“Grief is not a disorder, a disease, or a sign of weakness. It is an emotional, physical and spiritual necessity, the price you pay for love. The only cure for grief is to grieve." ~ Earl Grollman
Death is a funny thing; it’s something that we often hide from, try to evade or “cheat”.
Most deaths, whether human or non-human animal, are neither pleasant nor on the terms we envisioned. Most of us don’t think about death when we’re young; it’s an abstract concept that feels so far away, until someone we love dies. My first real experience with death was losing my father suddenly at 21. I felt it, even though I was miles away in a different city. I felt the tug on my heart and a black hole of pain, and I curled up on the foot of my bed fully clothed and slept.
Although I didn’t know exactly what had happened, the next morning when I saw my mother outside my house, I knew. My father had made the prediction (at age 25) that he would not live to see 50. He lived a humble yet interesting life full of friends and experiences and was a smart, wonderful, funny and incredibly generous man. Just as he predicted, he died unexpectedly and promptly at 48.
Since then, I’ve contemplated death a bit more. I’ve read books about life after death, reconsidered “faith”, and I’ve wondered how and when I “would go”. I’ve since lost so many loved ones and friends, many of them animals, and I think of them every day. When I started Goatlandia, I did so because I believe that all animals deserve a life full of joy and happiness, and I wanted to do my part. Now, part of my job is making the difficult decision to help souls pass. It’s made incredibly more difficult by the fact that I’ve built relationships with these wonderful beings, and I miss them terribly when they leave.
As human beings we have the ability to speak and communicate our pains, our fears and our desires. By contrast, with animals, we have to use our best judgment, our intuition and our knowledge of their personalities to ascertain what they want and/or need. We have to decide how to free them from suffering and when; even in the midst of our pain and grief. The compassion fatigue and the sadness are some of the heaviest burdens we bear in this work, but the gift of a painless and timely passing is one that I am committed to giving all our animals at the time when living no longer brings any pleasure.
I had to make this painful decision three times in the last week; for two of our sheep, Ada and Fiona (pictured above), who we rescued as seniors and for whom we did everything we could to extend their happy lives into their golden years, and for Noah (pictured with me in his younger years), who we lovingly called "the Mayor". We believe Noah had cancer but despite numerous tests and treatments, we were unable to precisely diagnose or cure what was going on with him. Today, I knew it was time.
Noah’s eyes were closed, his head was down. He wouldn’t eat the apples I offered him, and he was a skinny shadow of his former joyful, social, bouncy self. I wrote this sitting in the barn with Noah, giving him as much love as he would take from me in his state of sudden discomfort, as I waited for the vet. It was both incredibly painful and also strangely peaceful. I had to go back and edit this after our vet left, and it hurt so much to change the verbs from present tense to past. And I cried. I cried a lot. I wept for him; that something took his life in his middle age, that Fiona and Ada our golden girls are gone, but mostly I wept for me - for my loss, for my pain, for this difficult duty that is mine alone.
Rescue work is beautiful but very hard. There is so much joy but also lots of tears. While Fiona, Ada and Noah's bodies are gone, their spirit lives on and the love they gave us remains alive in our hearts. Where they have gone, we will too. I’m so grateful for the veterinarians we use, who have taken an oath to end animal suffering, and who are here to help us with this very difficult duty.
As I gazed at our newest three-week old rescued baby goat, Ollie, this morning, curled up and sleeping like an angel, I was reminded of the circle of life. We are born, we live, and we die. As some animals pass, new ones are born and come into our family. Our animals here have a life free from harm, and full of love, friends, delicious healthy food, and lots of fun. The final gift that we can give them is the gift of a death that is timely, peaceful and painless; surrounded by those who love them. It’s a gift we all should all be so lucky to receive.