I said goodbye to my soulmate on Monday, April 14, 2014. It is very difficult to say goodbye to one’s soulmate, maybe especially when that soulmate is a horse you brought into the world as a tiny foal, and with whom you spent 27 years of your life. It’s like burying your child. Well, at least that’s what it feels like for me.
Yes, my best friend, my partner of nearly 27 years is gone. Alf, my Alf, who filled my life with so much joy, and brought me some of my dearest friends, has departed this earthly plane. We knew it was coming, but you can’t really prepare for something like this, and finally the day came when his failing body could no longer support his immense spirit. On the Friday morning when he couldn’t move to get to his breakfast bucket, the morning he looked back at his uncooperative hind legs and then looked at me with a face that clearly said, “Help me,” I knew. I knew the time had finally come to release him from any future suffering; things were only going to go downhill from there. He was ready. I, of course, would never be, but this wasn’t about me.
The weather was perfect, with temperatures up into the low 80s for two glorious days. He had a lovely day on Sunday, being bathed and pampered and snoozing in the sun. Then on Monday morning, he was combed and kissed and fussed over, got to spend a few hours grazing in the lawn unfettered by lead or muzzle, ate a bag of apples, and was escorted like the King he was to the burial ground, where at 12:30 p.m., he passed easily, with help from our skilled and compassionate veterinarian, and surrounded by love. No, surrounded by LOVE. Big letters. Big feelings.
I have no regrets. It could not have gone any better than it did, this strange funeral rite, with Alf’s dignity remaining intact. And, just like he had so many times before, with so many things — training, or trail riding, or showing, or simply being the most cooperative, willing horse I ever knew — he made it easy on me. He crumpled gently to the earth and was gone from his body almost before his knees hit the ground. He looked strangely (or perhaps not so strangely) like a war horse in death, resting on his sternum, knees tucked under, nose touching the ground lightly, hind legs tucked as if caught in the middle of springing forth in ballotade.
I had prayed for an easy go, at least in that way. My prayers were answered, for which I am very grateful.
I have put other beloved horses down: Dusty, Red, Connie. I have assisted in putting horses down for friends. But I have never felt what I felt when Alf went down, a physical ripping sensation at my chest, a tearing, and an excruciating pain, as though some great spirit hand had reached into my body and torn out my soul. The gaping hole remains; I may look okay, I may even seem normal at first glance, but there is this great rent in the very fabric of my being that threatens to consume me.
A light has gone out of the world, and I am swimming through a river of grey, trying to find my way back through the darkness. I know he is with me in spirit. I know it. I trust that, even though I may be too caught up in my grief to see it yet. I am just feeling sorry for myself, because I will never be able to kiss his soft nose or feel that oneness of being, the other half of a centaur, again.
Still, memories of Alf are helping to heal me even now. He was a very smart horse with a great sense of humor, and his antics are the stuff of legend. There was the day in a trail class when I ground-tied him and then turned to see him eating the plastic flower decorations from the markers, or, as a mate recently reminded me, the way he would come for his medicine every day when I said, “Alf, it’s tea time!” He was a real character.
The other horses are grieving “the boss,” he who was their herd leader for their entire lives. They went outside yesterday and called and called for him. And I realized as they did that they weren’t really calling for him because they expected him to come back, as one might imagine. They knew he had gone into spirit. They were mourning, an act akin to my wailing when he dropped, akin to human expressions of grief. It was incredibly difficult to witness that pain. But after about a half-hour, they stopped and went about the business of living. Of course, they continue to look for him, in the fields, in his stall, just as I do, before I remember and emotion takes me again; this, too, will pass.
What a love! What a horse! What an incredible journey! I am what I am because of his presence in my life, because of his devotion, and I will never, ever forget that.
Rest in peace, Alf. I’m glad I could help you cross over when you needed me to. I am happy to know you are free from the horrible pain of DSLD. I will love you forever.