of sorts in the trees when the wind howls through the pasture. (And take it from me, it really does HOWL out there.) They stand butts to the wind and endure, make do, get by. And somehow they know the wind won’t blow forever; the snow will give way to warm spring days and long green grass. Perhaps that consoles them, or gives them strength to carry on despite their loss.

 

Judy-blog

In April a terrible wind blew through my life, taking my dear older sister from this earth.

In so many ways she was my home base, my shelter. She had been the matriarch of our family since our mother died almost a quarter of a century ago. She was the person left from our family who had known me since my birth, and somehow that matters to me. It helped place me in my life–as if I might become invisible without her knowledge of me. She was my sister, teacher, mother-figure, mentor and most of all she was my great friend. I miss her terribly.

I fear I am not as strong as the horses because I still yearn to go back to my shelter. I want a different ending to this story, yet I know that cannot happen.

So like our horses, I will make do; put my back to the frigid wind and wait for the warmth of summer.

 

Rest in peace, Judy.

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“Death ends a life, not a relationship.”

~Mitch Albom

Tuesdays with Morrie

Bud-and-Friends

One year later, we are able to remember our sweet old boy with gratitude for allowing us to share his time on this earth. Bud was a horse with a lot of friends.

As with most experiences of grief, it is the sweet memories of life that sustain us.

With fond memories of times past.

Gone but never forgotten.

Sharing Grain

Those of you reading this blog for a while know my reasons for starting it. But for my new readers, let me take a moment to summarize.

 

I wanted to explore my own aging through the lens of life in the pasture with our two old horses, Bud and Pepper. And for almost three years, I’ve done that until last February when Bud died. His death threw all of us into turmoil for a few weeks. Nothing was the same.

That’s what grief does.

 

In the back of my mind I kept thinking I’d have to change the name of the blog since I no longer have two old horses.

I didn’t do that.

I carried on telling stories about the Herd of Oldsters, Miss Pepper and sharing assorted observations about nature and my life. But in the dark of night when I couldn’t fall asleep I thought about it.

 

Recently I was at a professional training in Santa Fe. As I got to know some of the participants, I told them about my blog and my concern about how the name Two Old Horses and Me was no longer accurate. (We therapist types have these kinds of conversations!)

On the last day, a very wise man came up to me and said he’d been thinking about what I’d told him. “Keep the name,” he said. “You have two horses in your heart, and that’s what really matters.”

 

Wow! This from a relative stranger. I teared up at his words, and then thanked him. He was spot on.

Sometimes I worry about things that honestly need no worrying.

Do you ever do that?

 

The Golden Girls

Interestingly, Chickadee has stepped in to fill the void left by Bud. She and Pepper have become fast friends. We’ve dubbed them “The Golden Girls.” Two old mares keeping each other company. Of course, Rick and I have unofficially adopted her.

So here we are back at two old horses.

 

Isn’t that how the world works, when we get out of our own way and allow whatever is going to happen, happen?

 

Trust. Believe. Receive.

 

Simple but not always so easy.

Candle-sand

I was recently having a conversation with a friend about how the blog has changed since Bud died in February.

It hasn’t been conscious on my part, but I am aware that it’s different.

As am I.

I’ve been more worried about Pepper. Is she okay in the herd without her protector of twenty-one years? I’ve worried about Bud’s friend Amigo, who tried to make new friends after Bud died, only to get pushed around and beat up. He now provides the male protection to Pepper and Chickadee.

The Herd of Oldsters has dwindled to three.

I’ve worried about my husband who sometimes thinks himself less of a horseman now that he no longer has a horse of his own. Pepper’s reply is, “What am I, chopped liver?” And she’s right, of course. Being a horseman is more a state of mind anyway. But what I think he’s really saying is that with Bud gone, his role has changed. Funny how that big lovable Appaloosa defined him.

 

In earlier versions of the blog, my writing tended to be funnier. At least I think it was! Grief has a way of blunting everything. These days, I feel almost disrespectful if I write something humorous. It’s as if there is a haze over the animals and the pasture experiences; a haze that diminishes the light and lightheartedness.

