A commemorative photo session with your horse honors the love between the two of you and will help you give grief a place in your life.
The grieving process
Having to say goodbye to your horse puts your grief in a unique position. Your horse is still with you but you know that you will have to say goodbye in the near future. And while you know you are doing the right thing, that doesn't mean the grief is any less. On the contrary, it's extra hard because it starts earlier, when your beloved horse is still with you. That can be very confusing: can you be happy because they are still with you? Or should you be sad because it won't be long now?
Let me tell you this: there is no right or wrong. Grief is so very personal, and no one is allowed to tell you how to experience it.
But no matter how you grieve, there are certain set steps. Recognizing them might help you understand the process you are going through.
This is the first step. In my experience, this is extra hard in the case of euthanasia. How are you supposed to deal with saying goodbye when your horse is still around? Denial even happens before you have taken the decision. It is so darn hard to say goodbye that you 'choose' to only see the good moments and ignore the bad ones. It is a certain numbness, where you alter the reality of the situation to a more preferable one.
As long as you don't get stuck here, denial is good. It allows you to subconsciously process the inevitable. It allows you to gradually build up the grief instead of being paralyzed by it.
When the grief has finally arrived, you will most likely lash out in anger. It hurts and surely it is someone's fault. You will be angry at your vet for not being able to come up with a cure, you will resent your family and friends for not being more supportive in your endeavors to find an alternative cure, you will resent yourself for not noticing anything earlier, … . You will start to feel guilty, and then angry again. You will curse life for being unfair.
It’s all good, let it out, I have no doubt your people will support you. They have all been there, they get it.
This is where the ‘what if’ and ‘if only’ thoughts start. It is the way your subconscious deals with the circumstances. In this case, it might be expressed by thoughts like “If my horse pulls through, I will never be angry at them again”. It is an attempt to regain control. It is false hope, mixed with guilt.
This is the most recognizable phase of grief. You worry about all the practicalities connected to the loss: cost, neglect of other pets, family members, … . Nothing makes sense anymore and it feels like you can’t muster the energy to go on anymore. Everything is a struggle, everything is overwhelming. You would prefer to hole up in the stall with your horse and forget about everything else.
Don’t misunderstand this phase: you will not suddenly feel better. On the contrary. What you will be, is at peace with the situation. Your emotions will be more balanced and you can re-enter reality. You can now consciously understand that it was the right thing to do and that missing your horse is valid, but it does not mean that you can’t go back to living proactively.
You will take positive steps again, and those will get you back on solid ground and gradually you will be able to be happy again. You might start riding again, do things with your barn family, and maybe even think of bringing a horse back into your life.
Don’t forget that these stages are not set in stone. You might skip one or stay a bit too long in one. I for one either skip the bargaining or I don’t linger in it. I do usually have a lot of anger and depression though. It all depends on the circumstances and your personality. And the circumstances of euthanasia make this process even more unusual.
What is a Thank You Session?
First and foremost, I do not want you to see it merely as an end-of-life session. Quite the opposite, a Thank You Session with your horse celebrates the life of your horse and commemorates the joy you experienced by having them in your life.
As I said before, this is all about celebrating. And no, it is not wrong to do this while, at the same time, you are grieving. You are acknowledging the irreplaceable richness your horse has brought to your life. No matter the circumstances, that is always ok. Now even more so.
For Ann, this was a tough goodbye. Callisto was 21 and Ann had known her since Callisto was less than 10 minutes old! And Callisto came into her care when she was 3 1/2 months old. Needless to say, they had an immense growth process together. Even though Callisto grew up to be an intelligent but also challenging mare, Ann says this has merely formed her own personality. Despite funny training antics while practicing a pas de deux with a friend, they conquered the dressage ring together. They just learned to live with each other’s quirks and whenever I saw Ann with Callisto, I was amazed by the patience and the tranquility with which she handled Callisto. It was beautiful to see.
A friend of Ann approached me to tell me Ann had to decide on euthanasia for Callisto. The barn family had put together towards a gift voucher for a Thank You Session with me. Obviously, I was very honored.
I asked Ann how she wanted to go about this session. She told me she wanted to throw a party for Callisto and her little friends. Because in the last year, while not being able to ride, Callisto was finding a purpose in bringing delight into the lives of two little girls. The girls regularly came by to groom Callisto, do a few pony rides, and just spend time with her. And that is exactly how Ann wanted to celebrate Callisto’s life.
This is a very emotional time. And that is ok. There is also so much going on and with all the decisions to be made, you might forget to enjoy the time left. This is where I come in. I give you the opportunity to ground yourself again, cherish the time that is left, while I document this experience.
During this Thank You Session, we will capture the essence of your horse. Its personality, its quirkiness, the love that you two have for each other, the unmistakable bond. It might get ugly now and then, with lots of tears. But most of all there will be smiles, cuddles, and precious time where you are both attuned to each other, forgetting about everything else. Just you and your horse, like it has always been. Or, as in Ann’s case: Ann, her horse, two little girls, and an entire support network. It is entirely up to you how you want to spend this time dedicated to your horse.
How can this help with the grieving process?
You will have put away your horse’s halter, you gave the horse treats away to the crazy horse girl in the barn, you’ve emptied your tack locker at the barn. There’s nothing left. Your horse is truly gone and that hits home.
Let me tell you how My Thank You Session helps with the grieving process.
Honoring your horse
Your horse has spent many years of their life working with you, listening to you, sometimes ignoring you, or downright talking back to you. We will capture that personality of your horse so that you will have plenty of artwork to showcase that personality in your home.
Honoring your bond
You have accepted the before-mentioned personality and you even love your horse for it. Likewise, your horse loves you right back. You have spent moments in sync in the saddle, you have spent time in their stall or in the pasture with them. With all those moments, you have built an unbreakable bond. Let’s perpetuate that in gorgeous artwork.
Honoring your feelings
Because of the above, you have every right to feel the way you do. For as long as you do. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. Let’s slow down during this session and allow all those feelings to come to the surface. Any session with me, but especially a Thank You Session, is a judgment-free bubble. Feel what you need to feel and let’s celebrate that.
Helping to heal
Grief is personal. And so is healing. There are several things you can do to help you with it. I’ve found these to be helpful.
This Thank You Session will help you by making sure you have visual memories of your horse. You will treasure the images we make together after the time has come to say goodbye. These memories are invaluable in the grieving process. They will take you back and give you sweet memories. They will remind you of funny stories you and your horse made together. And finally, they will remind you of the love. And going back to all that can lighten the immense loss just a tiny bit. After all, these images are the proof of all of the above.
Feel free to contact me if you wish to learn more about a Thank You Session with me.
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