Well remembered

The last lesson my “horse of a lifetime” taught me was how to say goodbye without regrets.


 

The first time I met Faax El Din, I hadn’t “gone to see him”---it was more like I’d gone to be introduced. There was a vibrant spirit and a strong intelligence behind his large, dark eyes, and the connection between us was almost instantaneous. He was a special horse on a large farm, and right away I saw that he needed someone who could be devoted entirely to him. Fate chose me---then an impressionable 16-year-old girl---to become his person.

I have been told that special horses find you at special times in your life and, at least for the two of us, it was true. Ours was a lifetime filled with communication in our own language and the happiness of long bareback rides and leaping tall fences. He was my childhood friend, and I was able to keep him with me long into adulthood. My love for him remains, to this day, unwavering.

As Faax aged gracefully into his 30s, I came to appreciate another gift that many of us are simply not allowed---the tremendous amount of time I was able to spend with him and the ability that gave me to plan for his passing.

When I realized his time was growing short, I began to consider ways in which I might honor him. I am grateful I had that time because my decision making wasn’t rushed or clouded by emotions when it was time for him to rest. I also enjoyed the thought that Faax’s indomitable spirit might somehow carry on through some of the choices that I made to keep his memory alive.

Recently, while performing some maintenance near his gravesite in the front pasture of our farm, I reflected on the lessons I learned when it was time for me to say goodbye. I hope that by sharing the steps I went through to memorialize my special friend I can somehow help others confronting this painful, heart-rending experience.

First, I allowed myself time to say goodbye. I realize that accidents and sudden illnesses can rob people of this opportunity. But in the weeks leading up to Faax’s final days, I spent a considerable amount of time with him. I am not ashamed to admit that I shed many tears while hugging his neck---not unlike our early years together, when his long, thick mane absorbed so many of my passionate teenage tears. I talked to him about all the great memories we had created together over the years. I wanted him to know that I honored him and was grateful for the life we had shared together.

During that period, I made plans for Faax’s final resting place. When he first came to live on this farm, he picked his own favorite spot: under a maple tree in the center of his pasture. As he aged into retirement, he spent more and more hours there, dozing or just observing the activities of the farm. I also spent time there, communing with him and offering gentle words and pats of affection. I always knew that spot was where I would one day bury him.

I took on a special project during Faax’s final days---I created a time capsule of sorts, a container of memories to bury with him. I had a copy made of a favorite photograph of us and wrote a short story about him and our relationship. Sealed inside a container specially made for this purpose, these mementos can last almost indefinitely. It makes me happy to think that my memories with Faax will live on.

Finally, I searched for an appropriate way to mark the grave. Of course, there are many options ranging from weather-treated lawn and garden statues to trees, shrubs or flowers (being certain to choose nontoxic varieties suitable for a horse pasture). I chose a large natural stone with an engraved nameplate with his name and date of birth and death. Long after I am gone, this stone will remain for others to sit on, enjoying the view from the shade of the tree. And, I hope, the stone will tell them a little about my old friend.

Losing a horse can be devastating. It is easy to become so engrossed in your grief that you are unable to make final decisions for your special friend. And, sometimes, those “I should haves” may lead to painful regrets as you adjust to life without him. Whatever you decide to do, it’s important to put some thought into your plans ahead of time, so you’ll be ready to carry out those last acts when the time comes. It will make the loss easier to bear in both the short and long run.

Today, after having made it through to the other side of the grieving process, I can think of Faax and smile. I can recount happy stories of him to others. Sometimes I catch a scent that reminds me of him, or I might give another horse a pat that feels the way he did beneath my hand. Those are good memories that serve to remind me that he is with me always.

This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #468, September 2016.