 

It’s true that when you lose someone (animal or human) you dearly love, every aspect of your life is different. Things change. People change. Feelings change.

Change, change, change. And most of us humans aren’t so good with change. It’s unsettling. We like predictable and familiar and comfortable.

We don’t like change.

I’m calling this grief 2.0 – the next generation of grief.

The darned experience has numerous stages. And as I’ve said before, it’s sneaky. One minute you think you’re doing fine; over it even. And then WHAM, something triggers a thought or feeling and you are right back in it. Overwhelmed with feelings of sadness. You walk around disconnected from the real world.

 

Another thing about grief is that it’s cumulative, like a layer cake of loss.

Each new experience activates feelings from earlier losses. It’s how our brains work, thank you very much.

Some of you may wonder why I’m still affected by the death of a horse. But you see, with Bud’s death, I began to remember my parents’ deaths, and my grandparents. Other family and friends I’ve lost. I’ve revisited disappointments and jobs that didn’t work out as I’d hoped. I’ve remembered hopes and dreams that didn’t materialize. Losses every one, all tucked away in memory just waiting to be called forth.

This Grief 2.0 is kicking my butt and I’m not happy about it. But the truth is, I’m floundering. I don’t know where to take the blog.

 

What have our two old horses taught me about aging? Well for one thing, grief sucks. And as we age, the losses come more quickly, giving us ample opportunity to get good at grieving.

As if that were possible.

So here’s my plan.

At least for the short run.

I’m going to reduce the number of posts I write from five days a week to three.

Look for me on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

I hope you won’t stop reading. The blogging gurus warn against changing your schedule. They terrorize you with stories that you’ll lose your following. Well, I’m not in the mood to be terrorized. I hope you aren’t either.

 

My goal has always been to be transparent and honest with you. We’re in this aging journey together. Thank you for reading and continuing to support Pepper, the Herd of Oldsters, Mija and me.

 

And Grief 2.0 – I’m getting ready to kick your butt.

Bud-Rick-1

One of the true gifts of sharing your life with an animal is the way they model for you how to be present to your own life.

Animals are masters at living in the moment.

They aren’t multi-tasking, or making to-do lists, or missing out on a glorious sunset because they’re replaying that conversation with the boss. They are front and center for the sunset, the freezing wind, the fresh green grass, the herd politics – front and center for their lives.

Their here and now, in the moment, all -we- have, lives.

 

Over the years that I’ve spent with our two old sweeties and their pals, the Herd of Oldsters, I’ve noticed that when I simply allow myself to be with the horses at the pasture and let go of everything else that usually clutters my mind, I come away more grounded, more relaxed, and more present to the rest of my life that day.

It’s a powerful experience.

And one for which I am so very grateful to have had these two wise old teachers.

 

Bud-Rick-2

Rick and I have done our darndest to be with our animals and have no regrets.

So now as we look back at Bud’s life, we are able to say, “Yes. There are no regrets.”

And I’m telling you, it feels good.

We did right by him. Took good care of him. Let him be a horse.

We’re big fans of pasture living for horses and for the majority of his life, we gave that opportunity to Bud. He got to graze when he wanted, spend his time in a herd, cavort and run, feel the wind in his face. And yes, he ran into some unpleasant situations now and then, but that’s the life of horses in the wild. And that’s what we wanted for him.

 

So no regrets.

And now as we close this chapter of our time with Bud, we comfort ourselves with the thousands of wonderful memories we have.

He was a horse of great heart – all try. He had that Appaloosa stubborn streak that worked both for and against him at times. But he was the one we trusted to give a first ride to toddlers and new wary riders because he was steady and sure. He was as “bomb proof” as any horse can be.

 

Rick and Bud had a special bond. Rick could always comfort him, calm him, help him settle when he needed to. And I think he did the same for Rick.

