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Grief and loss

I thought it would be easy writing this but thinking of my feelings about Penny instantly has me feeling them.

One of my lovely clients gave me cake yesterday and a little posy of roses. "Everything is better with cake", was the sentiment. This made me think about the cultural and societal beliefs around death, particularly animals. Being British, the expectation used to be, one had a "stiff upper lip" and a cup of Rosie lee and all was right with the world. Other cultures may have elaborate multi-day rituals or discourage mourning or tears. People of all ages, race and religion feel grief, it's just expressed in different ways.

With the recent death of Penny the miniature horse, it has been an opportunity to discuss lots of questions around death. Is it more acceptable to have grief at the loss of a pet? What about in the country versus the city? Do people's thoughts and ability to grieve change? I am thinking of my farmer hubby who used to be of the belief "where's there's livestock, there's dead stock". Which sounds harsh but is a realism of farming. He said the loss of Penny was very hard for him as she was such a sweet and gentle soul.

Another view to explore is the power and responsibility we have as pet owners to be able to end their life. My background is that I am (was) a Registered Nurse and I have seen many people suffering. I have personal beliefs and values around euthanasia and the suffering of people and animals. As a nurse and a counsellor I am able to "bracket" my personal views and beliefs while exploring and being curious about a client's. We have all had different upbringings and experiences that have informed our beliefs about death and dying. If we add in race, religion, our jobs, stage of life, whether we are sexual identity, how emotionally invested we are in the person or animal, then the discussion and opinions may be quite robust - or not, as many people still don't want to talk about death. Even though we are not getting out of here alive!

That power and responsibility of being able to end a life or end suffering is maybe what made Penny's death more intense for me. Having the opinion of a vet or impartial person can make it easier but it is normal to question ourselves. "Am I doing the right or kindest thing?", "Does Penny know?", "What about the rest of the herd and her best friend Peggy?", "Who am i to make this decision about her life/death?", "Am I doing it too soon?" A moment too soon is better than a day late.

We had the herd close by and able to observe as Penny was put down. We then let them in to say goodbye. Each horse responded a little differently. Whiskey, the Brumby walked straight up to her as we opened the gate and sniffed her without fear. Lottie sniffed her from all angles. Peggy was the last to approach and more cautious. The interaction, was only brief. They chose to stay for only a few minutes and left quietly as a herd. Peggy watched Penny being taken away with no visible distress and called out once. She has since been calm and settled with the herd.

A lot of my work is with neurodivergent clients. Talking about grief and loss and sadness will be as individual and different as each person is. Some may display or experience intense grief, others may intellectualise their grief or feel overwhelmed. Each client's response is acknowledged and validated and approached in an open and non-judgmental manner with the herd. It's beautiful to see the support and empathy they offer the herd in return. 🐴

How can counselling help with grief? Counselling can help by providing a supportive space to talk about your loved one and maintain a connection by talking about them and your feelings and emotions. The herd can provide gentle support if you choose not to talk. Therapy can help build coping strategies for difficult times such as anniversaries.

For me, this was cathartic. If you have read all of this, thank you. If this has triggered any memories, feelings or emotions, please reach out to me, or your support network or Beyond Blue or Lifeline. 💙

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A beautiful reflection Rachael that brought a tear to my eye. The fear and guilt of making the choice to end suffering I’m sure comes from having a kind and loving heart. And as with the herd, how true are the responses to how we as individuals have the ability to process and show our sadness and grief. I shared the news of Penny Lane with the kids yesterday and this was apparent. As expected Thom is heartbroken and already misses Penny deeply x

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18 mars
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Thank you for your kind words, Renee. It was difficult pressing the publish button on this blog as it is so personal. There was so much more to write as there is so much that influences our grief, as you mentioned.

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