Bud-Rick-3

Even at the end, when Rick arrived and knelt beside him, Bud relaxed. He died with his head in Rick’s lap.

No regrets.

 

Farewell sweet boy. May you spend the rest of your days with the wind in your face, the sun on your back in a pasture of knee-high sweet green grass.

 

We are all better having known you.

I first heard that Steve Jobs died as I was driving to a meeting Wednesday night.

It surprised me even though I knew he stepped down from Apple for health reasons.

Right away I picked up my phone and called my husband, not to gossip, but to share the information with someone I knew cared.

I needed to reach out.

But Rick was busy with the horses, and didn’t pick up.

Death reminds all of us that we are only on loan to this planet and had better make the best of our short tenure.

For me that always means connecting with the people I love.

I knew Rick would want to know about Steve Jobs, because he’s been a Mac fan from the beginning. In fact, he brought two things into our relationship that have significantly changed my life:

  • Bud, the personality-plus Appaloosa
  • Apple computers

    Because of his love of all things Apple, we’ve never owned anything but a Mac. I’m writing this blog on a Mac. All of the photos I share with you about life in the pasture are processed in iPhoto. I have an iPad, and an iPod. I get music from iTunes. I don’t say this to brag or show off.  I’m just saying that we are raving fans.

Mac users are like that. It’s a club not everyone belongs to, though for the life of me I don’t understand why not. When someone tells me they work on a Mac, their street cred instantly goes up in my eyes.

The world has lost an amazing visionary man.

Steve Jobs made it possible for the average, everyday person to use computers. His eye for clean lines and design are legend. He figured out what we needed, long before we had an inkling of it. Then he made us want it.

My grandson will never know a time when there were no iPods, smart phones, tablet computers, or half-inch-thick laptops. Downloading music will be a way of life for him.

Thank you Steve Jobs for ushering us into this brave new world.

You made a huge difference and we are better for you being here.

Rest in peace.

When Baby was introduced into the pasture fifteen months ago, there was another yearling in residence – a colt named Brio. From the beginning they didn’t get along.

Maybe it was a jealousy thing.

Or a boy-girl thing.

Whatever the reason, they did NOT like each other.

Brio and his mom became occasional visitors to the Herd of Oldsters when I was out feeding.

They quickly identified me as the snack lady and wanted in on the action. They never stayed long and were treated as interlopers. Amigo and Red did their best to intimidate, though it only partially worked. Brio and his mom would simply move down the fence line and wait for me to hand out snacks, which I did. Have I mentioned before that I am a total softie?

Yes, I think so.

Unlike Baby, Brio is well cared for. His people make sure he has the perfect feed for a growing horse. He gets a blanket in the cold, visits from the farrier, and has already had his first round of training, so he knows at least a few horse manners. I honestly hadn’t paid that much attention to him. He wasn’t part of my herd and he had his own people who loved him.

There’s a saying that has floated around various sources for so long I can’t identify the author. It goes like this: When one door closes, a window opens.

One afternoon about a week after I learned that Baby had been taken to auction, Rick and I were walking in the pasture to get our two old sweeties. They had apparently decided that the grass at the very far end of the pasture was the most delicious. At least on this afternoon.

As I tromped along in the wet grass, I felt a horse come up behind me. It was Brio. He stayed at my back, pacing me. Eventually, when he wanted me to stop walking and pay him some attention, he began nibbling on the shoulder of my coat.

I stopped and turned to face him.

“What are you doing you silly horse?”

He replied with the sweetest expression that seemed to say, “Aren’t you glad to see me?”

He was feeling playful. He’d nibble on my coat for a while. Then he tried to take the lead rope from me.

Even though he was probably doing nothing more than looking for a snack, it was fun for me. Young horses have such a sweet energy.

I know that in grief you can’t replace one animal with another, or one person for another, and magically feel better. Grieving doesn’t work that way.

But I also know that I came away from that afternoon in the pasture with Brio, feeling lighter and less sad.

He opened a window for me, and for that, I’m extremely grateful.

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